Last October, the Bolt Creek Fire helped give Seattle the worst air quality in the world—a dubious distinction more and more North American locations are getting in recent years. While the fast-moving blaze destroyed thousands of acres, no human lives were lost. But two very nearly were. Matt Bishop and Steve Cooper escaped certain death; this is the story of how.

Halfway down the chute, Bishop and Cooper watched in horror as the fire, hungry for fuel, snaked its way around the backside of the ridge and emerged in front of them. Flames engulfed the trail below the gully, consuming their escape route, roaring like a jet engine preparing for takeoff. “Oh fuck,” Cooper said. “That came fast, dude.” “Hopefully you guys get to see this video,” Bishop added, brow furrowed. “Otherwise, we didn’t make it.” He sent another message to his wife: “We’re trapped.”

Their breathing short and shallow, they considered their only option: Scramble back up the scree they’d just descended to huddle below Baring Mountain’s jagged peak, the rocky, open space a potential refuge — or a dead end.