My pack was lighter than usual for the 3 mile hike from the parking lot near Colgate lake, to the third lake, where I had planned to set up camp. I had a sleeping bag, ground pad, tent, pillow, flashlight, paperback book, and very little else except honey and small items like a compass and some toiletries. I planned to stay 4 days for a vision quest inspired fast. The honey was for the return trip. I was looking forward to fresh water, swimming, sun, quiet, life, reading, resting and dreaming.
After around 3 miles, I noticed a partially obstructed clearing that I felt compelled to check out. I had passed 3 people early on who told me that the third lake was really a beaver dam. They said the map was deceiving and I might not notice the body of water. So when I saw a clearing from the trail, I thought this might be the beaver dam pseudo lake. I placed my pack on the trail, because I only intended to take a quick peak and come right back to the trail. In the clearing was a beaver dam pool. I hoped that there was a bigger one later on, because this one was sort of sorry looking. In any case, the hikers told me there was a waterfall further on that would do, if I was too disappointed in the almost lake. So I walked back to the trail. But I couldn't find the trail. So I walked back to the clearing for a better bearing. I faced the direction I was sure that I came from, and started back again. I walked until the clearing wasn't visible anymore, and I still couldn't find the trail. I went back to the clea ring again. I repeated this exercise a couple of more times. Each time I went to the clearing, I noticed another clearing close by, so I went to the other clearing. The other clearing was even smaller and less exciting than the first and didn't help me see the trail, so I went back to the first clearing. Again I tried to find the trail and by now was feeling kind of bad. I decided to go home as soon a I found the trail, because there was no lake like I thought and I didn't like being there anymore. But I couldn't find the trail. I followed a few paths from the first clearing that I felt I could retrace, but I was lost. I went to the second clearing again, and this time I couldn't find the first clearing anymore. I was really getting worried. There was a stream near the second clearing, and I followed the stream hoping it would lead me to the trail, and it didn't. Now I couldn't even find the second clearing anymore. The stream had joined other streams and I was getting more and more positive that I was lost. I estimated that I was around one half mile to a mile from the trail, but I couldn't really know.
I was alone. I hadn't told anybody where I was. It was a very lightly traveled trail. I left all my camping gear in my pack on the trail. Things that would have been nice. I didn't have any matches, compass, whistle, food, or anything. All I had was my wallet(money and credit cards) and my keys. I was completely lost and alone and scared. I was in panic. I was walking up and down the stream, while the truth was very clear. If I didn't find the trail, my only hope was a rescue by rangers, friends, or family. And I was so far from the trail, that I thought that no one could hear me and I couldn't hear them. I was overwhelmed with my carelessness. What started out as a carefree lark, had become a very powerful mistake.
I was tired and getting more lost with each step. I decided to sit down and calmly try to think of the alternatives and plan my survival. And with every possibility I could imagine, I realized that the situation was more bleak than I had feared. By now, I had accepted the fact that the spot I was in, was my new home. I drank water from the stream and it tasted good. Even if I died there of starvation, it would be weeks. And I could be happy for the rest of my life. After all, we all died anyway. And I wasn't in pain. And I wasn't going to die right then. And anything could happen. There was always hope. So the first order of business was getting ready for the night. I had camped on different trails in the area with a tent and sleeping bag and long underwear; so I knew it could get cold. The weather report said the temperature would go down to forty, and all I had was my shirt, pants, underpants, socks, and boots. It was hard for me to build a bed because I had to stop frequently to absorb my panic. I set up t wo branches around 2 feet apart and 6 feet long for my roof. One end was on the ground and the other end was on a thick fallen tree. I put branches, and bark between the two bigger branches. Then I put leaves and grass on top of that. I piled so much stuff on top that I thought it would collapse from the weight. It was getting dark and the bugs were getting plentiful. I couldn't sit in one place for long because the flying insects would accumulate if I didn't move. It started to get cold, and I slid under the roof. the ground was moist and cold and of course dirty. And it wasn't too warm under there. I promised to make a much better one the next day, but I was going to have to live with this first attempt right then. It was getting colder and I started shivering. After a while, I started to stuff leaves into my shirt. It was dark and I couldn't see what I was doing. I rightly assumed I was stuffing my fair share of spiders in with the leaves. The leaves really worked well. I stopped shivering and got comforta ble. I felt that I could have a pleasant evening after all ... until it started raining. It seemed to rain for a long time. I stayed dry, but the roof was so heavy that it was bending on me. And it was no longer warm. It was very cold. And I was shivering again. And I didn't stop shivering until the sun came up.
When I noticed the sunrise, I got up. The ground was soaked and I was still shivering. I didn't think I would last as long without food if I had to shiver every night and panic during the day. But I had all night to plan my day's activity. This was the plan. I would continue to walk up and down the stream. I would stay close to the stream. I would learn the area around the stream so that I would be an expert with the terrain. I planned to eventually expand my familiarity with the area until my perimeter crossed the trail. I figured I had a month of exploring and that was my best bet. I was going to act smarter now. Early on I found an orange bag that seems like it had been littered and left years ago. I broke it in half. I walked away from the stream until I could just still see it and I put half of the orange bag in a tree. I walked away from the tree and put the other half on a tree when I could just bearably see the first one. Then I could only go a little further. That was around 50-70 feet. I was walking upstream and exploring the land on both sides of the stream. I was no longer positive from which side of the stream I came. I walked upstream until I got to a swampy marshland clearing. I assumed that to be a dead end. But I hadn't even gone that far yesterday. I walked downstream again, exploring the terrain and passing my home from last night. I reached the pond where I had seen ducks at the day before. The stream appeared to empty into this pool for another dead end. I had been there the day before and noticed that. But now I walked around the pond and saw that the beavers may have dammed it up and yet it did continue. So I followed the stream through similar vegetation that I found at the top of the stream. Tall grass that came to the middle of my thighs. I couldn't see what I was steeping on. Some times it was a hole or a stream. I was wet and worried that if I twisted my leg, I would be in worse shape. I tried to walk gingerly, but I was on a mission. After a while of following the stream, I noticed a man-made small bridge that crossed it. I knew that was a good sign. I walked to the bridge and saw a trail marker on it. The same trail I had started on. I knew I was saved. Now it was only a matter of time. I walked the wrong way for a mile. I could have kept going. I knew that both directions lead to something, but the wrong way could be 15 to 30 miles. It didn't matter because the worst it would be was difficult. I knew I would live. So I turned around and went back over the bridge and eventually picked up my pack, where I had left it on the trail. I quickly walked the 3 miles back to the car. I went to the first lake for a swim and sunning, and then drove back to my parents house where my cat was indifferent at my return. The whole ordeal, from the time that I started on the trail to the time that I entered my parents house, was only 24 hours. The longest day of my life.
Thank you for posting your experience. It is very sobering and I am glad it had a happy ending for you.
I think what happened to you has probably happened to others. An innocent side trip turns disastrous -- turn around and it all looks alike.
Keep on hiking/camping and enjoying, but with a belt of wisdom.
This is not at all an unusual way to get lost in the woods. Congratulatetions on your successful systematic search for the trail. Sometimes people in this situation run off in the wrong direction until they drop dead (the panic that you recovered from).
I hope you go in the woods again soon. Take look backwards now and then when you go off trail, or away form camp.
What an inspiring story. It makes you realize that "it'll never happen to me" is a bunch of bunk! I'll definitely remember this the next time I'm out for a weekend!
Thanks for telling your story! - and way to keep your wits about you in an undoubtedly difficult time!.
Great story. Thank you for sharing.......
I just read your post on alt. backcountry (or whatever it's called!). You're very lucky.
I just read your story on rec.backcountry. I wanted to thank you for posting it. I really think people can learn from this kind of post. I recently had a somewhat similar epic while out climbing (I could sent you a report if you are interested) and know it's quite a drag when you don't know where you are and you don't have the gear you need to survive.
Anyways, back to your adventure, I think it was a genius idea to familiarize yourself with your surroundings in an expanding radius. I'm sure I would never have thought of that (althought I will now : ). Glad you made it.
Thanks a lot for re-sending that camping story.That was pretty exciting! I was at the edge of my papisan! I've been lost in the woods and I know it's scary. Never had to spend a night without a tent and sleeping bag, though. In Alaska I stuck to the campgrounds and stayed on the trails. Didn't want to tempt the grizzlies too much. I don't know if you heard, but there were several bear attacks this summer. Two folks, a mother and her son, were killed just outside Anchorage in a park, while jogging! I heard lots of other stories--enough to make me very cautious about hiking up there. So I never even saw a grizzly. Just a black bear that ran across the road in front of my car. I was pretty amazed--thought it was a dog at first. Got a good picture of it, though.
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