Saturday, October 25, 2014

Our First Road Trip Away from Tyler: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Since the weather was nice and mom was up for a long stay, we decided to leave Tyler home with her and take a little weekend trip on our own. We hoped to see Mt Adams and Mt St Helens, which is an area of Washington we'd never been to before. Oscar had to work a half day on Saturday, so we took off around 3pm and drove down to Goldendale, WA. There we found a local pizzeria with tasty pizza and even tastier homemade ice cream. We got "bears in a tub" and "salted caramel." As we were enjoying our frozen deliciousness, we realized that the ice cream matched our shirts and snapped this double selfie.

In Goldendale they have a space observatory, which was open until 11pm. We went up that night and enjoyed looking at the stars in such a clear sky. We got to look through a few fancy telescopes too. It struck me how enormous stars vastly bigger than our own sun look almost the same in a telescope as tiny embryos look in a microscope.

The next day was Sunday, and since the Goldendale LDS ward is super close to the observatory, we came up to see the view in the daytime before going to church.

After Sacrament meeting we started driving west, enjoying distant views of Mt Adams and Mt Hood. At a few points we could see them both. Hood is hidden behind the telephone lines in this pic.
We stopped at a beautiful gorge view along the way. Someone there snapped this picture of us and thought I looked like someone she knew in Ellensburg.

Of course I'd identified a few waterfalls for us to see along the way. Our first stop was Outlet Falls. It's beautiful, but terrifying to view. It's safe if you're a responsible adult, but a slight push would have sent Oscar and I to our watery deaths. We're definitely glad we didn't have Tyler here. 
From there we drove to Trout Lake, enjoying beautiful views of Mt Adams on our way. 

Then we went down into the ice caves with our flashlights. It's so cold in these caves that ice formations are created in addition to stalactites and stalagmites.

They were neat, and very slippery. We had to really watch where we stepped to avoid stepping in puddles and ice.

From there we went to Little Goose Creek Falls. Originally our GPS directed us to a dirt road, but we opted to take the longer way without the dirt road. I wish we'd done the same thing later. In fact, we ended up on this same terrible road later...

This waterfall was also a bit terrifying to view. You have to walk right up to the edge of the gorge to see it.

From there we continued on to Langfield Falls. This one was really cool, and you can see from all those dark spots that it gets much bigger in the spring. I hope we can come back to this area when the waterflow is bigger.

To get from the view on the left to the view on the right, you had to slide down a steep dirt hill. Fortunately there's a rope there to help you up and down. It'd be nice if more hikes had this sort of assistance. We're considering bringing ropes on our hikes in the future and leaving them if we see a place like this where they'd be really useful.

My sweet husband expertly climbing the rope.

And here's where everything went horribly, horribly wrong...It makes me sick to my stomach to write about it now, but it needs to be documented so we can learn from it. We ended up accidentally taking the wrong road. It started off as a basic dirt road and then became this. We later learned that this part of the road had been closed for decades. It was terrifying! Oscar insisted I take these pictures, which is the last thing I want to do when I'm tense and nervous. I was able to send a few texts to my mom letting her know we were in a scary situation, but the phone service was extremely poor. At least she'd received the texts so if search and rescue had needed to recover us, they could have traced our location from the call.

Here is where it became obvious we wouldn't be able to go any further. There were no signs informing us that this road was impassable. Here's what I would later write to the Gifford Pinchot Forest system.

I am writing to implore you to put up more signs and barriers on Forest Road 8851. Most importantly, please place a big log across the road to block anyone from continuing down it after its junction with FR 100. Also place signs at its junction with FR 88 informing drivers that 8815 is a rough road with a dead end and no access to FR 90. A sign saying "Lower Lewis Falls" with an arrow pointing to where FR 88 continues would also be useful. I'm requesting this because of our horrible experience this past Sunday. If it had happened in winter or spring, we would have most certainly needed search and rescue. You may have even have had reports about us since at least 2 people heard our cries for help before we crossed the river. Here's our full story.

My husband and I were driving from Trout Lake to Lower Lewis Falls, and our GPS directed us to go straight forward where FR 8851 meets FR 88. We believed we were still on FR 88 and that the turn off we should have taken was a different road. 8851 starts off as a basic dirt road, but it declines ever so gradually. By the time we realized how bad things were, we'd already come 4 miles. At that point we figured it was best to just keep going since our GPS told us we only had 2 miles left until we reached FR 90. We thought it was better to put our car through only 2 more miles of bad roads than to backtrack 4 miles of bad roads that we might slip on going uphill. We were not aware that the road we were continuing on would soon no longer be driveable at all and that the bridge over the Lewis River was completely washed out. There were no signs whatsoever to direct us away from this potentially catastrophic area. Although the bridge was washed out decades ago, GPS's and other maps do not reflect this. When the road became obviously impassable (just past the junction with FR 100), we attempted to turn around and got our car stuck doing a 4 point turn. 

There was no cell service for dozens of miles, so we grabbed our backpacks and some supplies and continued down the old road on foot. Once we saw the bridge was washed out, we called for help and eventually crossed the river. This was only doable because it was a low water period, and the deepest patch we went through was waist high. If we'd attempted to cross the river during times of higher water, we probably would have been washed away and swept over the waterfall. We then bushwacked up to the Lewis River trail and found FR 90 where we flagged a vehicle down. They were able to drive us to where they lived in Longview, WA, and we called some friends in Cathlamet to help us out. We spent the early morning calling towing companies, all who refused to help us because our car was so far away. Even the ones that were willing to go to that particular area wouldn't tow it because it was on unpaved forest roads. Many couldn't find where I was referring to on their maps. I also called the area ranger station and police station, but no one answered. I do not know if they ever returned my calls from our friends' landline since we left after finding a company called Reddi Towing in Carson that was willing to help us out. Our friend drove over 2 hours each way to get us to Carson, and we paid $766 for a tow job that took 5 and 1/2 hours round trip. 

Our tow guy, Larry, told us that we are not the first people he's towed out of that road. Another lady got stuck at the same point we did and had gotten out by doing exactly what we did. He said there used to be a small sign on a log saying "road closed ahead," which he looked for when he went to tow our car. He found it lying face down in the road decaying and covered in road debris. Please, please increase the signage and barriers in this area and prevent others from suffering our fate (or worse!) along this awful road. As bad as this nightmare was, I shudder to think how much worse it could have been had this happened while it was raining, if we'd been there in the spring or winter, if we hadn't had nice people willing to give us a ride, if we hadn't had friends in Cathlamet, if we hadn't found a towing company willing to get the job done before the rain came that evening, and/or if we'd brought our 16 month old on the trip. We were tremendously fortunate that we were able to come out of this mess with the only damage being to my cell phone and our bank account. If I have contacted the wrong people about this, please let me know who I should get in touch with, and if you are the right people, please give me updates as they occur.

Oscar's former teacher, Nancy Nelson, took us in for the night we went without our car. We got into their house late and regaled them with our story. I thought I would enjoy sleeping in a warm bed, but I could barely sleep. I felt constantly sick, and I missed my baby like crazy. I wanted nothing more than to hold him close to me, but at the same time I was incredibly relieved that he wasn't there going through this mess with us.

Nancy's husband Bill was incredibly kind to us and helped us out immensely. He first drove roundtrip from Cathlamet to pick us up from Longview, then the next morning drove over 2 hours each way to take us to Carson. He stuck around while we were waiting and asked if there was anywhere we wanted to go. The main waterfall I'd been hoping to see (Falls Creek Falls) wasn't too far out of Carson, and even though he was totally unprepared for a hike, he took us there and hiked with us. We are incredibly grateful to him for that. Our stomachs were just in knots waiting for the tow to pick up our car. It would have been awful to just hang out in a small town for 5 and 1/2 hours wondering what was going on and if our car was going to fall into a ditch. Being able to take this hike helped ease our anxiety immensely. Plus it was incredibly nice to end our trip with something fun after all the stress we'd been through.

Bill used to work in construction, so he appreciated the suspension bridge along this hike. He'd heard of suspension bridges but never seen one before. The pic on the left is a view we had of the very top tier of the waterfall through the trees. Once you get down to the main lookout, you can't see the top tier anymore.
It was absolutely beautiful! I hope we can see this one sometime in the spring too. There was a longer trail we didn't take that would have taken us up to the base of the upper drop. Hopefully we'll come back sometime in the spring and take that one then.

We got some great pictures, and Google+ even made a fancy version of it for us.
After our hike, we took Bill out for lunch (the very least we could do after everything he'd done for us), and then walked down to the river. Bill took off then so we hung out at the convenient store next to the tow company. They told us it would be about 4 hours, and that it would cost $178 an hour, so we started getting really antsy when 4 hours had passed and they still weren't back and we had no way of contacting them. We kept guilting ourselves for being stupid enough to take that road and kept asking ourselves "is our car okay? Just how much is this going to cost us? etc. We used our mobile devices for awhile, but I was full of too much anxiety to just sit there, so Oscar and I went on a walk around the block. We kept looking out for the tow but never saw it before we turned off the main road, but they were there when we got back. It was a huge relief to see that our car was still in good shape and that they only charged us for 4 hours when it ended up taking them 5 and 1/2. After that we got in the car and drove straight home. We could have continued on our trip since Oscar still had an extra day he'd taken off work, but he decided to just relax at home since he needed a vacation from our stressful vacation.

1 comment:

  1. wow Stacey, that is very scary! Glad you met so many nice people willing to help, and at the end it was a happy end after all.