Mike Turner’s Fitzpatrick Adventure

A 48-year-old 6’6″ hiker named Mike Turner stopped briefly on August 2, 1998, pulled his bottle from his rucksack, and took a sip. Mike was standing among a stand of trees in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness, a region of Wyoming, at an elevation of roughly 11,000 feet. Undoubtedly, one of the world’s most visually arresting locations is the Fitzpatrick Wilderness. It appears as though the extremes of nature have kind of converged in one location.

Right below them, at the foot of these enormous mountains, are all these gorgeous green fields full of tall grass and flowers, with animals moving around and small streams and lakes. You have these enormous, 13,000-foot-tall snow-covered mountain peaks, glaciers, and more. It really is quite picturesque. In fact, some of the photos of this location are so absurd that they almost seem false.

However, the Fitzpatrick Wilderness’s true fame stemmed from the fact that, due to its extreme difficulty in reaching it, it remained mostly unexplored by humans. It basically takes a great deal of expertise to travel to this location and to survive in this place, therefore the only people who set foot in this incredibly strange landscape were really experienced outdoor people like Mike Turner.

This place is quite rough. However, Mike Turner was not satisfied with simply seeing the Fitzpatrick Wilderness; he was truly interested in taking in the genuine essence of this region. Thus, during his time there, he was trekking in an area that wasn’t even designated on a map, off-trail, and in a very isolated location.

Now, this may seem completely reckless to someone who has never used a compass or chart to navigate in the wilderness. It kind of is, to a certain extent, but some people just have a natural talent for it. This wasn’t something Mike did as a career; it was a passion project. He had been employed for several years as a pastor at a Christian church in Idaho. Mike had three children: a son, two daughters, and a wife, Diane, who were all very active in the church. He also loved his congregation and his role as a reverend. Being a reverend came with a lot of labor, responsibility, and stress, but it was also a wonderful thing. Going on hikes was one method Mike discovered to deal with his mounting stress.

Ironically, he discovered that he felt more connected to God when trekking in the outdoors than when he was preaching inside a church. To him, the universe was a magnificent gift from God. Imagine yourself in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness, gazing over this amazing topography, which appears to have been created by God. Is there anyone else who could? It is breathtakingly gorgeous.

In light of the foregoing, Mike stopped to take a drink of water on this specific day, which happened to be the fourth day of a nine-day solo trip into this wilderness that he had been planning for more than a year, 11,000 feet up on this slope. Even though Mike was an extremely experienced hiker, traveler, and survivalist, he was aware that going on any kind of lengthy solo walk included a number of risks unique to solo hiking. The main risk is that you’ll be on your own if you get into difficulty, so you should have a solid strategy in place for what to do in such a scenario.

Mike had thought of a brilliant scheme. Over the course of that year, he mapped out the detour he was going to take over these nine days. The journey spanned sixty miles via the Fitzpatrick Wilderness, and he meticulously plotted his anticipated route on a map. He handed his wife, who was also an avid hiker, the map with all the different coordinates and his exact daily whereabouts. He stated, “On the ninth day, you’re going to meet me at this spot at the end of the 60 miles at noon, and I will meet you there and you can take me home.”

But on the fourth day, as he was drinking water on the mountaintop, that plan had changed, and only Mike knew about it because he had no method of getting word back to his friends and family. He couldn’t just call someone because at the time, cell phones were incredibly basic. Basically, only he would know if he went off course from his strategy. It made perfect sense for Mike to decide to change his direction. Although Mike was officially hiking alone, he wasn’t truly by himself because the family dog, Andy, a friendly black lab mix, was also trekking.

Mike and Andy had been walking on some frozen portions of the mountain at an elevation of around 13,000 feet during the course of the previous day and into this fourth day. Andy’s paws were becoming really raw from walking on the sharp ice. On that particular day, Mike observed that Andy was whining and finding it difficult to keep up, in contrast to his usual hyperactive behavior of rushing around.

Mike realized that Andy wouldn’t be able to keep up with him on the course he was intended to take over the next several days—a route that would pass over these mountains covered in so much ice. To avoid the ice, he made the decision to go around the mountains. This route would take him a little longer, but it would still lead him to the same place, where his family and wife would be waiting.

Mike realized that if he went off track to save Andy’s paws, not only would his family not know where he was, but it would also take longer than planned. He was aware that he might not arrive at the time he had promised; it might be the tenth day or later. However, Mike had prepared for this eventuality. Even though traveling this road was riskier, he felt certain that he could complete the trek without any issues because he had taken additional supplies just in case he had to extend his journey.

Mike finished sipping his water, then got a bowl out of his pack, filled it with water, and set it down on the ground for Andy. Andy moved to the other side and started to lap at the water. Looking down as he did, Mike watched Andy’s tail waggle with delight, which gave him the confidence that going the secondary way was the right one. But before Andy could finish sipping, Mike noticed that he had stopped abruptly, raised his head, ears pricked as if he sensed something, and darted into the trees. Andy vanished before Mike could stop him.

On treks like this one, Andy was a playful dog who would occasionally run around, but keep in mind that Mike was in the backcountry and had strayed from his trail. He couldn’t afford to make mistakes and wanted to be certain of his whereabouts. If Mike had to pursue Andy after he went rogue, there was a good possibility he would get lost, turn around, or come across a predator. Mike then took the bowl and chased Andy into the trees.

Mike was met with an amazing sight when he emerged on the other side: a large clearing on the mountainside surrounded by stones the size of tiny automobiles, with a perspective that looked down towards a lake. Since Mike could see Andy walking towards the lake, the only way to get from where he was to where Andy was would be to scale the boulders and jump from one to the other.

Mike called to Andy once again, but he kept moving in the direction of the lake. Mike, accepting of his predicament, ascended to the summit of the first rock and started leaping from one to the next in the direction of his dog. A week later, on August 9th afternoon, Mike’s wife Diane, her three children, and a few family friends gathered at the beginning of the Big Sandy Trail, the official meeting place where Mike had promised to meet his family at the end of their nine-day adventure. Diane was standing at this meeting spot, nervously checking her watch.

Mike was running more than a few minutes behind schedule; he was over 24 hours behind. Mike is still not here on the ninth, even though it is now the eighth at noon. But keep in mind that Mike was someone who did things like this on a daily basis. He was incredibly skilled in the outdoors, and everyone was aware that there was some uncertainty about his exact arrival time at the rendezvous as he set out on this adventure.

Diane, her friends, and her family felt that although though Mike had stated he would be there on the eighth at noon, it was fair to assume he might be several hours or perhaps a day late, and that was acceptable. So, when he didn’t arrive at noon the day before, folks were worried, but they were alright. It is now a whole day later, and Mike is still nowhere to be found. Diane, their children, and the friends from the family were becoming concerned.

Actually, prior to Mike departing on this trip, he informed Diane that in the event that he does not appear on the 9th, 24 hours after he had promised to be there, and it is after 4:00 p.m. on the 9th, Diane should notify the authorities, presume an issue exists, and dispatch a search team. Diane is therefore looking at her watch on the 9th, and before she knows it, it is 4:00 p.m. Mike is not present. No Mike at 4:05, 4:10, or 4:15.

She knew her husband had stated, “Now it’s time to go get the authorities,” but she was just not in the right frame of mind to do it. She thought that organizing a search party out here would be a major task. That’s a major undertaking and a significant financial burden, and she had the impression that Mike would emerge from the wilderness soon after she alerted the authorities, carrying a compelling tale and offering a heartfelt apology for his tardiness. She forced herself to give it one more day as she was positive he would eventually appear.

However, when Mike was still nowhere to be found the following day, on the 10th, Diane did report Mike missing to the authorities. As she had anticipated, a widespread search was initiated for Mike. However, you must remember that nobody, not even Diane or the searchers, knew that Mike had strayed from his intended course. This was a huge area of wilderness that they were going to be searching. It’s really difficult to locate people out here, even in ideal circumstances where one knows precisely where they are in relation to their itinerary. It’s really rough; both from above and below, objects are hidden.

Some places are inaccessible to you at all. Predators exist in the world. They don’t even realize he’s no longer on that route, therefore this is a risky thing to be doing. He has strayed. Not a shred of evidence of Mike could be located in the region, not even by the hundreds of volunteers searching for him, not even by the helicopters searching the air for him. They were forced to abandon the massive search after two weeks passed with no results. Naturally, Mike’s family was absolutely devastated. They were unaware of Mike’s fate.

We are presently on August 28, five days after the official search was concluded and five days after that. At this point, the last recorded sighting of Mike Turner was actually about 17 miles away from where a couple of trekkers were hiking through the Fitzpatrick Wilderness. That was approximately the time Mike actually started the nine-day epic adventure, not when he passed through the trees and spotted the stones. The two backpackers are located roughly 17 miles from the place where someone last saw him.

Flyers were posted everywhere—in town, at the start of every trailhead, and around the Fitzpatrick Wilderness—informing these two trekkers that Mike Turner was missing. They knew that both Mike and his dog had vanished. This completely malnourished, ragged-looking black lab, crying and appearing to be on its last legs, emerged from the forest line as they were just relaxing there. The moment these hikers saw it was Andy, they realized that was the lost dog. With granola bars, they enticed the dog to come closer. Andy got up to eat. Just so you know, Andy would live and fully recover from the water they gave him.

The moment these hikers got hold of Andy, they alerted the authorities, who then phoned Mike’s family to let them know, “Hey, we found Andy.” You can only image the emotional roller coaster that Mike Turner’s family was experiencing. They’re thinking, “Oh my goodness, maybe Mike is okay too,” now that they’ve heard Andy is okay and has emerged from the jungle. Andy might be able to guide us back to Mike’s location. Given his extreme skill in survival, Mike must still be alive.

Thus, with Andy serving as the guide dog, a second search was initiated following the discovery of Andy. They proceeded to the location where the hikers had discovered him, and essentially, Andy’s family and a few other volunteers let him lead them back into the woods in the hopes that it would eventually bring them to Mike.

While Andy led the way in this fresh search, another backpacker—whom we will refer to as Brian for the purposes of this account even though that is not his real name—was making his way through a different part of the Fitzpatrick Wilderness. Although Brian was not actively searching for Mike Turner, he was aware of Mike’s disappearance since, once more, he had seen the news and all the fliers on missing persons. At the beginning of his own trailhead, he noticed a large flyer with a picture of Mike Turner and his dog stating that he was missing when he set out on his own hike into the wilderness.

So Brian knew that Mike Turner wasn’t around, but he was just venturing out into the woods on his own. He hiked alone for several days through this incredibly untamed area until coming onto a dense stand of trees on a mountainside at an elevation of roughly 11,000 feet. After walking through those trees, he came out on the other side and saw this incredible boulder field that nearly stole his breath away, sloping down to a lake.

However, it wasn’t what truly caught his interest. Instead, as he was admiring the rocks and the breathtaking view of the lake and distant mountains, he observed that a man was sitting on a rock a good distance across the boulder field, facing away from Brian and simply gazing at the lake.

Now keep in mind that we are in the middle of nowhere, and Brian had no intention of meeting anyone else along the way. He naturally thought, “All right, I gotta go check on this guy and make sure he’s okay.” At the very least, I’d like to speak with him. Getting in touch with other individuals out here is really unusual.”

In an attempt to find out what was going on, Brian started to approach the man. That man was Mike Turner, the hiker who had gone missing. Mike Turner, my goodness, did he have a tale to tell. However, in order to comprehend Mike’s narrative, we must travel back 29 days to the moment when Andy, the dog, ran away from Mike and entered the boulder field.

Mike had noticed the boulders after emerging from the trees. He started to move approach his dog after spotting it and scaling the first rock. Mike then stood up on that rock and started jumping from one boulder to the next. It was going well at first. He made it about halfway through the field of boulders.

It was all good; he was making his way, telling Andy to stay put. But then he came to this one very big boulder. It was quite unsteady when he jumped onto it, wobbling beneath his feet. Mike attempted, almost instinctively, to jump from the shaky boulder onto an adjacent boulder. However, he sort of undershot as he leaped.

It was not stationary after this second boulder fell on it. Rather, he slid to the ground after sort of hitting the second boulder’s face. Mike is currently on the ground in this narrow gap between the boulders; it didn’t damage him. Unfortunately, though, the unsteady boulder directly behind Mike did not simply stay unsteady.

It swayed till it rolled forward, practically landing on the second boulder that Mike had not only jumped onto but also failed to land on. In essence, Mike was caught between the two boulders after the shaky one collided with the second one. Crucially, though, Mike was unharmed by it. It will take some explaining, but once I go through it, it will all make clear.

The face of the unsteady boulder had an approximately U-shaped cutout in it. Envision an identically shaped boulder with a depression situated in front of it. Coincidentally, there was also a U-shaped hole in the face of the second boulder in front of the shaky boulder.

Mike just so happened to be standing where the two cutouts wrapped around him like chains when these two 800-pound boulders crashed. In other words, they essentially locked his ankles together so that he was unable to raise his legs and escape the extremely small area that was only large enough to contain them. He appeared to be fixed to the earth. Again, though, Mike is unscathed. He’s not bruised or broken in the legs. He simply isn’t able to move.

Now that he is unable to lift these 800-pound rocks, Mike would have seen right away that this was a serious problem. With the exception of his dog, who is unable to provide much assistance due to the large weight of 800 pounds, he is alone. As a result, Mike plunged right into, “Oh my god, I have to figure out a way to move these boulders, even just a millimeter.”

His feet would be freed in just a centimeter. He took off his backpack and then, one by one, removed all of his gear, including his stove, tripod, camera, and other items. He exerted all his effort to remove these foolish stones from himself, but they remained in place.

Michael realized he was not going to be able to release himself after two hours of fruitless attempts. He had no chance of escaping this place unless he was discovered and saved. In an attempt to maintain composure, Mike took out the notebook he had brought with him for the trip, which described his intimacy with God and the lessons he was learning.

He started recording everything that happened to him, including how he was himself in these stone shackles, why he was in this boulder field, and what he was doing when he got stranded. It’s obvious that he trusted God to get him out of there. After two hours in this situation on the first day, he wrote in his journal, “Lord, I am in your hands. “I don’t know what I may face,” he said, indicating that he had faith in God despite not knowing what might happen to him. He had faith that God would see him through.

Following this first journal entry, Mike focused on survival, attempting to live as long as possible among the rocks. He took out his blue sleeping bag and tucked it over his body for warmth. He drew his tent flap over his head, melted some of the reachable snow to make water, and took out his stove.

He was essentially camped out among these stones. It must have been very terrifying the first night. Even though it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, the temperatures plummeted to almost freezing. However, he found himself in a terrible situation that evening, imprisoned by his thoughts, and he prayed and hoped that God would deliver him.

When Mike awoke the following morning, he continued writing in his journal and started listing his greatest worries. If he managed to escape, one of them might need to have his legs amputated. It was terrifying what would happen to his legs if he lost circulation. He claimed to have had two quarts of water but at least a week’s worth of food.

He was running low on fuel and there was not much snow left nearby to melt. Ironically, he was roughly 25 to 30 feet from a lake, but he was genuinely concerned about running out of water. Although he might have consumed the lake’s water, he was once more confined to the earth.

Mike tried to toss his water bottle, which he had attached a rope to, into the lake on the second day in an attempt to catch some water and bring it back to him. However, it stopped short of the water when he threw it. He was unable to get it into the water to fill his bottle with water. He attempted to get the bottle back, but it became stuck in some pebbles and he was unable to throw it out. Thus, he was unable to even retrieve his water bottle.

By the conclusion of the second day, Mike started writing in his journal in a different way. He started talking about how he pondered what would happen if he ran out of water, even if it wasn’t entirely bad at the time. If he combined his urine with Crystal Light, he wondered what it would taste like. It seemed as though he was making a joke about how to make his poop taste better, but it also indicated that he was starting to grasp how bad things were. No one was aware of his location. He was much off the usual route. He was going to run out of water the next day, and he had no idea if anybody even knew he was in difficulty.

After three days of being cooped up inside these boulders, Mike started journaling once more. Even though he was not going to be able to resolve the impending water catastrophe, his tone appeared a little more upbeat. Even though he was almost out of water, he wrote in his journal that the goal of the entire n-day journey was to become closer to God. In the last several days, he felt as though he had actually accomplished that.

He desired a spiritual experience, and he was stuck there like a hundred times. He had never felt so close to God as he did then. There was merely a vague feeling that he was going to leave. He intended to use this event as a teaching tool, stop taking foolish chances, improve as a husband, father, and reverend, and succeed in life. This misery he was going through was going to help him.

But as Mike was stuck in these rocks for several days without any assistance, his hope began to fade. He started writing about how upset he was with God. He questioned whether he was being punished for anything he had done. He believed that the reason he was in this situation was because he might have failed God. It was obvious that Mike, a very spiritual individual who firmly believed in a higher power, was unable to comprehend how he got into this dire situation without the assistance of God.

Regretfully, Mike’s circumstances continued to deteriorate. On day five or six, Mike realized he had lost all feeling in his left leg as he lay miserable in this awful tent he had constructed. By now, it was a dead leg. He wrote in his journal about how this created a fresh, very real terror in him, even though he was aware by now of how dire his circumstances were. He was aware that his body was starting to fail, but assistance was still lacking. All of his prayers had resulted in no heavenly assistance. He was alone with no one coming to save him.

When I first read what Mike had written in his journal, it almost made me cry. All it stated was, “So alone.” More than I had anticipated.” I can’t imagine what it would be like to be stuck somewhere, unharmed but unable to move, by yourself, slowly deteriorating, all the while knowing that your family is out there and oblivious of you. The emotional anguish this man endured is beyond comprehension; it’s horrifying.

However, things only seem to get worse. Day six and Day Seven: Mike eventually lost his diary, so he started writing on everything he had, like his stove’s instruction manual and his pocket Bible, until he could no longer reach it. His writing grew ever more depressing and gloomy.

He started writing on how much he regretted going the long way, which had led to his being in this position where no one would be able to find him. He continued to be angry with God and despised himself, wondering why He wasn’t noticing his pain. This was a man going insane from loneliness, agony, and regret. It was awful.

Then Mike’s writing on the various things he scribbled on took a different turn on the seventh, eighth, or ninth day that he was trapped in these boulders. He was practically losing consciousness, and his writing was becoming increasingly unintelligible. His body was disintegrating. He was shivering in the dead of night and in the direct light all day. He could hardly write, had no food left, drank his urine, and had no water.

His writing started to discuss his kids and family. Mike must have realized that his time was running out at this point, and his only thoughts were of his family. Knowing he wouldn’t be around to witness it—he would be dead—he started to ponder what his children’s life might be like in the future.

It was clear from some of his final entries that Mike had truly returned to God. He was going to God again, arms wide outstretched. He was merely ready; he was no longer angry or doubting God’s plan. In fact, he recorded this in his journal: “Lord, please grant me peace.” May my ailments never make my love for you disappear.” “I’m ready to die, though I’m missing my family,” he wrote after that.

Mike was so close to death that at the time of his last entry, which must have been on the tenth day of his ordeal, his handwriting was all but unreadable. It’s the last entry he wrote, and although you can’t really read it, it says “Love, Dad.” He seemed to be bidding his loved ones farewell for the last time.

Then Mike removed his wedding band and set it on the rock beside him, knowing that the ring would slip off his bones and disappear into the rocks beneath him after he passed away and began to decay. He put the wedding ring on the rock and made ready to die, obviously wanting his family to keep it.

Because he had seen the missing person fliers prior to entering the forest, hiker Brian knew almost instantly that the sitting man he spotted on this boulder was Mike Turner. Acknowledging that this was the individual they were searching for and that he was immobile, he covered him up and stole Mike Turner’s wallet, which held his identity. The hiker named Brian then headed back to the trailhead as quickly as he could and called the police.

I will mention that Brian was retracing his tracks as quickly as possible, and it took him about three days to get in touch with the authorities. That truly helps you understand how isolated the place Mike was at the time of his death was. Furthermore, it would come to pass that Mike wouldn’t be found by Brian before Andy the dog, who was in charge of that backup search, did. But it was clear that Andy was going in that way once they found out where Mike had died and looked at the route he was bringing his family. Although he wouldn’t make it in time, the devoted dog was returning to save his owner.

In a heartbreaking twist that completes the tale, Mike sent Diane a bouquet of flowers in the mail the day he departed, knowing they would come after he had left his wife Diane and their three lovely children to start this journey. A note addressed to Diane read, “Thank you for letting me live this adventure,” and it was attached to the bouquet. Please know that I’m thinking of you no matter where I am or what I’m doing.”

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