A Troubling Voice Haunts a Father’s Search For His Lost Daughter
There’s a simple rule that hikers use when on the trail that saves lives: stay together at all times. You see, trails can start out relatively safe but then turn deadly within seconds whenever groups are separated. Loving father John Utsey felt a jolt of dread in his heart after realizing his two children, who were hiking ahead of him, suddenly disappeared.
John frantically called out for his daughter, saying her name over and over. However, the person who answered back wasn’t his daughter but another man. John quickly leaped into action.
Breaking The Rules
There are times when even veteran hikers make simple but costly mistakes on the trail. The Utsey family were experienced hikers who’d hiked hundreds of times. Experience can sometimes be a double-edged sword, as people can fall into bad habits.
Most of the time, these bad habits have no impact. However, they soon learned the price of overconfidence after their mistake led to events John could never have imagined.
The Utsey family was hiking in the gorgeous Santa Fe National Forest located in New Mexico. The path they took, known as the Windsor Trail, is very popular. In fact, thousands of families traversed this trail that same summer.
The trail is a fantastic destination, filled with beautiful scenery, and has served as a treasured adventure for countless travelers. Unfortunately, even the most well-traveled trails hold dangers hikers need to respect. And hikers are explicitly warned to avoid one area of the path: the highest peak.
Reaching the High Point
At 11,000 feet above sea level, the Windsor trail’s highest point towered above the Utsey family. To put this in perspective, the distance equals the length of more than 36 football fields! And even at its lowest point, the trail is still 7,000 feet above sea level.
This trail is definitely one that experienced and fit hikers should try to tackle. But, even those folks can find themselves in hot water if they are not careful. However, John and his children had no idea of the nightmare awaiting them and were not concerned the least bit by those intimidating numbers.
Summer of Love
John was busy taking in the scenery as the children played just ahead. The Utsey’s passed a couple of other families on the trail, reinforcing John’s false sense of security and making him feel more at ease about allowing his children to roam a bit.
Kids love to explore, and the trail is a paradise for adventure seekers of all ages. Also, as the summer was concluding, John wished to soak up as much of it as he could before the fall. However, he suddenly noticed that he could no longer hear his children’s voices!
Blazing Trails Was Nothing New
However, John was not terribly concerned at first. After all, it wasn’t the first time the dad allowed his children to explore a trail. Plus the kids had tons of hiking experience under their belt, not to mention John’s training.
He believed they would know what to do if they ran into trouble and that he wouldn’t be too far away to help them if they needed it. He also knew they had plenty of survival gear. But, what he didn’t know was just how important those supplies would become in the next few hours.
A Strong Upbringing
John was a U.S Marine Corps veteran and passed along some of his skills and values to his children, which meant he had the utmost confidence in their instinct to survive. Along with the family’s hiking experience, his children also had a marine as a dad.
Marines pride themselves in their rugged self-reliance while operating as a part of a well-coordinated unit. Their reputation for bold action and heroics earned them the nickname by German soldiers during World War II. The Germans called Marines “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs” because of the ferocity these soldiers fought. John firmly believed that his kid inherited some of their dad’s fighting spirit. However, the kids’ ability to react to an emergency scenario was about to be put to the test!
John Calls Out
After enduring an uncomfortably long silence, John again started calling out for his kids more urgently. The dad knew his 10-year-old son would be walking closely with his big sister, who was 12-years-old.
John’s kids were taught to stay close to each other from an early age and never explore too far away. That said, it’s very easy for children to get lost in their own world, especially in a place like Windsor Trail. However, at the path’s peak, which grew steeper and steeper, John only spotted one of his kids.
His Missing Little Girl
Once John managed to catch up to his son, he soon discovered his daughter was not with him. The two started a frantic search for the 12-year-old, staying close to each other as they traversed over rocky terrain.
The journey was challenging as the path was filled with ankle-twisting traps one could step into quite easily if one wasn’t careful. It was apparent this part of the trail was not as well-traveled as other parts, bringing to mind for John all of the deadly warning signs he’d observed in the park. However, now his mind was in a panic.
A Father's Guilt
John was also beginning to feel a powerful sense of guilt. He wished he’d instructed his kids to stay closer together, thinking his daughter would be safe had he done so. If anything were to happen to his little girl, John knew he wouldn’t recover.
Regrets crept into John’s mind as his panic started to grow minute by minute. While he was a strong and tough marine, the thought of something happening to his little angel was enough to drive fear deep into his heart. And now, even his son’s fear was starting to show. The two shouted and cried out until the father and son heard a response they were not expecting.
A Stranger Calls
At first, John believed he’d heard his daughter calling back, so he started shouting her name louder than before.
But, suddenly, he and his son listened to a very deep voice through the trees that froze John’s heart. Upon realizing that the voice belonged to a man, John rushed forward.
A Long Run On Shaking Legs
Legs shaking with fear, John dashed in the direction of the man’s voice. However, it felt like the longest run of his life, as though the journey would never end.
As the dad raced toward the voice, many worst-case scenarios also began racing in his head. However, when he heard his daughter’s voice cry out again, John almost fell over his own feet! At last, he’d managed to reach the end of the path, but what he found stopped him in his tracks.
A Wonderful Surprise
John’s mind was filled with horrific images as he raced to his daughter’s voice, but once he saw that she was safe, relief flooded through his body like a tidal wave.
Father and daughter embraced, but John quickly noticed a look of heavy concern on her face. Before he could question her, John once again heard the stranger’s voice cry out. At that point, the family knew immediately there was someone out there in need of help!
Marine Mode Engaged
Before, John had been in frantic dad mode, but now he’d shifted gears to marine mode. After gathering his children, the family searched for the man, using his voice to guide them.
Together they would call out in response, and he would reply. However, the journey took them further and further away from the safest part of the trail. Plus, this area had no phone service, meaning that John and his kids were the stranger’s only hope of being rescued.
Lost, Now Found
After shouting for over 20 minutes, John and his kids soon came upon a clearing. They’d walked down roughly 600 yards of an incredibly steep trail, which soon led the family to a creek.
On the shore, John soon spotted the outline of a body close to the water! However, upon approach, John first thought they’d been too late.
Not Looking Good
John would later tell KRQE News that the man was lying down near the creek. He said the man was not able to move. He also noted how the stranger seemed delirious as his words weren’t making any sense.
John and the children immediately jumped into action, taking out their emergency rations and giving the man fresh food and water. However, things were not looking good.
A Desperate Situation
John told the news station that the man’s lips were cracked and bleeding. He said the stranger’s tongue was severely swollen, and he was very gaunt.
He knew that this man’s life was in grave danger, and without medics close by, John had to make some swift decisions.
Using the skills he’d learned in the Marine Corps, John could pinpoint the man’s coordinates. The family then hiked three miles until they came to the trailhead. Once there, they were able to call 911 and give the operator the exact location.
The operator thanked John and assured him that they wouldn’t stop searching until they found the dying man. However, according to the local news, this wasn’t the case.
After John returned his children to the safety of their home, John couldn’t stop watching the TV news coverage of the search.
However, despite their assurances, the crew called off the search after only eight hours! So, the next morning, John strapped on his boots and decided to search for the man once again on his own.
John's Two for Two
John was able to retrace his steps, and sure enough, he came across the same man again, right where the family had left him. John once again returned to the trailhead and contacted 911.
But this time, he personally led the search crew to the location. Once the medics arrived, they soon learned the 50-year-old man had survived 14-days stranded in the harsh wilderness!
The unlikely rescue was a pure miracle. First, the man had survived for almost two full weeks without food and water. Thankfully, the rescue crew took things from there and was able to save his life, thanks to John and his children.
The family was delighted to see the man getting the help he needed. Had it not been for their initial misadventure, they would never have heard his voice. Later, the family learned that the older man was also an experienced hiker who made one deadly mistake that landed him in a life or death predicament.
You’ve probably guessed by now that the 50-year-old man was hiking by himself. This is why you should only hike in groups, folks! It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, we are only human, and the wilderness out there is unforgiving of mistakes. While the experience of finding solitude and solace within the world of nature is a romantic and even spiritual concept, it’s also perilous.
Brad Parker (shown on the right) learned the lesson of a lifetime after he decided to go for a dangerous solo climb to celebrate his marriage proposal to his girlfriend. Sadly, Brad wasn’t as lucky as the man in New Mexico.
Brad's Tragic Mistake
If you were to ask any of Brad’s closest friends, they would all sing very similar praises about the young man. They would tell you he had a way with people and had one of those personalities that everyone naturally gravitated towards.
Brad was indeed a larger-than-life figure. Sadly, he ended up paying the ultimate price for his overconfidence.
He Loved Going to the Extreme
After his high school graduation in 1996, the former Santa Rosa, California resident decided to travel the world. Brad visited New Zealand, Indonesia, and many more countries. He also loved taking risks, participating in extreme sports all over the world.
Brad loved risking life and limb for the rush of exhilaration he derived. Folks like Brad live on a different frequency than most people, seeking wealth in experiences, not just as a “vacation” but as a way of life. The adventure lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but it was the only way Brad knew how to live.
Further proof that even the most experienced people can make critical mistakes, Brad had climbed among the upper echelons of athletes within the rock-climbing community in his thirties. In fact, in 2012, the young man was even featured on the cover of California Climber magazine.
Brad also taught yoga on the side. He was indeed a charismatic and energetic person who captivated all who met him.
Brad had many passions. According to Jerry Dodrill, Brad’s best friend and climbing partner, while people in the rock climbing community saw him as a top climber, he also had another reputation. It turns out that surfers also recognized Brad as a superior surfer, and other yoga instructors regarded him as among the best as well!
This was clearly a man who put 100 percent into everything he did and often found great success. While it’s natural to assume this came to him with ease, the truth is that Brad likely spent years honing his skills in those three activities.
Meeting the Love of His Life
In June 2014, Brad’s family and friends were delighted after the 36-year-old shared a surprising revelation on social media. Brad confessed he was head-over-heels in love with a beautiful woman named Jainee Dail.
It doesn’t matter how old you are; finding your true love can make you feel like a heartsick teen all over again. There’s nothing like feeling butterflies in your stomach as you look into the eyes of your soulmate. With Jainee, Brad definitely found that kind of love.
A Perfect Match
Jainee also had a strong passion for the outdoors; she was the manager of an online store specializing in outdoor adventure merchandise for women.
The young woman shared the same attitude as Brad toward life, looking at everything with a “half-full” perspective. Two Months following his heartwarming Facebook post, the couple decided to explore Yosemite National Park together.
Conquering Cathedral Peak
The young woman had no idea that her ever-smiling boyfriend was up to something. You see, Brad had a special surprise planned out for Jainee.
And on a Saturday morning, as the couple reached the summit of a 10,912-foot mountain called Cathedral Peak, Brad unveiled his big surprise.
Popping the Question
While using sturdy ropes, the couple climbed up the mountain for hours before reaching the very narrow mountain peak. The rock at the top could accommodate no more than two people standing on it.
Standing on what must have felt like the top of the world, Brad got down on one knee and asked Jainee for her hand in marriage.
The Answer Was Obvious
When someone goes through so much effort and trouble to propose, there can be no doubt that they must be deeply in love. And while for over 40 years, Brad chased just about every thrill out there, it’s likely his heart never beat more than during that long split-second silence after he proposed to Jainee.
To his relief and delight, she said “yes.” Now, Brad truly felt he was on top of the world!
A few minutes later, as the two were descending the mountain, Brad told Jainee that “this is the happiest day of my life.”
And while the young man had no idea at the time, his brief moment of pure joy following his proposal would be the final highest point of his life.
For adventurous souls like Brad, reaching one mountain peak is never enough. The young man’s appetite for a challenge, along with the emotional high he was riding, likely gave him a sense of having lots of energy to burn.
Once the couple successfully made their way down Cathedral Peak, Brad felt the itch to conquer another mountain. As Jainee was heading back to camp, Brad decided to hike over to Matthes Crest, a vast ridge three miles from Cathedral Peak.
Something Wasn't Right
In retrospect, it wasn’t unusual for Brad to leave his new fiancé to climb another mountain. You see, Brad had been training to go on a much bigger climb planned for down the road. However, as he hiked toward Matthes Crest, fellow hikers passing by would later say that there seemed to be something a bit off in the way he was carrying himself.
The young man had just finished climbing a massive mountain with his soon-to-be bride, but he likely didn’t think it would impact his other climb. However, no matter how young and strong a person’s body is, physical limits should always be respected.
One Hiker's Observation
Cedric Ma was one of the hikers who saw Brad heading to the crest that day. According to Ma, Brad told him that he had a few cramps and felt dehydrated. Ma then saw the young man trek up the northern summit until he “disappeared from view.”
One has to wonder how many times Ma replayed that conversation in his head, wishing he could have warned the young man not to go on. This must be something that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
Dehydrated, cramped, and fatigued from climbing Cathedral Peak, Brad took on Matthes Crest, climbing the mountain’s dangerous vertical face. It’s likely his body was screaming, warning him to stop.
But, as is the case with many experienced athletes, Brad probably ignored the pain and the shaky limbs to push onward. However, only a few hours after proposing to Jainee, at 5:45 p.m, Brad slipped.
The Fatal Fall
To the horror of other hikers and climbers nearby, they watched from afar as Brad, a future groom, plunged 300 feet from the top of Matthes Crest.
Brad’s body slammed into the rocky ground with a sickening thud followed by a surreal silence. People were frozen where they stood, in disbelief of what they just witnessed.
The Rangers Arrive
The silence following Brad’s fall was not unlike the pause that followed the young man’s proposal to his future bride. However, this was the silence of death, one that was deafening and total. Later, the silence was broken after park rangers hiked over to where Brad’s broken body now lay.
Park rangers reached Brad’s body, but by that time, it was too dark for the helicopter to fly in and pick him up. So they left the man there overnight. It was a hard decision, but there wasn’t anything that could be done for Brad, and there was no sense in risking more lives that night.
A Somber Flight
In the morning, Brad’s body was removed from the park. It wasn’t long before Brad’s family and friends learned about the tragic incident. For those who’ve lost loved ones suddenly, the jolt of reality and bewilderment is quickly followed by a hollow pain that never truly goes away. For years, those people will think of the departed during those times they would otherwise have shared with their loved ones.
But, one could only imagine the depths Janiee’s heart plunged into that horrible day. Within a matter of hours, she’d become Brad’s fiancé and, not long after, became his widow in spirit. It’s difficult to even imagine how soul-crushing it must have felt, not to mention all the things she wished she could have said to prevent him from going.
Ashes and Memories
Brad’s death was a tremendous loss, and those he left behind could find little respite from the pain and grief they felt within their hearts. However, they also knew that Brad would have wanted his death to mean something and be used to create something beautiful.
The man was an adventurer at heart who saw the best in people and sought to bring that out through his work and how he lived. Few people ever lived up to their legends after death, but without question, Brad was one. Brad was a man who lived life to the fullest and believed in helping others. In the end, his family decided to spread his ashes along the California coast, but they also had other plans.
As time passed, Brad’s family and friends thought of more ways they could honor him. Ultimately, they settled on a memorial service befitting Brad’s adventurous life. Brad loved the water as much as climbing, so they decided to hold a memorial service in the Russian River Mouth not far from Jenner, California.
The group paddled out into the river, where they paid tribute to Brad. It was in the river where Jainee and Brad’s mom shared a heartwarming moment as they mourned him together.
Returning to Yosemite
Once their wounds healed a bit more, Brad’s closest friends decided to travel to Yosemite. Once there, they climbed Cathedral Peak, the same mountain where Brad enjoyed his final happy moment in a remarkable life.
It was a bitter-sweet occasion knowing that Brad was looking forward to sharing his life with Jainee.
To Brad with Love
For Jainee, it took a very long time before the pain of Brad’s loss didn’t sting as profoundly. Once again, Jainee sat on the same mountain she shared with her beloved and took time to reflect on everything that happened.
Sharing her thoughts in a 2016 Facebook post, Jainee said: “To Brad Parker,” she wrote. “It’s so bitter-sweet. So brutal. And yet, so precious and true…”
Brad's Everlasting Gift
Her beloved left her with an enduring gift for which Jainee said she’s eternally grateful. Jainee continued: “You not only live on in me but continue to live on in others and give them life. And not only life, but that great consciousness of life that reminds us what truly matters…You continue to give me life. And what an awful, stinging irony that is.”
Brad lived a truly inspirational life, one that touched countless people. He will never be forgotten, as his legacy lives on in all who loved him. Furthermore, his story serves as a powerful reminder of the dangers of hiking alone and hiking fatigued.