I am shocked that we survived.
Honestly, I am always amazed we survive! I will tell you why. It is simple. People die while hiking. And people die at Utah’s Donut Falls (some spell it, Doughnut). Last year at Donut Falls a woman fell 100 feet to her death. In 2003 a giant boulder crushed a young man. He was killed as he heroically pushed his friend out of the way. And just yesterday, (the day we were at Donut Falls), a guy fell 12 feet, landing on his back and was seriously injured. Why oh why would I take my children (and the children of our friends) into the death zone?
I just said it: taking my loved ones here makes no sense. And in the interest of full disclosure, I think it is also important that I also mention (here and now) the fact that I may be totally obsessed with freak accidents (I am). I have read every death-in-the-mountains book I can get my hands on. Additionally, I was seduced by our friend’s coffee table book, “Death in Yellowstone,” while visiting a cabin near Yellowstone National Park. I will never forget reading about the dude, that generous man, who was burned to death jumping in a hot spring after a dog. No. Not his dog. Someone else’s dog slipped into a boiling spring, and this man was killed trying to save another person’s dog. Um, and thank you, stupid “Death in Yellowstone” book! The scars you inflicted are deep! Your scary stories haunt me! And your warnings freak me out! May I give your owners a suggestion? A book called “Death in Yellowstone” placed in a cabin near Yellowstone National Park may not be the best reading material to offer your houseguests.
Here is where my obsession with freaky stories jumps into my own reality. I have watched, helpless, our two-year-old Kyle walk his cute little toddler self off of a giant cement sculpture, and (thankfully?) landing on the crumple zone of his face. His teeth still wear the scars. Consequently, for years I death-gripped Kyle’s arm, grabbed the back of his shirt, and the back of his head (his hair), in my successful attempts (knock on wood) to save him (completely unaware) from running off of a fifty foot cliff (Moab’s Fisher Towers, for example, and Bryce Canyon’s Wall Street, for another). Now every single time our family goes on a hike, the blood leaves my brain, fills my achy-breaky heart, and the crazy voice in my head screams,
“Alert! Alert! Alert! Keep your eyes on your boys! Keep your eyes on your boys. Must save them! Must prevent crisis! They could fall to their death! Alert!”
Then as I see Kyle wander desperately close I yell,
“Dave, Dave, D’ah’AVE, Please! Look at how close they are TO THE EDGE! Please!” followed by a, “Kyle, Kyle. KYLE, please, STAY ON THE PATH! If not for yourself, do it for my sanity! Please!”
Ask Dave (or the boys). They will tell you.
“Yes, Beth is full of death grips and crazy screams!”
I would argue that in all the cases my crazy screams are founded. Dude, I do not have a spare. Sure, Dave may laugh a little, but he knows, as you do now, that our lovely Kyle has come way too close to base-jumping without a parachute. (Oh thank God, Eli stays on the trail!) Parental-Hiking-based-PTSD, absolutely!
Sunday (Father’s Day) we went on a hike with our friends Nate, Emily and their three lovely red headed children. As we all stood in in a very long line of people both coming and going in the 90 plus degree high-altitude heat, next to a fast flowing mountain stream, I imagined that we were actually waiting in line to climb Mount Everest’s deadly Khumbu Icefall. In case you do not know, the Khumbu Icefall is the place where people waiting in a long, stalled line, lead to great disaster. Here at Donut Falls the lines were also uncertain. People were walking in water to get around one another. Babies seemed fragile in wet arms. Feet were getting wet, shoes and tall socks were getting soaked (especially Eli’s). One flip-flop was last down stream, and Dave sent Kyle after it. And near the big warning sign there were people sitting eating watermelon. They offered us a piece.
I watched Kyle climb higher. He was completely out of my reach. He is taller, stronger, and bigger than I am. It made no difference. His life flashed before my eyes. There were so many people between us. Eli was sitting on a boulder. Dave was half way up the rock face between Eli and Kyle. I was on the other side. In a matter of seconds, my face went from acceptable summer glow to Goth-white. As I felt the blood rush out of my head, I knew it was time to executive-decision myself. Then I uttered these words:
“I do not want to project my hiking PTSD onto my boys.”
Instead, I took a deep breath and watched. I distracted myself. I looked through my camera lens. I gave the boys several thumbs ups as I continued watching from afar. Kyle and Dave kept climbing higher. I will admit I was freaking out, especially as I watched them get so close to the wet rock and the raging waterfall. So far away from their listening ears I blurted, “I cannot look,” and as I stared up at Dave and Kyle, I asked, “Emily, Will you look?” She said,
I quickly followed with,
“Ok. I have to look. No. I can’t. Nate, Please tell me when Dave and Kyle are on their way down. Please!”
Kyle and Dave both made it down. Sure, Dave ripped up the backside of his shorts, and Kyle was a sweaty mess, but they made it. Here is the deal. Hikes can be crazy, dangerous, and out of control. Heed the warnings. Be prepared. Bring and drink plenty of water. Wear proper shoes. Know your limitations, and pay attention. If there are too many people waiting to climb safely up, be patient. You will get your turn. I promise. You will be ok.
By the way, I love the Donut Falls hike. Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon is one of the most magical places on earth and Donut Falls is one of its many gems. As long as you are careful, stay on the path, and are patient, I promise the Donut Falls hike is safe. And really the only think you will have to survive is trying to get your too-tired-for-walking kids up and down the path [wink wink]. Trust me.
- Regarding Donut Falls: Here is a hot tip. Only park in designated spots or you will get a ticket!
- As many know, Utah has many amazing hikes. We recommend taking a hike in Big Cottonwood Canyon, which is located at the eastern edge of the Salt Lake Valley. In the summer there is nothing like driving over the Guardsman Pass Scenic Backway to get between Park City and Salt Lake City. If you make it that far be sure to say hello to our year-round-living-in-Big-Cottonwood-Canyon friends, Travis and Troy! They will make you feel right at home.
- If you are interested in falling down the rabbit hole of death-in-the-mountains stories may I recommend the classic page turner, Jon Krakauer’s, “Into Thin Air.” If you need a little non-mountain death and survival, there is always, “Endurance: Shakelton’s Incredible Voyage.” And a book I haven’t even read yet, is highly reviewed. but uses both the words, “dead,” and “mountain,” in its title: “Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident.”