Woman Recounts How Three Strangers Incredibly Found Her Last Selfie With Her Father Before He Fell to His Death in the Mountains
A woman on Twitter shared how three strangers helped her recover a cherished selfie she and her dad had taken just before he fell to his death while hiking in July 2020.
Jenna Rose Smith went viral as she recounted her father Philip Oliver Smith's accident and shared a bittersweet story about "gratitude and hope."
Philip died after falling down a slope while trekking the rugged Olympic Mountains Bailey Range in the Pacific Northwest with his daughter.
Jenna's final photos with her father — stored on her cellphone, which was in the backpack she left in the mountains — were believed to be lost forever until a group of kind strangers stepped in to retrieve them for her in the wake of Philip's death.
According to Jenna, she and her father's party got off-route on the second day of their week-long hike in the mountains. That's when tragedy struck.
"My dad fell down a steep gully. He tumbled out of sight," she shared, adding she immediately dropped her pack and "climbed downwards over steep scree towards the place where he disappeared."
Philip died in the fall, "his body stopping, tenuously, above yet another drop."
"We struggled to move him amid sliding scree. There was serious rockfall," she continued.
They were later rescued by a Navy rescue unit who "winched my dad, then me, out of that gully into a Blackhawk." After they were helicoptered out, staff from the Olympic National Park met Jenna at the helipad, called a funeral home and booked a hotel for her.
At first, Jenna's 50-pound pack was "the last thing" on her mind, but in the days following her father's sudden passing, she began to think about the bag and what it contained.
"I began to bitterly regret the loss of the final images of his life," she tweeted. "They were on my cell phone, in my backpack, at the top of the gully. Strapped to the outside of my pack was an ice axe my dad carried for more than 50 years."
Meanwhile, after driving Jenna and Philip to the trail just days earlier, Jenna's mom had met a "friendly family" who had completed the Bailey Range Traverse multiple times. Jenna's mom had exchanged phone numbers with the family of hikers.
"A week after my dad's death, [my mom] said: 'I want to ask them if they'll look for your pack.' That seemed totally wild to me. Unreasonable. But I didn't want to shut her down. We were all off the hinges with grief and shock, and trauma," Jenna shared.
Jenna was certain the family would decline, but her mother insisted on asking them anyway.
Miraculously, the family agreed to attempt to recover the missing backpack.
"Three members of that family walked for four days. I worried for their safety. I thought they'd never find it," Jenna wrote. "Then the phone rang. They found it," she continued, explaining that because of the weight of the pack and the distance the hikers needed to travel, they had to split the pack three ways to carry it all back safely.
"This family's extraordinary generosity will touch me for the rest of my life. When I remember my dad, I remember them too. Kindness always matters," she shared.
"Every day, I see that last selfie I took with my dad — it's pinned to the wall by my desk," Jenna shared, adding her very favorite of the rescued photos is one that was taken on the morning of his death. "He's studying a map at dawn, sitting in a field of avalanche lilies. In the background is Mt. Olympus."
Jenna continued: "He spent a lifetime seeking out high places and taught me to love them too. Once, he told me: 'If I die someday in the mountains, I won't think I've chosen the wrong life.' I don't think he did, either."
Jenna Rose Smith is a backpacking adventure author who writes about scenic locations for publications such as The Washington Post, National Geographic Travel, CNN Travel and Rolling Stone, among others.
Her career started as a pastime she picked up from her father
Days after her dad's passing, Jenna shared a beautiful tribute to Philip on Instagram.