A Daughter Finds Unexpected Discoveries on Her Father’s Favorite Trail
Randy Udall was most at peace in the wilderness. After he died on a solo backpacking trip, his daughter took up his tradition of hiking to a secret place in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, where she was surprised by what she found.
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In September 2012, when I was 26 years old, my father, Randy, sent me an email with a subject line that read, “Go to this rock.” He wrote: “Someday, I want you to go to this rock. It’s in a stunning place. I call it the Universe Clock. It needs to be ‘wound’ or rocked once a year to keep things in harmony.”
The Universe Clock is in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Perched on a narrow rib of the Continental Divide, the Clock is a large slab of granite—approximately nine by eleven feet—balanced on a stone fulcrum like a seesaw. My dad described it as his favorite place in the entire mountain range.
He stumbled on the Clock during an off-trail hike, near what would be the end of his lifelong love affair with the Winds. In 1978, he traversed the range on skis, from South Pass to Dubois—a distance of some 200 miles—over three weeks with his brother and a friend. After that trip, he spent countless weeks in the Winds, occasionally with companions but often alone, learning how each basin knit together. In later years, he obsessively pursued elusive golden trout there with a fly rod.
Nine months after emailing me about the Clock, my dad died at 61 while on a solo backpacking trip in the Winds—and only 20 miles from the Clock. He had a massive heart attack and crumpled to the ground with his hiking poles still in hand. When he didn’t return on time, a search began, and it would be almost a week before his body was spotted from a helicopter. I had just finished my first year of law school. I don’t believe in God, but to have your father die in his favorite place in the world rather than in the checkout line at Safeway does give you some faith.
My dad was a rangy six foot four, with, as his friends described it, a permanent sly grin. Bushy eyebrows framed his blue eyes, which were usually creased in concentration or a smirk. He was known for setting such a relentless pace on foot or skis that his partners rarely saw him again after leaving the trailhead. Only once did I summit a mountain before him; when he arrived at the top, he quipped that he was having “an off day.”