Today was epic. Absolutely the most memorable, terrifying, family-bonding, complete stranger-bonding day.
We left Montrose early and arrived at Arches National Park by 9:30. We were strongly discouraged to do the hike we planned because of the age of the girls by a ranger at the Visitor’s Station. When we mentioned that we climbed a mountain a few days ago we were hesitantly given the go ahead by the ranger.
When we arrived at the trailhead there was a bit of a drizzle, but that quickly ended as we made our way to the first arch with many others on the paved trail. After about a mile the paved trail ended, all the tourists without hiking boots and water turned around, and the primitive trail began. We made our way along the trail and were soon by ourselves with the breathtaking arches and flowering cactuses surrounding us.
We pointed out the dry river beds to the girls.
We were carefully watching a large storm and determined it was moving away from us. Because we thought we would know things like that. The rain started coming down harder so we hopped under a tree to put on our ponchos. Well, Zoe didn’t. She stayed in the pouring rain to put on her poncho because she didn’t want to break any rules by going off the trail.
We continued along the trail, now about 1/3 of the way around the loop, down into the canyon. Soon it was raining significantly harder and our trail was a small trickle of a stream. We regrouped under another tree and were contemplating our next move, either forge on or turn around. As we were debating, a group if college guys approached us from the canyon and told us it wasn’t passable. So we began to follow them back the way we came.
Soon it began hailing. Hard! Each chunk of ice hurt as is whipped across our legs and face. The girls were freaking out (understatement) so we once again found shelter under a tree. We waited a few moments then began our hike again through what was now a steady flow of water making its way downstream. Within moments of leaving the tree, lightening struck very close to us. Maybe 20 or 30 feet away. The girls were screaming, but Zak and I grabbed them and we forged on.
A few yards ahead, two of the college boys were waiting for us, making sure we were safe. We met up with the rest of their group at a river bed we had crossed over less than an hour prior. This time it was a rapidly racing river several feet deep. The collage boys and a few other men, including Zak, created a human chain across the river. They then passed each person across the river.
As this was occurring, Zoe lost it. She was screaming that Zak would be caught up in the rapids. She was realizing her turn to cross was approaching and wanted nothing to do with it. She was terrified, the shaking, not breathing kind of terrified. I pulled her close to me, get right in her face and yelled at her. I yelled all the phrases I learned as a Girls on the Run coach. As a participant of the program, she knew what I meant. I hollered that she needed to find her inner star. She had to be brave, she had to trust herself that she could be strong. She had to find her power and use it. She hated me in that moment, but she listened to me. I let her be so she could build herself up.
I turned my attention to Ellie who was slightly resisting as I tried to hand her to the first person in the river. The river was rising and the men in the river were yelling over the sound of the rain that the rapids were getting stronger and the water was still rising. Ellie needed to go. Then. And she did. She leapt into the arms of the first guy and was aggressively passed down the bridge. Once she was across, Zoe did exactly what she needed to do and trusted herself and the men.
Then it was my turn. I was the last one left to go. I jumped in and immediately felt the power and force of the river. It was using all it had to break me away from the grasp of the bridge. I made it, using some colorful vocabulary at each hand off. When I stumbled on shore I raced to the girls who were embracing a woman who crossed just before them. I have no idea if she’s a mom, but she certainly had a mother’s instinct to comfort my kids. We hugged. All crying. I praised the girls for being strong, but said those words aloud so I could hear them myself.
We watched as the guys quickly passed each other toward shore. There was an eruption of cheers as the last man was pulled onto the bank.
Then we continued the hike. The rain also continued. And the lightening too. I gripped Ellie’s hand. And she yelled at me. She was angry. Angry at me for putting her in this position. Angry that we couldn’t finish the hike. Angry she was soaked. But then her attitude changed as the rain began to let up. She told me it had been fun. She said she had hiked to a top of a mountain and been in a flash flood and she was only 7. She then shouted, “I survived!” Then she told me she wanted a t-shirt that says “I survived a flash flood!”
The rain stopped, the river beds dried as quickly as they had swelled with water, and we discovered the college kids were geology majors from Duluth, Minnesota.
As we reached the trailhead we snapped a quick picture with those who had helped us. I told them I wished I could buy them a beer. They praised the girls. And we parted ways.
These young men reinforced what I discovered about hikers at Twin Sisters Peak. As much of a solitude sport this is, we are all in it together.