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Google Maps led stranded Idaho man down snowmobile track, Summit County rescuers say

The Forest Service announced the gates officially were locked Dec. 5, 2023, for the winter.
U.S. Forest Service Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
Mirror Lake Highway's northern gate is near the North Slope parking lot by Bear River Lodge. The southern gate (above) is just past the Soapstone turnoff.

An Idaho man told rescuers Google Maps was to blame when his car got stuck on a snowmobile trail deep in the Uinta Mountains New Years Day.

According to Lt. Alan Siddoway, who’s the liaison to Search and Rescue at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, the driver in his mid-20s was on his way to meet friends at a cabin the afternoon of Jan. 1.

He was alone in a Subaru Crosstrek, navigating by GPS. Google told him Mirror Lake Highway was closed, but he thought that meant it was closed near Evanston, Wyo.

In fact, the closure starts near the North Slope parking lot about 6 miles into Utah from the Wyoming border.

The alternate route was to come down from Robertson, Wyo., on a seasonal Forest Service road that follows Black’s Fork.

“That's what Google suggested,” Siddoway said. “He was actually able to make it amazingly far on a groomed snowmobile trail, it being groomed and hard-packed.”

But just after Lyman Lake, the trail turned soft and he got stuck—nearly 30 miles from Robertson.

He was lucky that he was able to text 911, Siddoway said. When responders made it to him, it was 16 degrees and windy.

“As a matter of course and as a matter of policy, we will rescue the occupants, then it's their responsibility to contact a tow company,” the lieutenant said. 

But in this case, Summit County Search and Rescue had already contacted four tow companies who’d turned down the job. Rather than send more people up into the mountains, Siddoway said they made an exception.

They got the driver unstuck and then stayed with him as he drove back to safety.

The man told first responders he didn’t see a “road closed” sign on the way in, and Siddoway said it's not the first time a smartphone GPS has sent someone down unmaintained or seasonal roads.

“I would be very, very cautious when approaching a road that is snow-packed,” he said. “There were no other vehicle tracks on this road.”

Roads don’t always have locked gates. There may be only a barricade or sign to indicate it’s impassable.

Siddoway's takeaway: no GPS can take the place of "good common sense."