Lightning In Paradise

The question of focus that influenced this piece was,

“What is your best experience with a group outdoors?”

I’d like to tell you about the time I went to Grand Gulch and learned about the groups of people that settled there, or the time I ventured to the Uintas with my favorite person. Or even the time I went climbing with the best people…I can’t! The trip I feel I need to talk about began as a very negative experience for me, but turned into something rad.

Fall break weekend, October of 2017, I drove to Dixie State Forest in Southern Utah with a group from Weber State University. I was enrolled in an outdoor experience class, which meant we were to experience a backpacking trip as a unit.

The day we left was a Friday and also my 23rd birthday. I had the privilege of sitting in a car for a few hours with people I didn’t know very well, which doesn’t matter a whole lot, but it didn’t help me think positively about the outing. When we arrived at the trailhead in Dixie State Forest, clouds rolled in bringing wind, a little bit of rain, and a darker sky.

As the class and I headed out on the trail, the temperature started dropping. My overweight pack got heavier and a blister started forming on my right heel. These things didn’t necessarily contribute to me having the best attitude about the situation. However, the scene ahead was gorgeous. I love trees and the trail we traveled was surrounded by them.

As we continued to walk it started to snow, persuading some of the folks in my class to layer up. As we hiked on, a few of the students in my group decided we should camp in a pretty open area at the top of a smaller hill. We set up camp, bundled up as it got colder, and started our cooking. The weather only got worse as time went on bringing more wind, snow, thunder, and lightning. The group leaders, my teacher T and another Weber State faculty member, Derrek DeBruin, became increasingly aware of how close the lightning was getting to us. While being distracted by trying to stay warm and looking forward to food in our bellies; the other students and I didn’t realize how dangerous the situation, like the one we were in, could become. Immediately, Derrek gathered us into a group, directing us to grab our sleeping pads and follow him down a hill.

I felt nervous and frustrated. The thunder was very loud and I could see the lightning getting closer, so I understood that we needed to leave camp. I was unhappy about it. My right shoe was halfway off because I developed a nasty blister on my heel. My feet were cold. I was dragging my sleeping bag down a hill that I couldn’t see due to the darkness, it was snowing, and it was my birthday dammit. Why did this have to happen on my birthday?

Derrek instructed us to sit on our sleeping pads in particular spots on the side of the mountain, surrounded by sharp branches, getting snowed on pretty hard, all while waiting for the storm to pass. At the time, I was upset. I felt like I was going to cry because I had no control over my day. One of my classmates started singing a song and then others joined in. They thought it was hilarious, but I did not. I was so focused on myself and pouting, that I couldn’t appreciate the attempt to lighten the mood. We sat out for about an hour, and finally by the end of that hour, I started to not think about me so much and just be grateful that we were all alive.

When it was safe enough to go back to camp, the class and Derrek headed back up the hill. We noticed that T never found us while we were singing and sitting. We made it back to our tents and abandoned food. We started cooking again and organized small groups to try and find T. Derrek was aware of the potential significance of our situation and let us know what to do in a lost person scenario. After a time of searching and re-grouping, T made it back to the group claiming he went way too far down the trail and couldn’t find us.

Being grateful everyone was okay was the positive ending to the seemingly horrendous day of my 23rd birthday. The rest of the trip went well, even with my pack feeling heavier and my blister getting worse. The backpacking was great, the views were magnificent, and I learned to value my classmates.

I may have been focused on the negative parts of the first day in Dixie State Forest, but I’m quite grateful for the opportunity to have gone and the people I went with. My birthday was an unforgettable experience and now I know how to stay safe during a lightning storm! I still don’t feel I needed to bring as much gear as I did, but it’s better to have too many things than not enough. As great of a learning experience that trip was, I’m stoked for the next time I backpack in Southern Utah.

-Kelsey Williams

Recreation Outlet in Ogden

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