In 2011, Luke Nelson and Ty Draney ran over a hundred mile length of the salmon river in the remote Frank Church wilderness area. Luke, a friend from college, asked me to come shoot photos and I eagerly agreed to it. We packed up, and drove north, stopping in a town so the two could eat some giant hamburgers, carbo-loading for their “fun run” the following day. We picked a spot at the beginning of the course to crash, while Luke and Ty ran over gear. Between the two of them, they were packing a Spot Tracker, which is a device that allows them to send out texts, as well as allowing others to follow them via GPS. The only problem is that it’s one-way communication, meaning they can send out texts as well as their GPS location, but can’t receive any, nor can they see where they are. Accompanied with a map, and enough food for about 24 hours, they set out early the next morning. Their quiet footsteps slowly fading into the distance was an indicator that I needed to start my 3 hour drive to find a trailhead where I would hike in from the following morning.
The next day, I woke up at 3 and set out, holding a monopod in one hand in case I was attacked by a bear. Running through the wilderness at 4 in the morning by yourself is a very interesting experience, jumping at every sound. Birds and bunnies turned into bears and cougars. After waiting for 13 hours in a location that I thought they would run through, I watched the sunset and decided to head back to the car. Running back, I wondered If I had gone to the wrong location. I drove back to where I thought they would finish, thinking that they were waiting there without a ride, but when I showed up, they were no where to be seen. I camped close by, thinking they might show up at any point, but the next morning, when they still hadn’t arrived, I set off up the canyon in search of the two.
After a couple hours, the trail disappeared, which left me wondering if I was even in the right canyon. I climbed halfway up the canyon wall to get a better view, and continued onward. An hour later, I saw them far down below in the river bottom, bushwhacking through thick brush. I shouted and started running down toward them, relieved that I had found them. I met up with the two survivors and found out that they had taken a couple wrong turns and were also concerned that they were in the wrong drainage. I gave them some much needed food and started heading toward the finish. When we got out of the canyon, we slowly crossed one last river, found the truck and plopped down, exhausted. Luke and Ty both completed their journey after more than 40 hours on the move. When we finally got cell phone service, I received Luke’s text message from the day earlier saying “very lost getting serious more soon”. As we drove away, I chuckled at the cryptic text that spawned several distraught messages from family members, relieved that we were all safe, ready for our next adventure.