The door wouldn’t budge: stranded for 5 days at Crater Lake National Park


Not having the ability to hear, and then not having an ability see to call for help? That’s the scariest part.

 

“This got to be a joke,” I told myself after realizing I was trapped inside the public bathroom at Crater Lake National Park. Trapped by the snowstorm.

My boyfriend, Jason, and I had a road trip in Oregon during the New Year. Despite the winter season, I wanted to see what winter was all about – I mean, what is winter in Los Angeles where I was born and raised? Oregonian often smiled or chuckled when they found out that I’m from LA,  I shrugged back with a smile.

I was hoping to see the sunset at Crater Lake; however, with my Los Angeles-brain and no experience of driving in the snow, I forgot that I need to drive slower than usual which made us miss the sunset.

Crater Lake

 

Right when the entire sky was about to engulf into darkness, there was no sign of any ranger but visitors. I only managed to take few successful pictures at night, and I hoped to see the sunrise in the morning which ultimately led us to decide to camp at the national park.

As we were debating whether we should camp outside, we saw a man with a black backpack walking toward the lake; it looked like he was going to hike down there, I thought.

We ended up deciding to camp in the heated public bathroom since we needed a break after suffering for several days of sleeping in the car and camping in less than 5 degrees weather). I was quite sure that we weren’t allowed to camp in the bathroom (and who would like to sleep there though?), but I thought we’d just get up at 5 am before the rangers come and watch the sunrise.

And it wasn’t snowing, no warnings at the entrance, visitors were taking selfies, and there were no signs of danger in sight. I mean, the sky was perfect. It was somewhat windy, cold as feck but no heavy snow. Nothing to be cautious about, so…

What could possibility go wrong? 

Well, we were wrong, gravely wrong.

Day 1

We got up at 5 AM, packed our stuff and we were ready to go to watch the sunrise – but the door wouldn’t budge open. Jason slammed himself to budge the door but only managed to open so little that wasn’t enough to get ourselves out. Through the crack of the door, I realized that the wind found such a perfect place to dump about 3 feet of snow at the front of the door which trapped us inside.

“Don’t worry,” I told Jason. “It should be fine, the rangers should come and plow it soon.”

We were quite exhausted and decided to sleep for few more hours which consequently led us into deeper trouble, a deep-ass trouble. 

The snow accumulated halfway about 4 feet,

and the door could no longer budge open.  

Through a small window on the door, I saw the snowstorm, screaming its ways along with the snow, but I didn’t hear its scream -nothing but silence. As I looked down through the window, I was shocked how fast the snow piled up, almost up to my height.

Next thing I knew, I laughed. No, this couldn’t be happening, I thought. The whole scenery felt surreal as if I was about to hear “and..cut!” any moment and act again for the scene. But there was no “cut!

Jason looked at me, a little confused by my reaction but assured me, “the rangers should come today or tomorrow, I mean, they have to come and check the park,” I nodded in agreement.

the “we are in the movie, right?” self.

Throughout the day, we took turns to look through the small window every 15-30 minutes, in hope to see somebody.

We explored around the bathroom, attempting to find our way out or call for help. The fire alarm was merely a strobe that doesn’t allow us to pull down the handle. We attempted to find ways set off the smoke detector, but there were no ways to make smoke or fire. I thought of messing with the plug outlet but would risk the 2 bars of light and heater. I thought of breaking bar light to get a little smoke come out of it but would also risk losing the light which we really need. Breaking the window was another thought but then we would lose a shelter. There were no other ways.

Jason eventually came up an idea of putting “HELP” on the window:

Here’s the help sign we tried to make

We grabbed a paper from “Did You Know?” facts about Crater lake that was posted on the door. I punched with my pinky finger to make “HELP.”  We were feeling hopeful as we put up the paper with picture hanging strips that we took from the door.

Hours passed and the sun was setting, I began to realize that we had not seen a sign of life yet, not even birds! Then it started to hit me late that night, okay, this is fecking real.

I wasn’t acting for a film, it was real.

I couldn’t help but to cry at the thought of my family and friends, the unknown and blamed myself for getting ourselves into deeper trouble when we had a chance to leave early in the morning.

If that’s the snow storm, I doubted there would be anybody else for a while, I thought. Jason consoled me, telling me that the rangers will have to come by tomorrow or in two days. We also had no food, although we, fortunately, had toilet and tap water.

With Jason’s headlamp, we took turns to flash the light at night. Hoping that someone noticed flashing lights soon.

Day 2

Thump! The vibration woke me up. I sprang up to my feet and ran to the door. Through the window, I hoped for a sign of life but nothing.

Since we have been trapped in the bathroom, we relied on vibrations on the bathroom’s floor. If we felt a thump, one of us immediately get up and check. If we felt a rapid vibration, we sprang to the door – thinking that it was the snow plower truck. Each and every time when we found it was nothing, we shook our head at each other.

Through the window, I could tell that the snowstorm had worsened.  I felt my heart dropped as I thought of the snow accumulating taller than the window view or how the other side of the window become too frosty – where we can’t scrape it off.

I began scraping the window from our side with a tent peg, hoping that the weather will get better.

Later I found myself hanging on to the bathroom stall to avoid fainting, knowing that we need to eat soon. I’ve been preoccupied with my thoughts and finding ways to get out that my stomach didn’t really growl at all. I looked through the trash and found raw fishes and chicken, yeah, we can’t eat that. I desperately searched through again and found half a dry bagel and two peanuts on the floor.

Never in my life did I once thought I’d be desperate for food. 

Jason and I took few bites of the dry half bagel, hoping that it would last another few days. I felt like a squirrel, storing them preciously.

We thought out again of alternative ways to get out or send signals but to no avail, even when I found a block of wood but no stick, no matches, no nothing to start a smoke. When I checked again at the window in the evening, my fear came true. It was hard for me to see. No, I can’t see through.

No, no, no, no, no!!! They won’t able to see the HELP sign!

I kicked the door, started slamming with my fists, screaming for help, “Please! Please help!!” I held back my tears as I hit and kicked the door again and again.

Not having the ability to hear, and then not having an ability to see to call for help?

That’s the scariest part.

That feeling of powerlessness was…terrifying. I felt myself wanting to curl into a ball and cry but held myself back and thought, “the sun will come soon, hopefully, it will melt. It will come.”

All we could do was to wait, hope that someone would see our HELP sign.

Day 3

I was relieved when I saw the ice melting on the other side of the window, but I found myself believing that we wouldn’t be found until perhaps a week later or even more.

This is the hallway between the outside and the bathroom

Several dreams kept waking me up throughout the day, and I don’t dream unless I’m stressed or feeling anxious. I could see how much energy and positivity we both had was draining comparing to the first day.

I woke up around 3 pm, feeling mentally and physically exhausted. I found it difficult to get up and debated whether I should go check the window again.

“What’s the point of checking, no one’s there because of the snowstorm”

“no, you have to keep checking. You’ll never know!”

I sluggishly walked to the door with little hope, expecting that there wouldn’t be any sign of life yet. As I looked through the window, there was something different, something new.

A black-clothed figure was standing in the middle of the white scenery. I squinted my eyes again, couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It took me a few seconds to realize that I wasn’t dreaming: it was indeed a sign of life. A black-clothed male-looking figure was looking around as if he was looking for someone.

I started slamming the door with my fists, screaming “help! help! help!” Fearing that I would miss another opportunity.

He waved, but it wasn’t really a wave. It was more like a quick gesture – the “yeah, I saw you” gesture. But what if I misunderstood that gesture? What if the snowstorm muffled my screams? Or was he wearing earmuffs?

I banged the door again and stopped as I noticed he was slowly walking toward to me. I ran back into the bathroom, waking Jason up abruptly, signing to him, “Come! Someone’s here! Come!!!”
 
We ran back to the door and saw him through the window, still walking slowly toward us. Something was wrong, though, by reading his body language. Although he had his snowshoes, he was walking slowly as he limped, crouching down to his knees.
 
Maybe he’s tired….or is he injured?
 
As he sat down on about 4 feet of snow, I could see his blue eyes.  He began digging with one of his snowshoes. As he was digging, Jason and I hugged each other, feeling so relieved.
 
How lucky was it that I saw that snowshoer at that moment? What if I decided not to check through the window that moment? Would the snowshoer come back? Would we be found by rangers soon?
 
But then, wait….what if that person is dangerous? Society taught me to beware of strangers, but I shook away that thought, no, it must be a good person, because he was rescuing us despite being tired or injured.
 
 
As we shoved ourselves out the door (which was barely open) into the freezing weather, we thanked the snowshoer.
 
I noticed that his facial expression was in pain, holding on his leg and held his other hand up in the air, looking stiff. He was mumbling through his scarf and couldn’t understand what he was saying because his mouth was covered. He gestured for water, so I ran back inside and gave him a bottle of tap water.
 
After walking back to our car that was covered in snow, we ate our grocery food. All of them were frozen, even Jason’s socks that were hanging from the sun visor. After stuffing our mouth with frozen food, we attempted to connect wifi that was included in our rental cat but nothing worked. We attempted to find at least one bar of a signal to send texts. All of our attempts to call for help wasn’t working.
 
Even the snowshoer couldn’t get through his walkie-talkie radio. 
 
Through lip reading and communicating through note app on the phone, I learned that snowshoer also arrived the same night we arrived. He was that same man that Jason and I saw who was starting to hike his way down to the lake!
 
Apparently, he was camping outside overnight, and the avalanche came. He was practically buried deep in the snow, causing his gloves to froze and his left hand feeling numbed. He climbed his way out, thinking that he would die. He also had been sleeping in the snow cave that he dug himself, stranded for three days without water. He saw “HELP” sign and had been shouting for us for hours and came back every once in a while to look for us.
 
 We were horrified with his situation, and his situation was a lot worse. Jason and I were fortunate to not camp outside at night and was sleeping in the bathroom instead. Thankfully that man was okay too; we provided him our food, and he let us sleep in his van for the night.
 
Jason and I discussed that we really need to break in Rim Village Café and Gift Shop in hope to use their wifi or phone, anything. The man replied, “yeah, but that’s illegal.”
 
“We don’t have a choice though, we need to. We need to call for help.”
 
The man nodded.
 
For the first time in days, I felt relieved and slept through a cold night.
 

Day 4

I woke up with a hope that we would break in the cafe and call for help.

“Ready?”  

We followed the man who was carrying a tool to break in through the window.

Walking without snowshoes was challenging, it seemed like it took me almost 30 minutes to get to the cafe, even though it was less than .4 mile away.

The snow is literally knee-high! It was so hard to walk through it without snowshoes

When we finally arrived, the man was shaking his head and pointed at the windows. I was confused what he was pointing at but then I realized that there were security bars on the windows. I felt my heart sank.

The front door was also hard to break in due to the snow and it merely had a deadbolt. I felt disappointed and we all walked back to the women’s bathroom to find out what to do next.

We couldn’t enter the women’s bathroom since the snow already trapped it shut. Jason and I began digging for about 30 to 60 minutes to get the door open.

Here’s a picture of the women’s bathroom

“okay,” the man said “tomorrow I will wake up early in the morning and make my way down to the rangers’ station. We cannot just wait.” 

“We’ll go with you,” we told him as we gestured. He shook his head, “no, because you guys don’t have snowshoes and it’s about 3 miles down. It may take about 12 hours to get there, and without snowshoes, it’s a lot harder. I will go myself and try to find a signal and make the call.” 

Jason and I looked at each other, knowing that he was right.

Day 5

“Don’t wait for me,” I read his lips while he was packing, “anything can happen to me. I could fall, trip over or the avalanche. Keep looking for a signal.” 

Jason and I looked at each other, fearing for his life and our lives. We watched him slowly leave as he snowshoed on the way to the ranger station. Several emotions were happening as we watched him for the next few minutes.

Although we only spent few days together, we both grew fond of him. We shared stories for the last two nights; we were impressed with his life experiences, including his backcountry hiking experiences. It’s probably weird to say but we all grew an interesting connection too even though we didn’t talk so much.

I was, and still am, truly grateful for his help.

About a few hours later, Jason and I were in the bathroom where we were discussing and preparing how to survive for next few days or weeks. Next thing I knew, that man suddenly came back into the bathroom, talking as he was taking off his scarf. We couldn’t catch what he said, so he repeated.

“I made the call! Found a signal there and they’re coming.” 

I was shocked and found it hard to believe, because Jason and I were just preparing everything to survive for who knows how long.

Freedom at last

 

Jason and I were both beyond thrilled that we finally smiled for the first time in days. We finally played in the snow, throwing snowballs at our face and laughing at each other. “First time I’ve seen you smiled in days,” he said.

 

I couldn’t explain such an indescribable feeling I had,

that I had a chance to live again. That I can see my family and friends.

When I contacted my young brother, it was such an emotional moment. He cried as he explained that he had to file a missing report and spread the news on social media to find us. Lilo and another close friend of mine were helping and supporting my family. They told me they saw so many emotions in my family’s eyes, and the thought of it was just devastating to me, how I scared them so much.

Although I never wish this upon anyone, to be quite honest – and this probably will sound really odd but Jason and I were also feeling not ready to leave Crater Lake; I already miss that place as I drove along over 15 feet tall of snow to the ranger’s station. In a way, it was an experience that I would never forget. An experience where I met that man, who saved us and somehow built a bond despite some difficulties to communicate with him. An experience that will not stop me from traveling.

The experience that gave me an ultimate test,

a test to explore myself. 

An experience that gave a huge wake-up call. 

 

 

To watch the interview with The Daily Moth, click here.


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44 thoughts on “The door wouldn’t budge: stranded for 5 days at Crater Lake National Park

  • Tami

    Wow! What an experience! And it’s not just a TV show…you had to go through this for real. Thanks for sharing your story. It was a cliff-hanger, for sure. So glad it all ended well!

  • Tasha

    Wow! I can’t imagine how it must have felt not knowing when you were going to make it out that bathroom. It must have been both terrifying and surreal. I really enjoyed reading your post, it kept me in suspense the whole way. I’m glad you made it home safely.

  • Kelly

    Omg. I am so glad you guys got out olay. That seems so scary to me. I cannot believe that happened and I am glad it turned out okay because now you can laugh about it and share the experience with us. But the park looks gorgeous. I can understand why you would trek up there. Thanks!

  • Katie

    Yikes what a horrible experience – I’m so glad that all three of you were ok in the end (assuming that your rescuer was ok!). Did the rangers say anything when they got you out?

  • Jamie

    What an incredible story! Thank you for sharing as it helps reiterate that ‘anything’ can happen when you are exploring the outdoors. Being prepared mentally is just as important as having the ‘stuff’ you may need to survive until help arrives.

  • Alina from Reverie Chaser

    What a story!!! I felt goosebumps on my skin when reading this! Such a lucky coincidence that he found you! But it does make me sad and angry that rangers didn’t check the park and that noone is stuck in it anyplace. 5 days is way too long for them not to go looking for people!
    Do you keep in touch with the man you met? Sounds like one of the stories where you have a friend for life now!

  • Doreen Pendgracs

    What a horrifying experience that must have been! How lucky you were that you were not alone at the time! Thank goodness you had Jason, and the help of the stranger. Hopefully, none of us reading this will ever have to experience your anguish, but thank you for sharing, and I’m glad you all got our of it OK.

  • Alaska

    I have never read through a blog post with such rapture before. I was absolutely hooked to your story, and my heart did a couple of leaps. I knew that you were fine, since you’re writing and sharing this post now, but I can’t even imagine the panic you must have felt being in that situation for real. I’m glad you managed to get out! What a crazy experience… I’m glad you decided to camp in the warm bathroom. Holy cow, I don’t understand how that other guy managed to survive. So harrowing… Sharing on my fb feed; this is a story that should be read and heard!

  • Robin

    This is such an insane story – I got so anxious with claustrophobia while I was reading it! I am so glad that you were safe – it’s crazy the mishaps that we can encounter in our daily life. Thank god you weren’t by yourself, I don’t know how you would have stayed sane!

  • Vishal

    I am happy that you guys are ok. It is unbelievable how an adventure turned into a life threatening scenario. I think you should talk to a producer about a movie or even a documentary.

  • Kerri

    I don’t know what’s more terrifying….your ordeal or having to sleep in a toilet. This is certainly an epic experience that I am quite sure you will never want to repeat. Sounds like you were both very lucky indeed.

  • Sarah

    Oh my god this was an amazing read. I was actually terrified for you reading it, even though obviously you’re okay now because you wrote this blog post! Hopefully nothing like this will ever happen to you again but what an amazing experience!

  • Abhinav Singh

    Whoa. I love survival stories and enjoyed reading this. Having said that I can understand the ordeal you must have gone through. I empathise with you since I have been through such adverse conditions myself as well. Trust me, horrifying experiences on travel make the best travel stories.

  • Julie

    This is one of the craziest stories I’ve ever read! It sounds like you are quite experienced hikers – I’m curious why there was no warning about the storm and how the rangers station didn’t have patrols out during the storm. I’m so dumbfounded that your crisis went on for so long – you’re so lucky you had groceries and that the guy saw you and that you’re able to tell the story now! So many lesson learned I’m sure – but wow. Crazy.

  • Megan J

    Holy CRAP! WOW! I’m SO glad that you guys made it through this, what a scary as all hell situation!! I was first wondering how you would have gotten water, but then realized the tap water in the bathroom, and honestly, I would have eaten a floor bagel too at that point! Well, if anything you have a captivating story to tell of an insane adventure that you made it out of alive … and maybe a trip during summer the next time you head to Crater Lake :D!

    Super impressed with your creativity and punching that help sign with your pinky fingers! I’ve actually camped in a bathroom before, in Denmark – we were at a public campground and got flooded by torrential rain, so we all high tailed it to the bathroom block. Luckily nothing as bad as your ordeal, but I laughed when you said you were wondering how many people really ever camped in a bathroom … me too 😀

  • Nathan

    Oh wow– so glad this story had a happy ending. This could have gone a completely different direction. So glad the other traveler found you guys as well. This could be made into a movie!

  • Travelwith2ofus

    One of the most exciting stories I have read in quite a while. I can’t imagine what I would do in a situation like that. I am so happy that you guys made it out of that snowstorm alive. Great story.

  • Lois Alter Mark

    OMG that story is horrifying! I’m so glad you made it out safely and that you didn’t starve to death. Thank goodness you weren’t alone all that time. I can’t even imagine what the whole experience was like!

  • stacey sandlin

    WOWO that is quite a story I am glad you are ok – it is actually really dangerous to be out there in the snow. I grew up in Colorado and have seen plenty of storms come up and snow you in! Wheew glad it turned out ok!

  • Viki

    When you wrote “I made a call” I was super relieved! Oh man, what an experience out there in the wilderness and being stuck! I’m glad you made it out – what a story!

  • Ami

    WOA…..scary Scary Scary….with all caps! i would be so paranoid and I can so understand your reaction when you slept in the snow. I would too…..I would have screamed and run out jumping with joy. While I enjoyed reading this piece, I was truly scared for you!

  • Lauren

    I shared your missing person’s report on my Facebook when I found out that you were missing. I was SO relieved when I found out that you were safe! What a story – one you’ll remember for the rest of your life!