Originally published in 2015 September issue of The Beacon magazine for Olentangy High School
285, 505 acres. Three sisters. One hiking trip gone wrong.
The Gros Ventre Wilderness Area in Moose, WY is most known for where the infamous Andrews-Sharer sisters went missing and since been found in the summer of 2015, but not before their story spread worldwide.
The sisters left for the trip June 28, to hike the trail that Tuesday. They planned to be in the woods for five days and hike back out to their car on July 4. They were officially lost for six days, July 4 until July 9.
As experienced hikers, they had all the essentials to survive. They did everything right, speaking with rangers beforehand to ensure their safety.
“The park ranger recommended the trail we went on because it was the most-used. We figured we would see people, and the trail would be maintained like a national park,” Kelsi Andrews-Sharer ‘17 said.
It was nothing like they thought.
“The trail was a small game-hunting trail along a mountain cliff. The meadowgrasses overcrowded the path and came up to our necks, making it hard to see,” Andrews-Sharer said. “But my sisters are both experienced in reading maps and using a compass, so we fared pretty well for most of the trip.”
On Friday afternoon, they decided to follow a shorter loop on the map than planned, since they moved slower than anticipated that day.
“We had been hiking hard for four days, but I had not yet acclimatized to the altitude,” Andrews-Sharer said. “Then we came upon an avalanche of rocks covering the trail. We planned to hike back to our previous campsite, then to a sign we’d passed before on the edge of the Wilderness Area and hike to our car from there. But the trail we took to retrace our steps began to veer off in a different direction.”
They knew they were lost, but more immediate problems loomed on the horizon. The sun was to go down in an hour and a half, when they found fresh mountain lion pawprints. They acted fast to pitch their tent for the night.
“The next morning my sister Megan, the most experienced hiker, decided the safest choice was to stop and get help,” Andrews-Sharer said. “We thought our parents would be waiting for us to call in the morning, and when they didn’t get the call they would start searching immediately.”
The three stayed optimistic while they waited but took precautions to ration food, build a signal fire, set out colored gear and make right angles with fallen trees as an SOS to any aircraft flying overhead. But when they weren’t rescued Saturday night, they began to worry.
“We realized we hadn’t explained to our parents exactly where we were hiking before we left for the trip,” Andrews-Sharer said.
Sunday came and went, with hopes of being rescued unanswered.
“When our food supply became dangerously low, we found strength in our faith… We all realized we could very possibly die.”
Thursday morning, the sisters sat freezing in their tent, bodies too weak from starvation to keep warm. In mid-prayer for a helicopter, they heard two fly overhead, the second one spotting them.
“It hovered over us, and we were screaming and crying and our bodies were shaking,” Andrews-Sharer said. “Five minutes after getting into the helicopter, we were in our dad’s arms.”
“Never take the little things for granted. They are what matter in the end. Food, showers, hugs from your parents, late night conversations with a friend, laughing so hard your stomach aches. Life is short and tentative, so take chances. You might not get them again,” Andrews-Sharer said.
Against all odds, fear did not trump these sisters’ love of backpacking.
“We’re planning on hiking again next summer,” Andrews-Sharer said.