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A high and scary point in life

On July 24, 1972, Marilyn and I reached a high point in our lives. It was also one of our most dangerous days ever.We had been married only a month. Marilyn already had her master's degree in psychiatric nursing and was serving on the faculty of ...

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D., FarmersÕ Forum columnist
Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D., FarmersÕ Forum columnist

On July 24, 1972, Marilyn and I reached a high point in our lives. It was also one of our most dangerous days ever.

We had been married only a month. Marilyn already had her master's degree in psychiatric nursing and was serving on the faculty of Weber State University while I was pursuing my doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Utah.

With another married couple and their two teenage sons, we attempted to ascend the highest point in Utah, Kings Peak, at 13,527 feet in elevation.

We had hiked mostly uphill 13 miles from where we left our vehicles parked the previous day; we were the only campers on an alpine lakeshore, still some eight miles from the Kings Peak summit, which was 3,000 feet higher. A cove of conifers ringed the lake, just below timberline.

All of us arose at 4:30 a.m. on this state holiday when Mormons celebrate the arrival of their first predecessors in Utah. We set out after a quick breakfast with plenty of food and water in our backpacks to continue the excursion to our destination.


The first four miles were relatively easy except for the gradually increasing elevation and decreasing oxygen level as we followed a fairly distinct path over Gunsight Pass, still some four miles from the final precipice.

The youngest boy, and Marilyn - both with shorter legs, were having a difficult time keeping up even though the rest of the pack slowed down periodically to let them catch up. It became apparent that not all of us would be able to finish the climb, so we began to "string out."

We were aware that summer rainstorms occurred almost daily in the Uintah Mountains of Northern Utah. This day was typical, for dark clouds began to form above the highest visible peaks by mid-morning.

At 11 a.m. I was the second in our party to arrive at the base of the final precipice some 1,200 feet above. A 15 year-old fellow adventurer was already a couple hundred feet above me.

I clambered up the steep, rocky terrain as best I could and reached the summit around noon. There was a mailbox at the peak with notes and a pencil from previous climbers. I scribbled my name and the date on a scrap of paper, took a few pictures with my camera and began my descent after appraising the magnificent surrounding Uintah Mountains for a few minutes.

Marilyn was waiting for me at the base of the final precipice, too tired to attempt an ascent. She had decided to not try to reach the pinnacle.

We strode back as quickly as we could toward Gunsight Pass. The entire sky was a sodden, dark gray overcast.

We had waterproof ponchos with us in case of rain; we donned them at Gunsight Pass when the storm cut loose. If Marilyn had attempted the final ascent, she would have been exposed on barren rocks with nowhere to seek shelter.


Hail, then a blizzard of snow unleashed in such torrents that we could see but for a few feet. Lightning struck nearby rocks and sent them crashing, followed by ear-piercing thunder.

Marilyn and I huddled in a crevice near Gunsight Pass, lower than the surrounding terrain.

As the thunder-snowstorm gradually subsided during the next half-hour, we set back onto the route to our campsite, but now our trail and all the visible landscape were covered with six inches of snow.

Where was our trail? We couldn't discern a path through the sparse alpine vegetation. The atmosphere was cloudy and distant snow was still falling too greatly to determine the correct direction.

With a prayer, we decided by dead reckoning where we might head. We trekked gradually downward a couple miles until we spotted a sign that indicated the trail toward the sheltered site where we had set up our tent. The wet snow was slowly melting as the storm passed. The trail and its markers would be more discernible to those following us.

Marilyn and I arrived back at camp around 4 p.m. We brushed the snow off our tent and crawled inside to warm up. We hoped everyone else had been safe in the thundersnow.

An hour later we heard our accompanists shouting to ask if we were at camp as they approached the lakeshore. How glad we were to be together again as we hugged. We started a roaring campfire for everyone to dry off. I attempted to catch fish with my fly rod for supper in our nearby alpine lake, but to no avail. We settled for freeze-dried food, to which we added lake water, and cooked the ingredients over our campfire. It tasted mighty good, even though we had no fresh fish to dine on.

Best of all, we were safe and now had a memorable event to carry with us for the rest of our lives.


Mike Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa, psychologist and farmer. To contact Rosmann go online to: www.agbehavioralhealth.com .

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