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