Reader Participation Day: Have You Had a "Close Call" in a National Park?

Most national parks are not inherently dangerous, but park visitors can expect to encounter serious hazards to life and limb at various places and times in our National Park System. If you've narrowly escaped from a life threatening situation in a national park, tell us about it. Is there a takeaway lesson?


A thunder storm at Lassen Volcanic many years ago. It was my first trip in that part of the Cascades and we did not expect the weather to deteriorate as fast as it did. So we were surprised by the storm moving in from a western direction as we reached the summit of Lassen Peak. We left immediately but the storm catched up with us and we got into the very center. It became the worst thunderstorm I ever encountered in any mountains anywhere. It did not really help that I carried a pretty heavy metal tripod and we feared it would attract flashes.
As you can see from the fact that I can write about the experience, we got down from the mountain, by using commons sense and the appropriate techniques, such as duck with a very small footprint until the thunder roars and the flash discharges, then jump for a few seconds before you duck again and wait for the next flash.

Definitely too close for comfort, MRC. Glad you ducked that bullet. Your tale reminds me of an experience I had myself at Lassen Volcanic. I guess it might be thought of as a close call. I was tent-camping at the park's Lake Manzanita Campground in early September some years ago (2003?) when an unexpectedly powerful thunderstorm moved in at night. The trees near my tent were being heavily buffeted and the ground was awash, with some water even flowing in under the ground cover beneath my sleeping bag. When lightning began striking very close -- flash and boom nearly simultaneous -- I commenced wondering what might happen if a lightning bolt hit a nearby tree, or even the wet ground near my tent. (I had a pretty good idea, not least because I used to teach meteorology.) As the wind gusted more violently, these thoughts gave way to concern about what might happen if one of the nearby trees fell on my tent. (You don't need to be a student of atmospheric physics and chemistry to figure that one out.) Fortunately, this little adventure turned out just fine. I got a good night's sleep and was up early the next morning to get the fire going and make the coffee. As I recall, there was a pretty good coating of ice on the gear that was left outside. Mountain weather sure gets interesting in the fall.

I was on my first backing packing trip ever in Glacier National Park. On our second day our hike took us into the backcountry to a non-desginated campsite. Along the way on we crossed a large patch of snow on Pitamakan Pass. The next day on the way back we had to cross the same patch of snow. I didn't think anything of it until the snow gave way and I found myself sliding down a slope toward a 1,000 ft dropoff into Pitamakan Lake. I'm still amazed that I remembered what our guide had told us to do if this happened. I was on my stomach already so I jammed my hiking poles into the snow to impede my progress and hopefully stop my slide. It worked! Meanwhile our guide moved swiftly, clambered down the slope along the edge of the snow patch, and reached me about the time I stopped near the lower end of the snow before I hit scree. He helped me back up the slope to the trail and we continued after I got my wits about me and I calmed down.

Many, actually. But I was a ranger, so I guess that goes with the territory.

The coastal strip of Olympic National Park contains the longest, wildest (roadless) beach walks in the lower forty-eight states. While backpacking south from Jefferson Cove in the 90's, I arrived at a relatively small bedrock point a bit too late to round it easily on the incoming tide. Since there was no feasible overland trail, there seemed three choices: Wait hours in the rain for the next low tide at sunset; climb up about forty feet to a rock-climbing traverse that looked too hard with a big pack; or, most appealing to me, wade through the incoming small surf for about thirty yards until a sort of large crack or chimney promised progress up out of the intertidal zone onto a shelf.

While I was standing on a car-sized, barnacle-encrusted boulder trying to get the timing of the wave sets, a 'rogue' wave hit me from behind. I was instantly maytagging in the submerged boulders and sea foam for what seemed ages, but was probably only a couple minutes. The lull in the waves arrived and adrenaline-fueled, I was able to stagger to my feet and fly across the rocks and up that chimney. I think my large soft pack protected my back and head and allowed me to escape with just extensive cuts and bruises.

I went out to hike Sulphur Creek on my day off. We did have a slight chance of rain but I checked the radar and everything was clear. I was knew to the area and had no idea how fast storms could develop. We were just reaching the section of the creek where it narrows and there are steep cliff walls on either side when we heard a crack of thunder and the skies started getting dark. We pretty much ran the rest of the way and as soon as we were out of danger, the storm blew over. Reminded me to listen to the advise I give to visitors.

My son and I were free-climbing a small dome across from Tenaya Lake. We made it up about 75% of the way when I could no longer get traction on my shoes. While my son had no problem, I knew two things: Stick together and lay down flat to get a grip. I stopped the slide with some handholds and we both made it back down safely. Had I continued to slide, there was a good dropoff just below me that surely would have hurt upon the sudden deceleration. Although the used carabiner where I stopped should have been an indicator, I wanted to press on. Next time I'll just have better shoes and powder for my hands. I'm still disappointed that we didn't summit so we'll have to go back someday better prepared.

Since I'm a timid soul by nature, I don't get in life-threatening situations. But my husband is another story. Speaking of Lassen, he tells the tale of being ON TOP of Lassen Peak during a thunderstorm. He says he remembers being terrified, he and his pals lying flat on the ground, their hair literally standing on end as lightening flashed around them.
The closest I've come is my recent fall on ice near Aurum Geyser In Yellowstone in February. Broke my ankle in 3 places & had to be carried off the hill by NPS personnel. Hubby said from his view it looked like I was going to slide right under the walkway fence & into the geyser. Luckily, the rail was low enough (or my hips were wide enough LOL) to prevent that!

We were night hiking into Sheridan Lake in Yellowstone without flashlights and no moon. Nearly walked into the side of a moose who was standing in the trail. Don't know who was more scared. When we got to our car around 4pm the ranger told us that we didn't have a permit to camp, but we weren't camping. Then my buddy told the ranger that we had plenty of light, cuz the snow soaked up the light during the day and let it off slowly through the night. Unamused.

I was driving on Wawona Road southbound turning left onto Glacier Point Road (Chinquapin Junction) in Yosemite during a February. I was heading to Badger Pass to go snowshoeing. The roads were covered with snow, and it was R2 chain conditions with a park ranger manning a checkpoint in Yosemite Valley. I had chains in my trunk, but didn't have to put them on because I was driving an AWD Subaru.

I took the turn a little bit too fast, and did an understeer skid out, where I plowed into a snow bank that was created by plowed snow. That is an interesting intersection, with plenty of extra space all around. Here's what the intersection looks like. Nothing was damaged, but I could imagine a similar turn on one of the areas with sharp drop-offs.,+Yosemite+National+Park,+CA&hl=en&ll=37.652334,-119.70326&spn=0.002149,0.003557&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=35.219929,58.271484&oq=glacier+point+road&hnear=Glacier+Point+Rd,+Yosemite+National+Park,+Mariposa,+California&t=h&z=18

I joked with the ranger leading a snowshoe walk that I took out a snow bank on the way over, and he joked back that he might just need to fine me for "damaging federal property".

Caught in a lightning storm, doing the Sage Creek Wilderness Loop in Badlands NP.

Very narrowly escaped a bison stampede in Theodore Roosevelt's North Unit. (One of my best moments.)

Pneumonia in the backcountry of Yellowstone. I thought it was just a cold...

My dad and I spent a weekend camping in the Shenandoah's just before I left for my tour over in Korea.
We were quite lucky both that the black bear who decided to enter our tent was more curious than truly hungry, and also that my flashlight in his eyes was enough to startle and frighten him away.
A pup tent is small for two men; it is microscopic for two men and a bear.

My wife and I were day hiking in the Many Glacier Lodge area of GNP and decided to hike out to Grinnel Glacier Lake. The hike went well, we arrived at the lake and we were the only ones there. We decided to have some lunch as we enjoyed the day and the views and we were mostly done when a group of 8 to 10 other day hikers arrived; they also pulled out their lunches. I grew uncomfortable with the amount of food present, and suggested to my wife that it was time to leave. She was okay with that but had overheard the other hikers talking about a privy just a short walk back the trail and she wanted to visit it before we continued. As she headed out ahead of me I remembered seeing the privy as we hiked in and I corrected her course and and headed towards the direction I remembered seeing the privy....only to immediately catch the sight of a grizzly bear sniffing the ground and headed our way! Of course my heart jumped into my throat and I first yelled "Bear" and then quickly turned to run; only to be quickly stopped by my wife who had by now caught up to me. My wife warned me that we weren't supposed to run so I quickly turned again to see where the bear was and I continued to yell "Bear". As I turned around to check on the bear's whereabouts I saw him stand on his hind legs, take a good look at us and then turn and dash off in the opposite direction! Fortunately the bear was as afraid of us as we were of it and all was well. Of course the "opposite direction" from where we were was the direction we now needed to hike out, so we had an anxiety filled return hike to Many Glacier Lodge where we saw three more bear, now from the safety of our car, as we departed from the Lodge on our return trip.

Last summer while hiking the Gunsight Pass Trail we had an encounter with a bear. We were near the side trail to Florence Falls when my wife shouted out "hey bear", just as we had been doing every couple of minutes or so. Less than 30 seconds later, and maybe only 20 feet up the trail from us, we heard a loud crashing noise through the undergrowth as a bear scattered out of our way. Although we couldn't see the animal, we assumed it was a bear because of how loud it was, plus we would've been able to see if it was a moose, elk or deer. Either way, it scared the you know what out us.


Several years ago we were truck camping on the beach at Assateague Island National Seashore in the early fall when the NOAA weather announced a strong tropical storm was approaching from the south. We packed up and left the beach and headed inland to a little Maryland State Park. The winds began to increase and tree branches and pine cones were raining down on us. The weather radio informed that the storm was veering westward and the conditions would be improving along the Atlantic coast. So we set out to head back to Assateague planning to pass the night in the NPS campground. Driving over the bridge from the mainland was like going to windward in a sailing vessel, the winds were increasing. The Ranger looked as us like we were nuts, but when we told him of the change in the forecast, he called the office and they confirmed that the storm was predicted to turn inland before it reached us. We set up our truck camper with the jacks deployed to level and steady us and put out our slide-out room. The wind continued to increase. There was a nice new popup trailer just beside us and several other various good sized RV's scattered about. A fellow showed up at the popup I thought he was going to put down the canvas room, he simply got a few things from the inside and left. The wind was now well above gale force, I have a neat little weather station that I can fit on our ladder and the wind indicator was moving up to over 60 mph sustained. The NOAA now said the tropical storm was back on a northerly course and would pass along the coast line. In a short time the popup completely disintergrated, clothes, mattresses, blankets and lots of other stuff was blown off down wind. We were bouncing around as we did when we were anchored in a storm in our sailing ketch, we pulled in the slideout, and rode it out.
The storm blew bye in just a few hours, a number of folks came to help us gather up some of our neighbors stuff that had lodged in the brush. He returned mad as a hornet, did not thank anyone for trying to save some of his property, he blamed the Rangers for not informing him of the storm.The Ranger later said they had asked him to put the tent down . And when he said he was going to abandon the wreck in the park, he was informed he would billed on his credit card, with which he'd payed, for the salvage. He complied.
We were lucky we had no damage. as we were somewhat in the lee of a sand dune. One of the Park Volunteers had parked his new truck in an area with a long open fetch across the sand, which blasted the paint from one side. All who were there will remember the howl of the just below hurricane strength winds. Something I learned from many years of sailing in the tropics, I ignored that day, Hurricanes and Tropical Storms do not listen to the radio or TV, they do as they wish!

After reading some of the other stories here, I thought I'd add one. It's not my story, but it's one I've always enjoyed telling.

Back in the stone age, the chief ranger at Yellowstone was named Bob Sellers. Heckuva good guy. He and another ranger came in one day all covered with scratches and it was apparent they had climbed a lodgepole really fast. When we inquired, they explained that they had been fishing along the Yellowstone in Hayden Valley and had gotten so carried away they allowed themselves to drift into some pretty thick willows along the river bank. (Not good.)

Suddenly they heard some loud crashing and smashing rapidly coming at them from upstream. Considering that this was grizzly land, they decided it prudent to climb the only nearby tree. They scrambled up to a decent height and watched while whatever was making all the noise came crashing toward them.

Suddenly a large bull moose came into view and passed rapidly below them. They started to come down the tree when they heard still more crashing coming their way. They retreated up the tree and waited some more. Until a little old lady with a camera shot past in hot pursuit of the moose.

I'm so full of close calls....
I was hiking Angel's Landing in Zion and slipped. Luckily I fell to the left. If I had fallen to the right, I would have gone straight down.
Another day, in Shenandoah, I was unloading groceries from my vehicle when I heard a bear "woofing" at me. I turned and not 10ft away was a momma with 3 cubs. Some visitors were chasing her and I had stepped right into her escape path. I guess I seemed like the easiest one to scare because she rolled her head and started in my direction. Luckily I wasn't too far from my truck so I jumped behind that and she gathered her cubs and continued on her way. Lesson of the day: don't chase the wildlife. You never know when you'll end up chasing them right towards an innocent ranger.

I was hiking around the Bailey tract of the J.W. "Ding" Darling NWR on Sanibel Island, off Florida's southern Gulf Coast. I heard a rustling behind a large bush and as I passed it, saw a smaller gator clamboring up the bank of a nearby canal, less than 10 feet from me. We both froze about the same time. I considered using the 4 or 5 feet of path to skirt around him, but thought better of it, and snapped his photo before turning back and going back in the direction from where I'd come.

I first visited Organ Pipe Cactus during warm weather. A ranger suggested I try a night hike: it would be cooler, and there was more likely to be some animals out. He was right on both counts, as it turned out. After a half hour, the batteries in my one flashlight [dumb!] were dying, so I was hurrying back towards the trailhead. I came within about six inches of stepping on a large rattlesnake coiled up in the middle of the trail. Luckily it didn't strike at my bare lower legs.

I would label this a close call fueled by ignorance. A friend and I were concluding a weeklong visit to the Canadian Rockies. After a few days in Banff National Park we headed to Jasper National Park. We had already seen lots of elk and a coyote, but the whole trip we kept saying how we’d like to see a moose. On our last day in Jasper we were driving by a lake after breakfast when we came across about 10 cars pulled over on the side of the road. Not one moose, but 3, in the lake – a mother, a baby and a bull. Picture here - [url=\Images\banf25.jpg]\Images\banf25.jpg[/url]

A dirt road circled the lake and so we went down and sat on some boulders near water’s edge, about 10 feet from the water. The 3 moose were probably 150 feet away from shore. The water was about up to their waist. They were moving slowly, dunking their heads in the water for 30 seconds at a time, eating I presume. Wow, what an experience.

Well, they kept moving in our general direction, getting closer and closer. I said to my friend “how close do you think they will get before they turn around?”. Turns out the answer is they’re not turning around. The mother was the first one out. She stopped as she came out of the water and looked at us for a few second, only a few feet away. We sat as still and quietly as possible. She continued, followed by the baby, then the bull. I took a picture of the bull – film camera back then (1995) and the whizzing sound of the zoom lens sounded really loud at that moment. Picture here - [url=\Images\jasp01.jpg]\Images\jasp01.jpg[/url]

They just kept on walking into a patch of tress where they started eating the leaves.

A group of about 20 people followed to watch. A guy came up to us and said you don’t know how lucky you are. In hindsight, really stupid and very lucky. At the time I remember having no fear, feeling no danger, just being amazed by the whole thing. Pretty sure I would not put myself in that position again.

I have a real fear of heights and made the mistake of allowing my four sons to talk me into attempting Angel's landing in Zion. I got to the first 'rest" spot up past Scouts landing( I can't recall the name of it-- that part of my brain refuses to remember). As I was trying to attach myself to the rock a guy came up behind us doing what we now refer to as the "crab- suck". I've never seen a person with such a terrified look on his face.Flat on his belly-- all limbs flat on the ground crawling like a crab. All the while his wife standing over him calling him a whoosie. After seeing that poor soul I just could not will myself on another step and had to adopt the crab-suck myself on the way down. My wife and kids continued to the summit. I had to join the crowd of whoosies back at Scouts rest waiting for their families to come back down .Very humiliating. Worse my sons have me on video tape and love to show it at all our family get togethers. If you are afraid of heights don't even think about Angel's landing.

This is one of the best reader participation forums we've ever had. Talk about sharing! These are great stories! In all truth—a lot more fun than the political fireworks sparked by some stories!

2 years ago a friend and I were at Josephine Lk (Glacier np) taking flower pictures. Made lots of noise and watched carefully, due to the reputation it has for grizzlies. When finished, we rejoiced at not having seen any bears and made it out safely. We headed back to the boat dock, on the way towards Swift Current Lk and the hotel. We headed up the paved path, talking and still noticing flowers, etc, only to glance up and see a large grizzly ambling down the paved path towards us. Grabbing the bear spray, we turned and "slowly" walked non-chalantly back towards the boat dock. Several times I glanced behind, and then updated my friend with "Keep going, he's still coming!". At the boat dock I said "head for the boat". Then thinking, "If we can get on, so can he". Didnt think that was a good thing, so (for whatever reason) I had the spray and my wimpy aluminum hiking pole and went back to the trail. Off on the side, the bear and I met about 7 feet apart: then waving my pole at him, and with finger on the bear spray, I politely asked him to "go that way", on up the trail. After repeating 3-4 times, HE DID!!! :)

So this barely qualifies as a narrow escape, but it's a category of hazard that hasn't really come up in this thread yet. My last childhood visit to Yellowstone took place in the summer of 1990. This was two years after the the forest fires of 1988 and there were still a ton of standing snags. My family was hiking the Fountain Paint Pot trail. My brother and I were moving a bit faster than our parents and drew just out of sight from each other at a bend around a slope. Suddenly there was a crashing noise and I spun around to see a pine falling across the trail maybe 20 feet behind us. It had fallen between us and my parents, much to their alarm as they didn't know how far ahead my brother and I had gotten.
What was weird, as we reunited and tried to piece together what had happened, was that both parties had seen a live tree falling to the right, even though we were viewing it from opposite sides. Moreover there was a saw-cut snag atop the tree now lying across the trail. Nearest we could figure, a dead snag chainsawed down by a trail crew had wedged between two live trees growing close together. Somehow their stressed rooting gave way at just that moment, sending the two live pines falling in opposite directions. My brother and I had watched the tree fall downslope across the trail and our parents saw the other tree falling upslope.