Terror on Boulder Mountain!


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North America » United States » Utah » Capitol Reef
May 27th 2019
Published: June 1st 2019
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May 27
We awoke this morning to the sound of rain, we thought. It was actually heavy sleet, pea sized that was accumulating fast. David dashed out with the dogs and I fixed us breakfast so we could get on the road. We knew rain was forecast but we only had 65 miles to go to Torrey. The heavy sleet continued all through breakfast. David had his heavy rain jacket as did I. As I brought in the slides and closed up the trailer I sure hoped the slides weren’t going to put a lot of water in the trailer. It didn’t thankfully due to the slide covers. The dogs were glad to get in the truck as the ground was covered by those pea sized pellets. I spent the next few minutes trying to get the sleet off the truck bed cover so we could roll it up exposing the trailer hitch. I found I’m not tall enough and had to use a small ladder and it wasn’t all that fun. The sleet was melting and the water from uphill was all running down to our spot so that by the time we were hooking up the trailer to the truck, poor David was standing in water. Both of us were certainly glad that we’d figured out how we were going to get out of this spot, a couple of days earlier. I pulled the trailer forward a good 100 ft and then with David’s help on the walky-talky I backed up 150 ft so I could make the turn up the road right in front of where we’d been. As David got in the truck the rain and sleet started again. We pulled up to the entrance of the park and the road looked wet but good so we proceeded on east at 10:22 am.

The first 30 miles was familiar as we travel it yesterday out and back to the slot canyon. We knew the roads were slow and twisty but the rain subsided and we got through those 30 miles just fine. Just past the town of Boulder and the turn off to Burr Canyon we pulled over for a brief pit stop. The sleet started again just as we pulled out and started on the last 35 miles of our trip. This was all new to road to us, from here to Torrey. Shortly afterward we began to climb what seemed like a pretty big hill, but before long we realized it was more than a hill because the climb continued and went on and on. We became concerned because the sleet had long since turned to snow. By now I was getting pretty nervous driving as was David but when your 62 ft long you need a pretty visible area to stop and even bigger place to turn around. We now found ourselves in whiteout snow conditions with snow accumulating on the road. We finally reached the summit at 9600 ft of elevation. There were still cars coming towards us so we thought we’d be ok if we just could go slow enough. Our average speed going up hill was about 20 miles per hour and we did fine. As we went on I was glad to have reached the summit and on the downhill side. If I’d only known what lay ahead, and from now on I’ll never like going downhill with the trailer.

As we started down the hill the snow was getting deeper now a good 4-5 inches. I was aware of us going really slow now, 10-15 mph and we had cars behind us. I founded a wide spot that was fairly level to pull over. 10-15 cars went by which included a snow plow and I was overjoyed by the snowplow. We pulled out but the cars/trucks as well as snow plow were going much faster than I felt comfortable driving pulling the trailer. You see, that trailer without anything in it weighs 18,500 lbs. Then you add all our stuff, water, David’s tools and you now have a trailer weighing probably close to 20,500 lbs or more. Then the truck carries 80 gallons of gas which is heavy and the hitch which is 450 lbs so all totaled that is just a lot of weigh for the truck to pull up a hill or hold back going downhill. Now add these unexpected conditions, a mountain pass and whiteout heavy snow conditions you’ve got a treacherous situation. Certainly if we’d know it was a high mountain pass we’d have gone a different direction or tried to wait out the weather, but we were clueless, so on we went driving as carefully as I could. I know at one point I was so stressed I could feel my heart racing. Just when I thought things were pretty tense, Red became very agitated. David tried everything to calm him and tried to get him to lay back down but he was panicky at this point. We decided he needed out as we had now been on the road two hours. There were no wide spots for sure so I just pulled over on a flat section put the flashers on and David got Red out in blizzard like conditions. Red almost immediately had a bad episode of diarrhea! I was so so thankful we’d stopped!!!!!!!!! So in fairly short order David and Red we’re back in the truck. Red was calm now so at least that help our stress. Not one vehicle passed us while we were stopped. As we started off again all evidence of the plow was gone, there weren’t even tracks in the road anymore the snow was falling so heavily and now the temperature was dropping below freezing to 30 degrees. Now I’ll remind you that is was Memorial Day! Yep Monday May 27th in a blizzard on a mountain. At this point we started down another portion of the road which not only was a fairly steep grade but had lots of tight turns as well. I tried to keep us very slow, 3-5 mph going down at this point by pumping the brakes in order for the trailer brakes to be engaged not just the truck. I could feel the truck sliding and the trailer pushing us causing an intermittent banging as I’d push the brake. The trailer was pushing on the hitch as we’d slide. Whew, we made it down that hill. By this time I can honestly say I was really scared because there was a cliff on right side of us and on the left the mountain and deep drainage ditch. We got to a spot that said rest area which I briefly thought about pulling into but the snow was so deep it was difficult to determine the road at least quickly enough. A car was stopped waiting to pull out from the rest area as we were approaching. The driver decided to pull out in front of us. That was fine as I was only going about 12 mph. Just as he started out it was evident he was sliding straight across the road in front of us and and not able to turn or stop. The car stopped when his front tires reached past the pavement. The car came to rest crossways in our lane. I was able to turn into the on coming lane and go around the car without hitting them and thankfully, no cars were coming. David the photographer missed the whole thing, his eyes were glued to the scene. If I had noticed the driver I’m sure we would have seen horrified faces but I was too busy handling a 62 ft freight train at that moment. We now knew for sure we were on ice!

Thank goodness over my lifetime I’ve had lots of experience driving in bad weather, living in Rockies and the northeast. I’ve also been fortunate I guess to have experience pulling trailers. There was 2 horse and 4 horse trailers, a big 500 gal single axel trailer, RV’s pulling a car, a 23 ft camper trailer that we took to Alaska, and then this big 5th wheel. I will say I’ve pulled this big trailer about 10,000 miles including all over the tiny roads in the Northeast and Nova Scotia, so you’d think I’d be use to it.
Boulder Mountain summit 9600 ft!Boulder Mountain summit 9600 ft!Boulder Mountain summit 9600 ft!

Whiteout conditions as we start the decent.
Well I was until today.

After making it past the skidding car we approached a curve and then another descent but this time as we rounded the curve there was a road sign warning the next section was a 10% grade, which is just crazy steep. At this point my heart was in my throat and I was grateful for the prayers our friends Claudia and Teresa had said for us right before we left. I was silently praying now too. David was ever so calming telling me I was doing a good job. I tried to keep a tire in that grooved rumble strip which was on the center yellow line. I tried staying in the pushed up snow from the plow on the outside. No amount of effort seemed to be enough as I was pumping the break to keep us at a crawl of 3-5 mph and then it happened I could feel the trailer push and the rear tires of the truck sliding, being pushed into the oncoming lane. We had long since been in four wheel drive but on ice it doesn’t matter. As the truck began to slide my fear was coming into reality. I tried to get the front of the truck headed back down hill when I knew all was lost. David said “Here we go! We are going off now!” I replied “Yeah we are going off!” As the truck was sliding more sideways down the hill there was a sudden jerk and we stopped. I kept my foot on the brake to ensure the trailer brakes were staying engaged otherwise I thought the trailer might just slide the truck off more but the trailer was on ice too! I looked out my side window at the 3-4 foot ditch below and remember thinking OMG! There is a cliff on my side just 100 ft ahead of us. As far as I could tell the trailer was sitting in the middle of the road blocking all traffic in both directions. I assumed as did David we needed a wrecker due to damaged trailer and truck. David, the old retired cop, jumped into action. He said “Call for help, I’m getting out to direct cars around us.” As he got out I continued to keep the brakes on and picked up my cell phone and thought for a moment just who’d I call but I just dialed “911”! I had no idea if anyone could even get our cell signal out here. Almost immediately the call was answered. The calm voice on the other end ask “What is the nature of your emergency?” I responded by telling him: “We are up on a mountain pass between Boulder and Torrey with a 40 ft 5th wheel, in blizzard conditions, icy road and we have slid off into the opposing lane and ditch and we are blocking all the traffic.” He asked: “ How far are you from Hanksville?” I responded: “No where near Hanksville!”, I responded. “We are 12 miles out of Torrey on highway 12!” He asked about mile markers etc and I finally said again: “We are in blizzard whiteout conditions!” He said: “Okay, will pin point your cell signal and help is on the way.” With that he told me he was hanging up and I should call back if I need more assistance. By now my leg holding the break is getting tired so I switch legs. Little Dottie showed up in my lap shivering. I had her little coat so I put it on her and snuggled her into my sweatshirt I was wearing. At that point I really wondered, just who was comforting who here. Red was doing fine asleep in the back seat, still calm after his bout with diarrhea, thankfully!! From my angle I couldn’t see David through the window or mirrors. Then I notice a car appear from behind us going very slow. It was having a hard time staying on the road. The road directly in front of us was like a natural bridge with steep cliffs on either side but no guard rails. I was so very thankful we hadn’t gone off there, we’d have all died I’m sure, I thought. David came back and asked if I’d gotten a hold of anyone, I told him I’d called 911. He said good and just as I was telling him they are sending help I saw a big snowplow coming around the curve below us. At this point there were several cars stopped in the oncoming lane. Obviously they couldn’t go anywhere with us blocking the road. The snowplow went around them and pulled right up beside us. He plowed as much snow off as he could in front and beside us. He got in the back of his dump bed and soon sand was being shoveled out all around the truck including the plow that was having trouble too. I had strangers, young men, early 30’s I guess, gathering rocks and putting them around the drivers side back wheels of our truck. I had to switch legs again holding the break while I watch the people like a swarm of busy ants going about various tasks but not saying a word to me.

The cars now directly in front of us had decided to turn around on the road. With cliffs on either side they attempted to go back and forth sliding much of the time as they got turned around. One by one the cars, SUVs, and trucks got turned around. Then I saw emergency lights coming around the corner, a pickup truck. A large bundled-up man got out of the police truck and I watched him approach us as he was trying to stay upright on the slippery road. He walked right up to my window and asked if we were ok. How nice I thought! Yes I told him my husband and I are fine. He said
Our resting place clearly showing slid pattern.Our resting place clearly showing slid pattern.Our resting place clearly showing slid pattern.

OMG! Gives me shivers to look at this picture.
good and that we’d be fine and out of here soon. I wondered how he knew that but just took him at his word and believed. The plow driver had now had sand all around us it seemed. Another person asked David if we could unhook from the trailer, straighten the truck out and hookup again! David said he looked at the guy wondering just how crazy he was. David told him NO! David said I didn’t even bother explaining how you could jack the trailer up on the two front metal jacks on ice and expect them to hold it!

Everything was ready and David told me to try and drive the truck forward slowly. I tried to get the truck out of park but it seemed frozen, pushing on the brake again I tried and it finally did but you could hear the transmission give a Big Bang. I tried to pull forward and was able to move a few feet but the rear tire that was off the road was spinning under the weight of the trailer baring down on it and unable to get back on the pavement. I wondered but didn’t ask how bad
After being pulled out!After being pulled out!After being pulled out!

Two plows and lots of sandy along with a brief pull to get us out!
the truck and trailer were damaged. I figured I’d eventually see it for myself, besides I was too busy switching legs holding the brake. At that moment I saw another snowplow come around the corner below us but this one was able to dispense salt and sand. As it approached I could see the sand being put down. I have never been so happy to see a sand truck in all my life. This new plow, plowed and sanded a 100 ft path directly in front of the truck in the oncoming lane. The goal was to get us pulled forward into that sanded area. That big plow pulled up and hooked a chain from the front of his truck to the front of our truck. Once again I tried to get the truck out of park but it would go. Second try, pushed on the brake and finally a bang and we were in drive. The plow pulled and within moments we were free and back on the road. I pulled us forward into that beautiful sandy spot facing the few cars that were left. With that David was back in the truck just as the second police truck arrived. The plows cleared the road on up the hill and sanded it to try and get the stacked up cars behind us the ability to get down and past us safely. David told me the plan was to have the snow plow come back down the road and we’d follow him down. I told David “I am not moving unless there is sand from that plow too!” David got out and chatted with the plow driver and told them I wasn’t moving without sand too. David said they chuckled and said yes there would be sand too. The plow drivers told David that they were very surprised by how bad the roads were which is why the first truck didn’t have a salt/sand spreader. They were just as shocked as we were he said.

So there we sat on the wrong side of the road waiting for the snowplow to come back down. This is when David began explaining that when he got out to direct traffic the road was so slippery that cars had difficulty stopping on this steep grade. Several darn near hit the trailer he said. He then explained that one car was sliding right toward him and the trailer and that if he hadn’t push the car off it would have hit us. David said he walked all around the truck and trailer and there was NO visible damage at all. “How can that be?” I said. David said: “Your excellent driving had us only going 3 mph when we went off. Only the rear drivers side tires actually went of the pavement and when they hit dirt we stopped.” I said you mean the trailer didn’t hit any road markers or anything? He said no, no damage. At that point I should have been elated but all’s I could think about was starting down this steep road again!!

About 15 minutes or so had passed when the snowplow with the sand came by and waved to us to follow but there were at least 10 vehicles already behind him. I pulled out and was so grateful I could see the sand on the center of the road. The plow and other vehicles were going much faster than I felt comfortable and so within the first couple of turns they were gone. The difference however is that the snow had stopped so no more accumulation and the salt and sand were doing there job. I continued down the road as it descended averaging 10-12 mph. At one point David asked about cars behind us and I promptly said, “I don’t give a DAMN!” David said “OK!” On we went down the hill and as the road flattened we realized we were finally off that mountain, Boulder Mountain. Just then I noticed two large gates closed across the road. What the hell I thought NOW they close the road. As we came to a stop I was able to see this long long line of cars behind us. A Jeep came speeding up in the oncoming lane beside us. The guy jumped out tried to unlock the gates etc but mostly was looking panicked. I assumed one of those plow guys would be along soon. Before long a guy came unlocked the gate and flung our side open. The Jeep tried to push through. I have no idea why he was in such a hurry but he was so we let go on in front of us. As we passed the gate it was all I could do to stay focused on the road versus jumping for joy we were down and two miles from the Torrey Wonderland Campground were we’d be staying for two days.

We pulled into the campground at 3:16 Pm. It had taken us 5 hours to drive 65 miles. The accident had happened at 12:45 Pm. We’d been pulled out on to sand at 1:41 pm.

David took Red out as he was getting antsy again as I went into register at the campground. The lady asked where were we coming from and I told Escalante. She said with a shocked look on her face and said: “But that road over Escalante Pass is closed due to snow!” I said: “Yes I know!” I explained we’d gone off the road up there which probably is what caused them to close the road! She said she was glad we were alright and I told her me too. I further explained that just as soon as we get this rig parked I’m drinking and I may not be sober or leave the trailer for the entire two days we are staying! I think she believed me.

Back out into the truck I pulled around to our spot and David and Red were there to greet me. We got pulled in, I told David just plug in the electricity as it started raining and sleeting again. We didn’t do anything but plug in electric and put the front jacks down to take weight off the truck. That’s the way we spent the night. Exhausted from hours of adrenaline rush, I told David I was sure my heart was very healthy because otherwise I’d have had a heart attack on that mountain. I was so physically drained I couldn’t do much the rest of the evening. By bedtime the wind had come up and I would wake with a start every time the trailer was rocked by the wind. It made me feel like we were sliding again. You know that saying, there is nothing to fear but fear itself, I’m not so sure about that!



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2nd June 2019

Great Story
You covered the day in great detail. Much more than the emails and phone calls.
2nd June 2019

WOW!
I was scared just reading about your trip over the mountain. Great job. So glad your excellent driving saved the day (and your rig).
3rd June 2019

WOW!
I am so grateful the two of you are ok!!!! OMG....see if you came to New York you wouldn't have had to deal with any of that!!! (Smile) Please, please, please be safe! I was sweating just reading that, my hands were gripping my chair....lol. Saying prayers for you to have a safe journey!!! BE CAREFUL!!!!
6th June 2019

Boulder Mountain
Can't believe it!!! Well done!
6th June 2019

Can’t believe we made it!
Yes! I worried but god was with us!!
21st June 2019

Scary!
Scary

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