The Day I knew I was going to die…

Some time ago I had and experience where I knew I was going to die. I was working as a National Park Ranger, before I began my natural hazard forecasting and mitigation career. It was early spring and the maintenance team had just cut a path all the way to the Cave Entrance.

Little Cottonwood Canyon. Notice the size and lack of trees. They tell a story, I have learned to “read” the mountain. When you stop to take a break, do so in the areas with good trees, that are not beat up, and missing their uphill branches, Notice the different sizes, shapes, and how they bend, and ..

Timpanogos Cave National Monument (the Cave Entrance) is a mile and a half up a paved trail to reach the cave entrance. From there visitors can begin their tour of the magical underground world of stalagtites, stalagmites, helegtites, cave corral, and more.

The cave is located a little over a thousand feet up a steep canyon wall on a North Facing Slope of American Fork Canyon. During the winter time and early spring time snow piles up on the ledges, in the chutes, and on the ridges. As the springtime sun begins to warm things up the snow creates heavy, wet, spring avalanches that make for some pretty impressive slides.

Avalanche Stabilization Fences Middle right of picture there are two in a open slide path. With time the trees grow back and the fences are not as important.

The mountain environment is alive and active.  Highways, trails, homes, roads are subject to the natural process.  These are a few avalanche fences we installed at Alta.  They are not made to stop an avalanche, but rather to prevent one from starting.  They are made to hold 100’s of tons of snow.

In the spring time the maintenance team cuts a pathway through the gullies where the avalanches end up depositing trees, rocks, and other debris. They do this so the trail way melts off of the trail so it will be ready for the late April, early May Opening date of cave tours.

We were hiking up to the cave and walked through a groove that was cut through the avalanche debris that crossed the trail lower down. It was about 10 or 12 feet deep and a 150 feet wide, near the base of the canyon.

We continued up to a point called “Dead Dog.” Where the Park Service had put a rest stop, some benches, and a trash can in the summer time. As we set there I heard a jet flying over. As it got closer it seemed to make the canyon rumble, and the ground started to shake. As I looked up I saw a wall of snow crash into a large buttress above us and splash loose snow high into the air.

NPS can-do attitude. Notice shovel. This avalanche is covering the Utah State Road 92 just below the Visitor Center. Each year is different, the natural environment is a changing wonderland of many different mind expanding adventures.

It scared the begebees out of me, and I ran for cover on the downhill side of the boulders on the ridge. I knew my life was over, and figured I was going to die. I thought to myself, “Wow, I never thought I would die this way.”

Well when the rumbling and roaring was over I looked around. We had survived. The avalanche (believe it or not) had split into two sections covering the trail to the east of us, and continuing on down the gully on the west of us.

It had upset one Ranger so much he could not relax and finish his first trip through the cave. He had transferred up here from White Sands. He turned out to be a good Chief Ranger. He was my boss. The other Ranger and I finished the tour of the cave and we all descended back down the mountain. Since then I have been close to the line, and a few time maybe too close, but I have never thought I was going to die for sure. I guess that still remains to be seen.