As the story begins, Karen was living in Crestone, a "small village at the foot of the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo Range, in the northern part of the San Luis Valley" according to Wikipedia. In mid-June Kim and Bill, Dawn and JT, Pat and Janelle, Phillip and I, all headed toward the little town with a thirst for adventure. Little did we know how much we would find.
Upon finally reaching the log cabin, after turning right after the first stop sign and right again on the road past the second dirt pile (Karen's very accurate directions), we found that the place was empty except for some pizza and quiche. Assuming that these would keep better in the fridge I placed them inside and we all headed for bed (it was a really long day at the airport, plus a 4 hour drive from Denver). Just as we were all (at this point we had only Kim and Bill, Doc and Janelle) hitting the sac, in stumbled Karen. While nervously waiting for our arrival she had prepared lots of food, and when she had run out of food to cook she headed down to the bar where people proceeded to buy her drinks until she was quite wobbly. On her walk back to the cabin in fact, she had fallen into a ditch and gotten herself quite wet and dirty, something Janelle was so worried about that she made her change clothes.
So, since we were near the mountains, what would be the logical thing to do? Hike right? Well that's what we did anyway. We put in two days of successful hiking, though in neither case did we reach a summit. On the third day Karen was determined to get to the lake, however. At this point Phil had arrived and we decided to hike the Willow Lake trail. Karen had climbed the trail before and was confident that the lake was an obtainable goal. At about 11am we headed for the trail head with Pat, Janelle, Phil, Karen and I. By 2pm we had made our way up to the waterfall, a very defining point in the trail (this is of importance later). We sat down on a large rock near the falls and had a small lunch. The sky was looking overcast, however, and Doc and Janelle decided that it would be better to head back down the trail in order to avoid a mountain storm. (they did not walk down the trail together mind you, just left to walk down at the same time) With the adults out of the way Karen was sure the climb would go much faster. The estimated time and the actual time were much different, however. Karen, while trying to avoid some snow, was almost killed in a rock slide. Though, thankfully only her shoe was taken. We were able to recover the shoe under a pile of snow, only after removing a large boulder under which we thought it might lie. (So the truth is, her life was not in that much danger, but had she been walking the trail alone and broken her leg or such a matter, this could easily become life-threatening)
During the entire climb up the mountain Phil and I were taking pictures of the beautiful scenery and meandering along as Karen tried to hurry us. Eventually we made it to the lake and got some pictures of both it and a sheep that was in close proximity. The pictures were pretty awesome, and I was looking forward to sharing them with lots of people (another important point of the story). Well, when we reached the lake I gave Phil his camera (I had been using his Nikon) and I started back down the trail about 5pm. (Actually, I was very upset with myself for giving Phil his camera about 3/4 of the way down the trail because I saw a black bear that was within 150 yards of me. SO exciting!)This, I felt, would give me sufficient time to get down the mountain at my pace. Karen and Phil were goofing around, but I figured they would soon catch up, based on the fact that the day before I had traveled slowly down the mountain only to be overtaken by them in short time. Yet they never passed me this time. Apparently they spent another hour near the top of the mountain just fooling around. That's all fine and good, except, unlike Karen, Phil does not like to run down trails. Thus, when Karen started down the mountain at 6pm Phil did not follow right behind her. He decided instead to find his own trails and head toward the side of cliffs. At the time no one knew what he was doing.
So, as it began to get dark Karen and I had gotten down to the trail head, but Phil was nowhere to be found. Janelle went into the woods in hopes of keeping him from heading down a wrong path, and Karen ran on back to the cabin. So, I sat at the trail head for an hour before I was tired of waiting. By the time I got back it was 9pm. When I walked through the door everyone said, oh they're back, but I informed them that wasn't the case. This got everyone a little worried and Karen and JT set out to hike up the trail with headlamps in order to try and find Phil. They hiked about 1/3 of the trail before turning back with no sign of him.
The next morning everyone woke before 6am and Karen headed back out to hike the trail. In the mean time we called the search and rescue team because we were concerned for Phil's safety. Everyone we talked to had suggested it. So, we gave them descriptions and I told them of his last known location. Meanwhile Karen got to an area we termed "the meadow" before she found some campers to question. In fact, they had seen a man with no backpack walking through the meadow early that morning. Phil had been carrying a backpack though, so Karen was unsure if it was him. She decided to try walking back out through the meadow though, because it was possible that this mysterious hiker was Phil. As it turned out, it had been. Just as the rest of our party headed out to start hiking up the mountain, Phil was found walking down a road in "the Baca." He was worn and dreary, but he didn't think we should have worried.
The search and rescue team got a few statements from Phil so they could fill out a report. They wanted his license, but as it turned out he couldn't give it to them because it had been in his backpack which he dropped off the side of a cliff. Hearing this I was very concerned, somewhat about Phil's safety (I mean if the backpack fell off, could Phil have fallen off too?), but mostly about the camera's which were in the backpack (Phil was safe, why worry about the past). First, would we ever be able to recover the backpack and it's contents, and second, would there be anything worth recovering. So, the search team told us there was likely to be storms in the mountain that afternoon, so we might want to wait until the next day to make a recovery mission. (THE NEXT DAY!!, if it was going to rain that was all the more reason to try to make a recovery that day, the cameras would surely be ruined if they were allowed to be drenched!) However, we couldn't start right out on the search because we needed Phil, and he needed some sleep, because 2 hours of sleep under a fallen tree does not a rested man make. (By the way, the reason that Phil was then not able to make it down the mountain the day before was because he began searching for his pack and it got dark before he could find it.)
So, all of this happened before 9am, and then Phil got some sleep. When he woke up it was around 1:30. We talked about the options, did he know where he dropped the backpack?, did he think he could find it?, etc. He was fairly confident that he had marked the location well in his mind, so Karen, Phil and I started up the trail to find the missing pack at 2:30. About 5 minutes into our hike Karen got a call from Chesterfield, a friend that wanted to go on a hike with her. Phil and I told her to invite him along because he could help us search, and that he did. So, while Karen waited for Chesterfield, Phil and I started up the mountain, knowing we would hike slower. As we neared the waterfall Karen had caught up and Phil was thinking that the backpack's location might be near at hand. "I think I dropped it on the left side of the waterfall," said Phil. So we searched, and silly me, I said "I found it," only to discover I had not. So we searched in this area for 20 minutes before Phil decided it didn't seem like the right location and he decided it was likely on the other side of the falls. "There are lots of waterfalls," he said. Which was true, but this one was much larger than the others, there should have been little question as to what side of this waterfall it was on. So, to the other side we went. We found a rocky area that Phil seemed to remember and we questioned why he would have been that far from the trail, but he insisted that he was following "trails" and that the one that he was following had lead him toward this rocky cliff face. We then proceeded to get as close to the edge of these cliffs as we dared in order to look down and see if we might spot a blue backpack. Thinking on this, we would never have been able to find a backpack from this height, except that Pat had made Philip take his sweatshirt before he left and Phil had put it in the outer pocket of the pack. Therefore, when Chesterfield said, "I see a white shirt down there," I thought to myself, could it possibly be? "Phil," I asked, "could that sweatshirt have fallen out of your pack?" When he said yes we decided to follow the lead. We knew the pack was somewhere down below and now we had a starting point for a search. However, it was not as easy as jumping off the cliff down to the sweatshirt's location, we had to find a way to get down 40-60 feet without killing ourselves.
This was the most time consuming part of our experience, and in my opinion, the most fun. We crossed over the large river several times as our options of travel on one side would become limited. Then we shimmied down rock faces and over fallen trees, jumped over boulders and worked our way toward the shirt. Finally we got to the location that we had seen from above. Chesterfield was willing to walk up into the cavernous area and found both the sweatshirt and a backpack, as well as another item that had fallen out of the pack (Phil's pipe). So our first task was to check the cameras (though I think Phil cared more about some other items that were in the pack), and to our surprise, they were fully functional. We even took a picture of our triumphant recovery.
The last thing we had to do was make it back down off the mountain, which actually required that we travel back upwards because we had traversed downward to locate the pack. We were finally able to locate the trail before dusk which made me very happy because even though we had brought head lamps in case we were on the mountain at night, I really didn't want to travel on the mountainside without a trail in the dark. So, we all got back with the treasure we were searching for and now have an exciting tale to recall of our Crestone experience.