Lost in a Thunderstorm
August 1998

“Lost in a Thunderstorm,” Ensign, Aug. 1998, 61–63

Lost in a Thunderstorm

At the request of some young men and their leaders from my ward, I assisted them as they prepared for a hike into the wilderness area of the upper North Fork of the Provo River in Utah’s Uinta Mountains. We drove in, and I parked my car on a dirt road and jumped in with some of the boys to guide them into the area where they were to hike. By midafternoon they had set up tents and thanked me for my help. I decided to start on my planned 10-mile hike back to my car. For weeks I’d looked forward to exploring new terrain along a creek bed and had brought good maps of the area with me.

At the last minute Brad*, one of the leaders who wanted to return home that same evening, decided to hike with me.

“There is no trail where we’re going,” I told him. “Are you a good hiker?”

“We shouldn’t have any trouble,” he replied. I looked him over and noted he wasn’t dressed for the possibility of bad weather, but since the sky was blue and we still had many hours of daylight, I felt confident we would be all right.

For the first hours Brad and I marveled at the beautiful wilderness area and the trout swimming around the beaver dams we passed. Then, several ridgelines away, we saw lightning strike. I recalled that scattered showers had been forecast, but there had been no mention of thunderstorms. The storm moved closer, bringing thunder and light rain. I was not overly worried. However, as we hiked, I noticed a change in Brad. He wore thick-lensed glasses and seemed to be having difficulty seeing where he was going. I attributed it to the rain, noting that he stopped several times to wipe water from the lenses. We still had about six miles to go in about four hours of remaining daylight—an easy task if we continued to walk briskly.

After another mile, however, Brad announced he could not keep up the pace. Then he confessed, “I have both an asthmatic and a heart condition.” He paused. “The doctor told me that if I push myself at all, well …” He plopped down on the ground in a heap. “I can expect a heart attack.”

Suddenly frustrated, I wanted to berate him for not saying so earlier. But it was too late now. All we could do was try to be careful and avoid unnecessary stress. We walked slowly, but in another half hour Brad’s chest and stomach began heaving as he tried to catch his breath, and his eyes and face began to swell. We sat down and rested. Brad showed little energy or inclination to continue.

Meantime, the storm grew worse. We would have to get off the knoll. Suddenly rain poured down and thunder crashed in our ears. With Brad too fatigued to hike around boulders and ravines, and with the light growing dim, we began wading directly down the stream bed. For a while this wasn’t so bad, but then in the dark we inadvertently plunged into a waterfall pool nearly shoulder deep. As the sun went down, we quickly grew chilled. Swelling caused Brad’s eyes to become puffy, and he could no longer see either foot in front of him. I led him by the hand from one bend of the creek to the next.

Darkness closed in, and the going got tougher. I didn’t even have a flashlight. As lightning streaked around us, I knew I had to get Brad out of the creek. I tugged at him, and he trembled as he lunged upward against the steep creek bank. Looking for some kind of shelter, I wondered if one of the large pine trees nearby might afford some relief from the relentless downpour.

As we stumbled along, the ground suddenly gave way beneath us, and we fell into a hole. As I lay there stunned, I wondered if I was dreaming—surely this wasn’t happening to me. I had always tried to be prepared for the outdoors, both physically and mentally. Stay calm, I told myself. The Lord has given his children many resources and the power to do many things. I can figure out what to do.

We groped our way out of the hole and over to a large pine tree, where my companion collapsed. We were alone and in trouble, and I knew no one would be looking for us as I had told my wife I might not hike out until morning. As the night grew colder, I saw Brad wrap his arms about his body in an attempt to warm himself. Suddenly he was in trouble. His face contorted, his body convulsed, and he seemed to be in violent pain.

“Are you having a heart attack?” I asked. He did not answer, and I did not know what to do. It occurred to me that we should have stopped and offered a prayer much sooner. Yet still I found myself hesitating. Why? Then I understood. I had always been able to take care of myself and congratulated myself on being a prepared hiker. I was wrestling with my pride!

At that moment I realized this matter was completely beyond my power to fix. All that mattered was saving my friend’s life. I assisted Brad to kneel and uttered a humble and heartfelt supplication for help. After, Brad appeared to sleep. The pine tree sheltering us slowly became so laden with water that a solid stream of water was finally pouring down on us. Though I had brought waterproof matches, there was nothing dry to burn. For me, sleep was impossible.

My watch said 3:10 A.M. I huddled in misery waiting for dawn. About an hour later a torrent of water swept beneath the tree. Brad awoke, writhing and twisting in the cold. As the night grew wetter and colder I knew I had to move. I worried that if we remained any longer, he would have a heart attack. But where could I take him? In the lashing rain I could not see where we were.

Brad held hands with me while I uttered perhaps the most fervent prayer of my life. I asked that we could find our way to safety. When I finished, Brad said, “Let’s go. I can make it.”

For the first time in hours he sounded sure of himself. But now the wind howled more than ever, and the rain seemed more intense. I grasped Brad’s arm, and we crawled beneath the forest branches until we came to an opening in the trees. Then I felt a change in the terrain. Tire tracks! We’d found the dirt road that led to the highway where my car was parked!

Of all the hundreds of nights I’ve spent in high country, I had never before endured one so long. Yet the experience taught me the importance of including Heavenly Father in my plans, for it was through his help we were led through the stormy night to safety.

  • Name has been changed.

  • Hartt Wixom, a member of the Grandview Ninth Ward, serves as ward and stake public affairs director for the Provo Utah Grandview Stake.

Illustrated by Robert Anderson McKay