March 20, 2023

Twelve hours in the Valley of Death

Lost in Wire Pass Canyon

Edward Chun

During the 50 years that we’ve lived in the United States, my wife, Holly, and I have enjoyed exploring national parks. We especially love visiting the ones in Utah and Arizona, where the topography stands as a witness of ancient history. 

Last year, when a two-week opportunity came up, we decided to take a trip to the canyons. Never did we dream that our explorations would lead us to the brink of death.

We decided to visit Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we learned that because of COVID-19 regulations Antelope Canyon was closed. A ranger suggested we go to Wire Pass Slot Canyon in Utah instead. So we packed up the next day and drove to Kanab, Utah. 

After pulling into the parking lot at Wire Pass, we met a family comprising a mother, son, and daughter. We joined them for the hike into the canyon. The son, Maya, was a first-class tour guide who’d majored in archaeology and geology, and he shared interesting information about the Wire Pass Slot Canyon.

After hiking along hills and valleys for about an hour, we arrived at the entrance to the canyon. In this slotted canyon, rock mountains had split, leaving a gap of several hundred feet between opened rocks. Various stone colors reflected the sun’s light through the cracks of the giant rock. The cool air inside the canyon was in sharp contrast to the 110-degree temperature outside.

We walked through the cave for about 30 minutes until we reached a cliff that went down about 12 feet. Fortunately, a previous hiker had left behind a rope ladder that we were able to use to venture down the cliff. In less than an hour we walked out of the cave and saw another magnificent view. The strangely enormous giant stone mountains split in all directions as if they had been cut with a knife. We could see traces of historic Native American life on the colossal, cracked stone walls.

Regrettably, at this point we had to part ways with our new friends. Maya and his family were heading to another canyon, so Holly and I would have to find our way back on our own. We wouldn’t be able to return using the same route, because we couldn’t climb the 12-foot cliff in the cave without help. So we decided we would return to the parking lot by taking the trail along the right side of the mountain.

After about a half hour, however, the trail ended. We must have gone too far in the wrong direction, we thought. We decided to try to make our way out of the canyon and then look for the trail to the parking lot. After about two hours we left the canyon behind. The hills appeared, and we reached a dry creek called Coyote Creek. I turned on the GPS, which showed that we were still about five miles from our parked car.

We were very thirsty and tired. We’d already drunk the two bottles of water we’d brought with us, and we didn’t have the energy to continue walking. It was 5:00 p.m., and no other hikers were in sight. A fear came over us, but we had to find a way out. Then Holly declared that she couldn’t take another step. 

“Honey, if we cross this hill on the left, we should find the trail to the parking lot,” I told her. “Just wait for me here until I return with help from the rangers. You might have to wait three or four hours.” 

Leaving Holly behind, I climbed for about an hour toward the hill on the left. But instead of the field and the trail I was expecting to find, another hill appeared. And then another hill and still another.

It was so discouraging!

My body felt like it was withering away. I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for five hours. Like Holly, I’d reached my limit; I couldn’t take another step. It would soon be sunset, and then darkness would prevail in the desert. I knelt and cried out, “God, what should I do? Show me the way to go.” When I opened my eyes, I felt a renewed sense of energy. I was able to stand up and walk.

Suddenly I had the thought that I should go back and stay with Holly, to live or die together. More than an hour later, when I finally arrived back where I’d left Holly, she wasn’t there! “Holly! Holly! Holly!” I shouted her name hundreds of times, but only echoes resounded back through the deserted canyon. I thoroughly searched the area, but it was in vain. Fear and anxiety dominated my thoughts.

What could have happened to her? The thought of losing Holly was too much. As the shadow of the mountains began to cover the desert valley, I lay down on the bank. It would have been so easy to fall asleep.


Just as I began to fall asleep, I was startled awake. Tiny, almost invisible ants were biting my half-dead body. I took it as a warning sign to stay awake. I thanked God for mobilizing an ant army to get me up!

With a renewed sense of strength, I decided to go back the way we’d come, even though it was a long distance. It was slow going. I could walk only 200 or 300 yards at a time before I had to stop to rest. As 9:00 p.m. drew near, darkness began to engulf the entire area.

I’d gone almost 10 hours without water. My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth; there was no saliva left to swallow. Just then I found some muddy, yellow water that had accumulated beneath a rock wall. It tasted like mud, but this water of life was more precious than honey.

I continued walking to save Holly. Suddenly a coyote appeared in front of me. Startled and afraid, I shouted at the coyote, and it ran off. I wondered whether coyotes had attacked Holly. The ominous scenario of these creatures having a feast tonight was stuck in my head. I had to get help, and I asked God for strength.

Finally I entered the square behind Wire Pass. I appeared to be alone in this vast, deep rock stadium. I felt no fear, only the determination to get through this cave and save Holly. It was dark inside. I took out a small LED lighter on a key chain, the only lifesaving tool I had to guide me on my path.

I finally reached the 12-foot cliff. Fortunately, the rope ladder we’d used was hanging from the corner. It wasn’t secured to the cliff wall, but it appeared to be attached at the top. I slowly climbed the ladder until I was almost to the top. I found a gap in the rock wall and tried to pull myself up with both hands. Suddenly my body collapsed, and I fell back down onto a pile of rocks. My left knee was bleeding. Mercifully, I hadn’t broken any bones.

I had to climb the ladder again. I grabbed the spots carved for hands. “God, give me strength,” I prayed. I felt a surge of energy in my fingertips and wrists, and this time I managed to get to the top. I shed tears of gratitude.

I walked out of the dark cave and continued walking, frequently stopping to rest. It’d been a long time since I’d thought about my hunger and thirst. Only Holly was on my mind. “I won’t die until I save Holly,” I murmured.

Finally I found myself at the entrance of a canyon cave. This is strange. I don’t remember a canyon cave near the parking lot.

I couldn’t believe it! I pulled my hair and cried. Instead of the Wire Pass cave, I’d somehow gotten confused with direction and had headed back toward the canyon.

I felt as though I was approaching, after more than 70 years, the end of my life. I lost all track of time, but I turned around and continued to walk.

Then the sound of “plum, p-p-p-p-p-p-p-r-p-r” came from over the mountain, startling me from my mind-numbing existence. A helicopter broke into view. I quickly pulled out the LED lighter and shone it toward the sky. Oh, no! Was the helicopter flying over the northern ridge? Had they not seen my light?

The helicopter came over the hill again. Are you coming to save me? I shook my light, flashing it countless times. The helicopter turned back, lowered altitude, and then came down low, blowing dust in the wind. A bright light shone on me. I yelled and swung my arms wildly.

The helicopter landed on a nearby level surface. A crew member jumped out and grabbed me, dragging me into the helicopter.

“I’ve lost my wife,” I shouted over the noise. “Please help me!”

Holly’s Story: 
Alone in the Wilderness

My husband, Ed, and I began our hike toward Wire Pass Slot Canyon early in the morning. It was supposed to be a three-hour trek, but we became lost on the way back. The two bottles of water we had with us were quickly depleted, and dehydration kicked in. I eventually became so exhausted that I couldn’t take another step.

Ed told me to relax and wait under the shade of a tree near a dry creek bed while he went to get help. He would drive back with a ranger to get me. I had no choice but to do as he suggested.

At first I felt peaceful. I observed the beautiful rocks, the mysterious colors, the sky above. The passing breeze seemed like a whisper. Looking at the surrounding landscape, I realized once again that God is great, and I am small and insignificant.

I don’t know how many hours passed, but I began to feel alone and defenseless, without water or food. The heat, thirst, and fatigue were draining me. I became nervous. What if I were attacked by wild animals? What if I never again saw my baby granddaughter, whom we’ve been caring for? Suddenly tears began to pour out. “Oh, heavenly Father, please allow me to return home safely.” 

As time passed, I became more and more anxious and exhausted. Then, amazingly, I saw four young men hiking toward me! 

 After explaining my circumstances, I asked them, “Do you have any extra water?” Fortunately, they did. I was so thankful! After drinking some water, I felt as though I could now survive.

The young men insisted that I hike back with them and then look for my husband. They also explained that a car couldn’t get through to where we were. Although the creek bed was dry, it was impassable for a car. They assured me that no matter how slowly I walked, they would wait for me.

The young men had parked their car in a different place than Ed and I had, and had hiked into Wire Pass using a different trail. They’d found me on their way back to their car. This is the subtle guidance of God’s providence. God had heard my prayer even before I’d realized my need of help.

Once, while we were resting, we sat looking at the stars, and I told the men that the stars reminded me of why I believe in God, the Creator of the universe. I then learned that not only did they also believe in God, but that they were Seventh-­day Adventist Christians, just as I was. We immediately felt a special bond between us.

When we finally arrived at their car, we saw a firefighter waiting nearby in a truck. A fire had broken out on the other side of the Grand Canyon, and he was evacuating everyone. He used his radio to notify the rangers of our urgent situation and asked for help with finding Ed.

The young men and I then slowly made the two-hour drive on an unpaved road to where my car was parked. Only one car was parked there, our Hyundai Santa Fe. Ed, however, wasn’t there. What has happened? Ed should have been here by now.

I knew Ed was weak, having no water or food in this hot desert. He also suffered from heart disease and diabetes. What if he’d lost consciousness and was lying in a bush where no one could find him? Tears flowed as I prayed, “Oh, my loving heavenly Father, please have mercy on him.”

My companions quietly comforted me. “Don’t worry too much, Holly. We’re also praying for Ed’s safety.”

A ranger finally arrived and asked me for the details of where and how Ed and I had gotten separated. He said that the county rescue team was coming with a helicopter, but by the time I heard the helicopter, it was past midnight.

The ranger told us we should go to Page. He said that if they found Ed, they would take him there. We thanked the ranger and left. About 1:00 a.m. we arrived at the hotel in Page where the young men were staying. I was in the lobby checking in when one of the young men’s phones rang. A smile was on his face as he got off the phone.

“They found Ed!” he exclaimed.

Back to Ed: 
The Lord’s Rod and Staff

After I was pulled inside the helicopter, I shouted against the noise of the whipping wings, “I’ve lost my wife. Please help me!”

Handing me a bottle of Gatorade, the crew member responded, “Your wife is safe. She met four hikers who rescued her. Don’t worry. She’s at a hotel in Page.”

I grabbed her wrists and shook her. “Really? Oh, dear God, thank You!” 

As the helicopter took off and climbed into the sky, I could see red flames spreading for dozens of miles on the left. A forest fire was spreading in the northern part of the Grand Canyon.

My body was exhausted by emotions that can’t be expressed in words. It was like a spring day, full of new life. It reminded me of being spiritually born again.

When the helicopter landed at the parking lot, I headed to the car, saying I had to hurry to go to Page. The crew member told me I should first get checked out at the hospital, and the rangers offered to escort me there; but I refused, saying I could drive myself.

As I headed to the hotel I felt the thrill of gratitude. I smiled as the tears flowed down my cheeks. I was so thankful to God and amazed by His endless grace. 

It was 3:00 a.m. when I reached the hotel in Page. Holly was waiting for me outside. I couldn’t say anything. I just hugged her for what seemed like an eternity. We’d been separated for 10 hours.

After I got into bed, however, my whole body began to tremble. Both my legs were cramping. I felt cold all over, and I continued to shiver. In the morning the symptoms grew worse, and I was taken by ambulance to the hospital’s emergency room. The doctors said my kidneys weren’t working because of severe dehydration. I was admitted to the hospital and put on an IV. When I awoke the next morning, I felt better and was discharged.

After Holly and I drove home, we visited my mother’s grave. I’d almost joined my mother in her long sleep. As I stood by her graveside, I longed for her warm embrace. “Mother, do you know how close I came to death?” My mother’s favorite flowers seemed to tilt their heads toward me, whispering, “Welcome back.”