This Story Really Happened.
With Strangely Relevant Narrative 'From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.'
It was spring in Las Vegas. April, the year 2011.
I would consider myself a reasonably bright individual. Resourceful, for sure, the outdoors type-more yes than no. Christina, a good friend, and I had recently worked ourselves into somewhat of a hiking frenzy, or the beginning of one. We headed out to Red Rock Canyon around 10 am to get a “quick” hike in before our day in the busy city life got started. We chose a loop trail that should have only taken us a few hours. Perfect to get ourselves going on that crisp Las Vegas morning. Trying to escape the "madness in every direction, at any hour" or so Hunter S. Thompson, the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, would describe the lifestyle.
As our feet hit the dusty beginnings of the rocky path I checked my pockets. Equipped with a lighter, a pack of cigarettes, and one water bottle that had already been dwindling fast. Christina, at least, had a backpack with some apple slices, peanut butter, and another water bottle. Oh, and of course we had our cell phones-we cannot forget those. To be honest, we were ready for a walk in the park, and not so much a hike in the wilderness. Maybe the artificial surroundings Vegas portrays on their youth had us confused with what we were about to partake in. Regardless, the hike started like any other. We meandered our way through the beginnings of the trail. Making conversation as two girlfriends do. Maybe we got distracted or maybe the sandy-colored desert just looked the same no matter where we walked. Either way, when we paused to reevaluate our direction, we got a bit confused about which way the trail was going. We knew the path was supposed to loop around also, another one of our friends had mentioned that hikers usually stack rocks to mark trail direction. So, when we spotted a rock configuration we turned that way. Quickly, we spotted another rock arrangement. So, we pushed forward with our girlish conversation confident we were going in the right direction.
The thing about Vegas, spring or not, it starts to get hot as the day goes on. A few hours had passed since we began our frivolous journey. Thinking, of course, we were going to pop out at the parking area any minute now. Just passed that turn. Just over this rock. Just through this tunnel. The path we were on was a loop, remember, so we had no destination. Except for nice scenery and then eventually we would wind up back at the cars. Still, we followed the misleading little rock formations. Until eventually, we happened across a little makeshift hut. Situated between some large rocks, it seemed to be there as a shelter for people who might have camped overnight or something. It was interesting and we decided to stop here and eat our apples and peanut butter. Here, we contemplated the trail map a few times wondering why we had not come to the end of our hike. At this point, we had been walking for longer than the estimated time anticipated. We did discuss just turning back. We walked so far already though we thought it would have been foolish to turn back because we just had to be so close to the end. Like Mr. Thompson says, "we'd be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end." And so, we continued.
I must admit we had not crossed paths with another person in some time. Probably the last hour. We continued as the day grew hotter and the sun stretched high above us. We walked at a faster pace now. Occasionally, I walked with a cigarette hanging from my mouth, muttering words like, “We can’t stop here, this is bat country!” The famous line from Fear and Loathing. I had run out of water. It was hot. We still walked forward. Why hadn’t this hike ended? Why didn’t we turn back? Where were we even going?
I should mention the two of us were completely sober as we began to climb up the side of a mountain. I just feel that is something important to point out. As we started our climb the terrain became rough and not a beaten trail whatsoever. Yet, there were those tiny piles of rocks that kept beckoning us forward. "Follow me," they called out as the sun melted our common sense. So in our tiny brains, we thought we were going in the right direction. As we climbed up. How long had we been walking now? Nearly seven hours. The sun was starting to stretch low to the left.
Christina and I were tired, I will admit that, but we just could not stop. It was like Hunter S. Thompson said, “Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting...We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...” We struggled over one more boulder and suddenly there was nowhere left to go. We were literally on top of a mountain. All we could see in any direction were more mountains or extensive stretches of land below us. Turning to look back in the direction we came it was extremely obvious to us there was no way we could go back that way. Sometimes, what goes up cannot go down. After a few moments of silent contemplation, it appeared to us that we were completely and utterly stuck.
The sun was starting its slow descent beyond the horizon and it was starting to get cold. The wind was powerful when you were standing on top of the world. Goosebumps ran down my body as panic washed its way slowly over me. We were not prepared to spend the night wherever we were. We had nothing. We especially did not have time. It had already taken us an abundance of time to get all the way up here. There was no possible way we could maneuver our way back down and be able to see where we were going. If anything, we would just end up more lost. “You better take care of me Lord, if you don't you're gonna have me on your hands”, another extremely relatable line from Mr. Thompson, rolled through my mind as I checked the service on my cell phone.
Air left my lungs as I realized I had full service. Of course, being so close to the satellites floating in Earth’s thermosphere, that was to be expected. At least I could call someone to let them know I was here, wherever here was. So naturally, I called my mom. I told her I was not going to make it to my little brother’s birthday party that night because I was stuck on top of a mountain nonchalant. Surprisingly enough, she did not seem super concerned. Honestly, my mom probably did not believe me and thought I was just trying to get out of going to the party. Her tone seemed to shrug me off as I imagined her eyes rolling. Before she hung up I managed to say, “but really though, what do I do in this situation?” With a sigh, she mentioned trying to call the Red Rock ranger station and they could probably help get me "unstuck from your mountain." Using the wonderful internet at the top of a terrible mountain I was able to find the number to the ranger station. The following is our conversation:
“Hi, so my friend and I were hiking on this trail and I think we took a wrong turn and we ended up on top of a mountain. We don’t really know where we are or how to get back down.”
“Okay, what trail were you hiking when you got lost”
“White Rock Mountain Loop.”
“Can you describe your surroundings?”
“Well, if we look straight ahead we can see between two mountains and the trail we started on is in that direction, and then all around us there are just rocks and other mountains.”
“Okay we are going to send a helicopter out around the area you got lost-is this a good number to reach you-is your battery full?”
“Yes and about half.”
“Okay, we will be in touch.”
“Oh wait, is it going to cost us anything to get rescued by a helicopter-because we are pretty broke.”
“...Your safety is the top priority in this situation.” End call.
I relayed the information to Christina after I hung up the phone. She decided we could probably download an app to tell us our exact longitude, latitude to give the rangers more of an exact location. So she got to work on that while I smoked yet another cigarette. Under the only little tree on top of this mountain to shield me from the wind. I admit to eyeing it as potential firewood in case we had to stay the night, not that I knew how to start a fire, but I did have a lighter. The wind would probably pose to be an issue. We were barely wearing enough clothes to hike up a mountain. We would for sure freeze to death up here. My phone rang to interrupt my thoughts.
“Hello this is Red Rock ranger station”
“So, the helicopter has been out and they are saying that they cannot find you. Are you wearing bright colors or have anything you can wave in the air?”
“My friend has a bright pink backpack.”
“Okay, great, if you could wave the backpack in the air so we can have a better chance of locating you.”
“Okay, also we downloaded an app to tell us our longitude, latitude to try and help.”
“What did it say?” I told her what the app told us.
“Okay, can you tell me if you can see the helicopter?” I started looking around while Christina stood beside me waving her pink backpack in the air overhead. After a minute, I did see the helicopter and felt my heart jump in my chest.
“I do see it!” I told the ranger, “The helicopter is flying in front of us, like parallel to our location, I can see it flying back and forth.”
“Back and forth? The helicopter is running out of fuel and they’ll have to come back to refuel soon if they can’t find you.”
“Yes, it’s flying parallel to us if it were to fly straight back it would see us for sure”
“Okay, I will let them know.” End call.
So now the sun is getting pretty low and I was getting pretty worried we were going to be stuck overnight on this mountain. Christina is going wild swinging her backpack in the air. Thompson’s words ringing in my head, “The possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real.” Worst of all, I only had two cigarettes left.
The helicopter did find us. Roaring over us at first to survey the mountain platform for a possible landing. Deciding that was not a possibility. It rested above our heads hovering there. Christina and I looked up with our mouths open, our hair whipping our faces, and our eyes watering slightly from the slicing wind. "There's a big ... machine in the sky, ... some kind of electric snake ... coming straight at us," Thompson's words shouted in my head. Like something out of a movie, a man seemed to fall out of the side of the hovering helicopter. Sliding down the rope he was harnessed to. He beckoned for us to move closer. Christina and I looked at each other, stunned, I told her to go first. Christina walked toward the man until she was close enough for him to hook her up to a harness quickly. He yelled instructions to her as he motioned for the other guy, who was still in the helicopter, to pull her up. Christina shot into the air like a slingshot. The helicopter must have been about 100 feet in the air. I don’t know if that is true but that is what it seemed like. I watched, with my head pulled back as far as it could go, as Christina dangled freely in the air before disappearing into the helicopter. My stomach dropped somewhere onto that mountain's peak. I was not a fan of heights but the man was waving me over hurriedly so it was now or never. I stepped forward as he caught the harness in his hand. He began hooking it around me yelling over the helicopter, “just hang onto the rope and they will help you at the top!” I nodded my head loosely afraid I was going to throw up if I spoke. Before I could even register what was happening I was off the ground. Flying through the air looking over the world below me. We were already pretty high up, considering we were at the top of a mountain, then add the extra height of the helicopter and I was feeling on top of the world in the worst way. I was scared out of my mind. Completely losing it as the guy in the helicopter grabbed my shirt to pull me inside. He hooked my harness to the floor of the helicopter, which did not have any doors or sides or anything, and dropped the rope down to the guy still on the ground. When everyone was then safe and sound on the terrifying machine hovering in the sky we were told to, "hold on." Then, the metal machine started moving forward. Let me add here, I have never been in a helicopter before. Maybe in different circumstances, it would have been pretty cool. However, I was extremely close to the edge of this doorless helicopter. Even though I was hooked to the floor, I still had enough room to slide slightly across the floor as the helicopter turned. When they told us to hold on, I do not know what they were referring to because I did not see anything to hold onto. When the helicopter turned right the side opening was all but underneath me. I could see the ground below me as I clung desperately to the hook connecting me to the floor of that flying deathtrap I was a prisoner to. The only thing between me and falling to my certain death was a little clip. I had not peed all day and things were getting pretty dangerous for me in that aspect.
Thankfully enough, we began our descent rather quickly. You can cover a lot of ground pretty quickly in a helicopter, or so we discovered. When we touched earth my lungs filled with the oxygen I had been holding for ransom. Christina and I were unhooked from the helicopter and steered over to a ranger vehicle that looked a lot like a police car. No one said a word to us as we were ushered into the back seat, which also looked a lot like a police car, do not ask me how I know that. The world went silent as the doors slammed simultaneously on either side of us. I whispered into the car, “Do you think we are being arrested? Do you think we are going to get a ticket?” Christina’s voice then filled the space, “That was so awesome!” I absolutely did not consider what we had just been through to be awesome in the slightest. I was still calming myself down from being a million feet in the air without much stopping me from plummeting to my death. I kept my mouth shut so as not to give myself away.
The ranger-cops finished speaking to the helicopter guys and got in the front seat. There was silence between the four of us for a few minutes. Christina sat on the right of me taking pictures with her cell phone as I was just trying to work out how to swallow again. Finally, the ranger behind the steering wheel started talking.
“You guys know that what you just did was extremely irresponsible, right? Going out on an experienced hike without any gear and then downloading an app to try and figure out where you are?” His voice was extremely stern, “If the helicopter would have had to refuel there is no way they would have found you in the dark.”
I spoke up quietly, “We thought we were following the trail I don’t even know how we got so lost.”
Passenger seat ranger, “The trail you were on was an advanced trail that takes people days to complete.”
“Uh, yeah that’s definitely not the trail we started on,” Christina’s turn.
Back to the driver’s seat ranger, “My point exactly, the two of you had no business being out there.”
“Are we going to get a ticket or something?” That was me again causing silence to become the car once more. After a minute or two, or maybe a lifetime, the driver’s seat ranger spoke up again, “No, but we don’t want to see you guys around here for a while.”
“Now where did you park your car?”
“Near the White Rock Mountain Loop entrance.”
The rangers drove us to our cars setting us free. It was dark now but that did not hide the look on their faces as we thanked them. I will never forget that look. It is forever burned into my face. The one that says, “You are lucky to be alive and I cannot believe how stupid some people can be.” To be honest I do not think I went hiking again for years after that. It was one of those moments that made me doubt my abilities and intelligence for an extremely long time. When I tell the story now, people always tell me how amazing and cool it must have been to ride in a helicopter. We could have been in real danger had we not been found. We did not have any food or any idea where we were. Had our batteries died on our phones there would have been no way anyone would have been able to find us. We definitely would have frozen overnight or undergone some serious hypothermia. We were lucky they were able to find us in all seriousness. We were not prepared and we did not take that hike into the wilderness seriously enough. To think back on it now, sure maybe it was cool to be airlifted off the top of a mountain, but we are lucky the situation did not go the other way.
Christina and I headed off to our cars to get on with our lives. To drive back into the bright city. To put that crazy turn of events all behind us like it did not even happen. Just another day in the lives of us. As I sat in the driver's seat of my car, started the engine, and lit up a cigarette the final bit of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas floated through my head, “In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.” And so it goes, that is the end.