KING COUNTY, Wash. — Steve and Matt were out hiking Baring Mountain on Saturday morning when they noticed smoke billowing in. the area, blocking them where rescue teams could not reach them.
In a video uploaded to their YouTube channel, Past Least Taken, Steve said he was hesitant to post, fearing the criticism they would receive for any mistakes they made. In the end, he decided it was more important to share it.
“I post this video as an educational tool to try to point out all the mistakes we made, which ended up putting our lives in danger,” he explains. “I hope this video will educate everyone, so that everyone doesn’t make the same mistakes.”
Their day started off fairly routine, with a steep hike up the side of the mountain, with the trail leveling off as they reached the ridge. As they made their way to the summit, the winds picked up and smoke was noticeable in the air.
“We figured it was just smoke blowing in from eastern Washington due to high winds,” says Steve.
Several fires are burning in the eastern portion of the Pacific Northwest, including the Seven Bays Fire near Davenport, the Boulder Mountain Fire near Cusick, the Kootenai River Complex in Boundary County, Utah. Idaho, and even the Double Creek fire in Oregon and Moose Fire in Idaho, two of the biggest fires in the United States right now.
A wildfire on the west side of the Cascades, where frequent rains and milder temperatures keep potential fuel fairly moist, is rare. One that increases the size and speed of the Bolt Creek Fire is extremely rare.
As Steve and Matt continued their hike and began their ascent to the summit, they noticed smoke coming from a fire a few ridges away.
The pair descended from the top, realizing as they reached the v-notch how much trouble they were in. Looking down the trail, smoke rose in heavy plumes, blocking their path back.
The smoke quickly turned into a wall of fire, moving up the trail towards them on both sides of the mountain.
Steve explains that they called 9-1-1 and a rescue team was dispatched. “I don’t think they can do anything,” he admits. “So we’re gonna hide here for a while, see if it all goes down and see if we can get out of here. Fingers crossed, wish each other luck.”
Shortly after, Steve says Search and Rescue contacted them again and let them know that a helicopter rescue attempt was too dangerous.
They were alone.
Steve and Matt opted to try going along the arena side of the wall, but things got dire.
“The fire moved as we descended and decided to climb back up the ridge,” he said, the sky obscured by smoke and the trees lit by flames. “So we’ll try to get out of here before we burn to death.”
With flames closing in on both sides of their path, they used GPS to try to find alternate routes. However, they had no way of knowing where the fire was and how it was moving, so every navigational decision was filled with uncertainty.
After a dry creek bed, they descended a waterfall, only to find themselves at a 200 foot cliff and no other way down.
It was then that they received a call from the sheriff, who was happy to hear that they were alive. Steve says he was told to call 9-1-1 and tell them it was phase 2 so they could get their contact information. However, the call was routed to another county and was in Phase 1, meaning rescuers were unable to obtain their contact details.
And then the fire began to descend the dry creek bed behind them. Matt told Steve they had to move out. They climbed back up the waterfall to look for another way down, finding a cliff they could navigate, then stumbling down a steep slope.
After walking for hours in the smoky air, they were exhausted. They had run out of water and the heat from the fire was overwhelming. Due to the need to move quickly and outrun the fire, they had suffered several accidents. Matt nearly fell off a cliff.
Steve explains that Matt had lost his footing and slid about 30 feet down an embankment, falling almost 200 feet off a cliff before managing to grab a tree and arrest his fall.
“That was probably one of the worst feelings, seeing your best friend almost die.”
From an altitude of over 4,000 feet, they managed to race down the side of the mountain, part of the way tumbling down to about 2,900 feet. It was a half-mile push to their parked Jeep, and they had no way of knowing if the fire had already burned in that area.
They persevered, with the promise of a soda and a Gatorade. And fortunately, they were able to reach their car and evacuate the area.
“We had determination,” Steve said. “We wanted to stay alive and go home to our family.”
Watch the full video: