Getting lost in the forest

June 16, 2018. A day forever engraved in my mind; the day I got lost in the Medicine Bow National Forest. My feet traveled more trails in the forest than the average person. I spent the previous summer hiking the quiet, less-trodden paths. But I never hiked the backside of Medicine Bow Peak. From pictures it looked less crowded than the main trail and on June 16th my soul needed an adventure.

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Mistake #1: My weekends filled up with part-time work at the Chamber of Commerce office serving tourists. I answered their questions on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I got off work on June 16th at 3 p.m. I’ve been in the mountains in the late afternoon in the past. Many times I cut my trips short or peeled a soaking wet sweater off afterward. I headed to the mountains anyway.

When I got to the Lake Marie parking lot several people headed back to their cars after a day of recreating. I spotted others around the lake as they continued fishing.

I grabbed my trekking poles, threw my sweater and some snack bars into my pack and started up the trail head.

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Mistake #2: Not far into my hike, snow covered the trail. I post holed through the first section of snow, but once I got through no path alpine grasses and mud sat underneath my feet. I looked across the horizon line, found a cairn and hiked my way to it. A burst of confidence surged through me once back on the trail and in good in hands. I continued up along the backside of the Snowy Range and again found snow covering the trail. I scoped out the next cairn and walked around the snow. I did this one more time until I looked upon my destination. A light gray cloud hid Medicine Bow Peak.

 

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Mistake #3: I’ve hiked in the rain before, so I continued. Until I saw lightening. It flashed like lightning, but I didn’t actually see a bolt. Not ready to die, I turned around. Except the path no longer existed. Snow blinded me. Not a single cairn emerged from the drifts. My footprints couldn’t be seen because I had stayed on top of the snow most of the way up. I came from the west, so I headed back in that direction.

 

And that’s where the real adventure began. I scrambled down and around jagged rocks hoping to see the Lake Marie Parking lot and my car. My knees rammed into the wet slabs of granite as I slipped and fell many times.

Finally I saw a pair of lakes. But it didn’t look like Lake Marie, Mirror Lake or Lookout Lake. I slid to the bottom of the hillside and walked around the bank of the lakes. The landscape didn’t offer anything familiar.

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After looking up how far I was from my car two days prior to posting this, I discovered I was 9,374 feet from where I parked my car.

I saw footprints around the bank of the lake even though drifts of snow at least two feet deep bordered the water. I made my way around the bank in the direction the footprints appeared to be heading. Halfway to the other side of the lake the footprints disappeared until I came to a dirt road. The footprints returned and I followed them down the road.

What sun remained sunk behind the mountains as storm clouds continued to roll in. I left the house at 9 in the morning. I sat in my car parked at the gas station at about 3 p.m. when I sent the last text of the day to my boyfriend detailing my plans. He might be wondering why my four hour hike lasted much longer.

My phone bounced from one to two bars as I searched my contacts for my boyfriend’s name. He answered.

The first words out of my mouth, “Okay don’t be mad or scared, but I’m lost.”

We did the best we could over a phone with hardly any signal to determine my location. I describe the road I stood on though I couldn’t tell him its name or where it started or ended. I promised I’d follow it down to the highway. His plan consisted of driving up and down the highway until he found me. Then my phone died.

As I continued the road became impassable with water gushing through a cut in the dirt path and roaring down into the dark abyss.

Throughout my hike I stayed on higher ground west of the highway. I decided to follow the fast-flowing stream downhill.

I tripped and fell over tree branches and rocks as I meandered around the water and down the hill. Once it got too dark for me to see the water from a safe distance from the bank. I quit walking. I found a fallen log and dug underneath it with my hands and pocket knife until I made a hole big enough for me to fit.

My sweater clung to my body but didn’t offer any warmth, so I took it off and draped it over the log. I pulled a long sleeve shirt out of my backpack to replace the sweater. I ate half of a bar and pulled my sweater back around myself as my teeth chattered.

I wondered if my boyfriend called the county sheriff’s office. I heard the beating a helicopter rotor. A spotlight scanned the forest. Each time I heard the helicopter it sounded like it would hover away before coming back. Later I learned that search and rescue didn’t come out during the night. They followed direction to wait until the sun came up the next day, so I didn’t actually hear or see anything.

 

I slept for some period of time even though I shivered all night. When the sun came up I felt wide awake. I scrambled out from underneath the log I lived under until morning. I continued following the water down the hill. In the distance I saw a culvert. Water goes through culverts to avoid washing out a ROAD! I’ve never been happier in my life to see a culvert.

I hopped onto the road and started walking one way. Then I second guessed myself and headed the other direction. When I came to a “No Trespassing” sign I turned around and followed my first instinct.

I turned around and headed back the way I started. I passed a vacant truck and then came upon a second where I saw a couple packing up.

“Excuse me sir,” I said to the man loading something into the back. When he looked up I asked, “Do you know how far I am from the highway?”

“Not too far if you keep going the way you’re headed,” He replied. “Are you lost?”

Not anymore. While I didn’t know my exact location I could find my way to the highway and follow it to my car. I explained I got lost while hiking.

“How long have you been lost?” his wife asked with concern.

“Since last night.”

Getting ready to leave their campsite, the couple said they would drive me to my car after they finished packing up their gear. My car looked inviting, sitting and waiting for me at the Lake Marie parking area. The parking lot, filled with vehicles the afternoon before, sat empty with only one truck with my car.

Once I got inside my car I took off my sweater, now dirty, cold and wet. I plugged my phone into the car charger and pulled on my winter coat. I thanked myself for leaving the jacket in the backseat even though the weather at home didn’t call for it anymore.

As I drove down the highway off the mountain toward home, I saw search and rescue vehicles headed up.

“Damn, that’s for me.” I mumbled. Tears welled in my eyes with mixed emotions. People out there care about me. If my brother never bothered to teach me survival skills, the service these guys provided would become essential to my life.

I drove to where the highway turns off and parked off to the side. I turned my phone on and saw a text from a woman who works dispatch for the county sheriff’s office asking me to call. I obeyed and told her my location. She told me a deputy would meet with me to make sure I didn’t need medical attention and to take a statement.

The search and rescue crew came first. They all checked in on me asking if I planned to report on my incident for the radio newscast on Monday. Famous in a small town. Soon the deputy arrived. He asked me if I needed care, if I ate and drank enough food and water while lost and if I could drive home. After assuring him a warm house and a nap would cure me, the deputy sent me home.

I got home and hugged my boyfriend. After I recounted the brief version of the story, I took a hot shower and slept for a few hours.

 

Press release from the Sheriff’s Office:

my press release

Were you scared? I heard this question many times for the next month. I can honestly say no. I didn’t allow myself to get scared. My anxiety tried to take hold of me a few times, but I reminded myself that being scared wouldn’t help my situation. I needed to use my head to get through.

Each time anxiety tried to creep in, I took a moment to pray. A calmness washed over me and I trusted myself to move forward.

 

I hope somebody can learn something from my “adventure.” You can know the right steps to take in any situation and still make mistakes. Sometimes you let your desires and your confidence overtake your common sense. The tools to make the right decisions were in my brain, but I let my wish to hike the backside of Medicine Bow Peak intervene and take control.

There are a few items I wish I would have had with me now that I’ve experienced being lost in the forest. Most of the items are things I can easily store in my backpack and will become some of my essential items. One of those items is a space blanket to help me stay warm. I also keep my winter coat in my pack these days. I additionally have a backpacking stove and matches that I intend to keep in my pack for my adventures.

Most importantly, I always bring a GPS with me now. I have an app on my phone called Avenza Maps that works great! (Not sponsored) I’m obsessed with it and will have a blog post later about how great it is. It’s a free map app with a library of almost any map you could think of. Sometimes the maps cost money, but I haven’t seen any that are over $5. And you safety is worth more than that. Today I have three maps that cover the area where I was misplaced.

 

My last message for you is to donate to your local search and rescue! I’m truly grateful for the team we have here in Carbon County. Also thanks to the couple who brought me back to my car!

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Picture from before I got lost

Hiking with strangers (who later become friends)

Disclaimer: This post is in no way sponsored or affiliated with Mountain Chicks or Women Who Hike. All views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

 

Meeting up with people you’ve never met before may sound intimidating. I’d be lying if I said the first time I did it, I wasn’t nervous. But I was also super excited.
 
I started meeting up with strangers to go hiking about a year after moving to Wyoming. My first summer I spent a lot of time hiking with my boyfriend. However, he’s more into fishing than hitting the trails and is often busy on weekends. I have a few friends I like to hike with as well, but they’re not always available when I am. I needed to find others with the same interest to join me when I didn’t want to go alone.
 
My first meet up
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The first time I met up with a stranger, it was through the Mountain Chicks Wyoming chapter. The ambassador at the time, Gretchen, was hosting a group hike at Medicine Bow Peak. She and I were the only ones who showed up for the hike. We met at the pay station at the Sugarloaf access. As I was paying she rolled down her window and asked if I was Emma. Sure enough, I was!
 
We drove to the trailhead, parked and waited a couple minutes to see if anybody else was going to show up. Nobody did and we started our hike.
 
It was fun to meet somebody else who was passionate about the outdoors and looking to explore Wyoming. We were both Midwest transplants who had been in the state for about a year and a half. Not only did I learn a lot about Gretchen, but I learned some valuable skills.
 
One is be prepared. (I learn this one through many experiences.) Somehow I forgot to bring snacks for the hike. Luckily, Gretchen had enough snacks to save the day.
 
The second thing I learned is to know when to speak up for your well-being. We started hiking at a brisk pace. As we got higher up the mountain, I couldn’t keep up the speed. At first I thought I needed to keep up. When I mentioned I was getting winded, Gretchen was more than willing to slow the pace to one that was more comfortable for both of us.
 
Cirque of the Towers
The next time I met up with strangers to go hiking, I drove about four hours to go backpacking with 13 other women. This was through Women Who Hike Wyoming. I hadn’t met any of the women besides having Facebook communication with Ambassador Ali.
 
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After introductions and reminders on the Leave No Trace principles, we began the hike. I enjoyed getting to know the other women as we trekked the 12 miles to our campsite. Again I learned how important it is for me to prepare for the type of trip I’m taking. I wasn’t wearing the right shoes. I also didn’t have the right tools to heat my meals well.
 
The most important thing I learned about was community. Other women on the trip noted that I was having issues heating up my meal and offered their Jetboils.
 
Community was also found on the trail. A group of us had to hold up as one woman was fighting her blood sugar and other was getting used to the elevation. The rest of us needed to catch our breaths. The women who were doing fine checked to make sure we could continue on the trail, so that no one fell behind.
 
The communal experience at the campfire was also great. We shared stories while passing around the whiskey, gin and whatever else was on hand.
 
That strong community followed the next day when we hiked to the Cirque of the Towers. Some moments of the hike were grueling, but with the support of each other and a sharing of groans, we made it to the beautiful view.
 
Curt Gowdy State Park
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Women Who Hike brought me to my next hike with strangers, as well. On the Wyoming Facebook group, one of the women asked for people familiar with the Medicine Bow National Forest area. With my great love for the forest I chimed in. Four of us (plus one dog) made a plan to hike at Curt Gowdy State Park, which isn’t exactly in the forest but borders it.
 
I enjoyed that hike as well and made three more new friends. While we haven’t pinned anything down yet, we agreed we’d like to hike together again soon.
 
Spearfish Canyon
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Photo credit: Elisabeth Brentano
My last meet-up was with the South Dakota Women Who Hike group. I drove five hours to Spearfish Canyon for this experience. I met the South Dakota ambassador, Stephanie and Women Who Hike Founder Nicole Brown.
 
I met several other awesome women who took part in the hike. There were 40+ of us!
 
We hiked two miles in on the Iron Creek trail into the Spearfish Canyon’s winter wonderland. When we returned we hike another half miles to Spearfish Falls.
 
A Merrell representative was also there. She provided boots for people to try out on the trail. Everyone also got a free mug at the end of the event and two people won a free pair of boots.
 
I will do more of these meet-up hikes in the future. It’s my goal to get to Texas and hang out with Ambassador Mallory on one of her ventures.
If you want to meet up with strangers to go hiking, get involved in a group. It’s a safe way to make new friends and bust out the hiking boots. I also recommend meeting up with more than one other person. With another set of eyes it’s harder for anybody to try to do anything fishy.
I also like to check out the person I’m going to be hiking with on Facebook. You can usually tell from a brief review of their profile how serious they are about hiking and their skill level. It also makes the meet-up less awkward because you can bring up something you saw on their profile and start a conversation.

My Goals for 2019

I don’t typically take part in New Year’s Resolutions because you shouldn’t limit yourself to a new year to make changes in your life. If you discover an area where you need to grow on December 23rd, you should start on December 23rd. There’s no reason to wait.

Having goals, is different. Year-long goals are a good measure of what you want to do in 365 days. You can also have shorter or longer term goals, like three month goals or 10 year goals.

 

I’m using the SMART Goals guideline to outline the things I want to do this year.

Specific – What exactly will you do?

Measurable – How will you know if you meet your goal?

Achievable – What steps are you going to take to reach your goal?

Relevant – What about your goal makes it important to you?

Timely – When do you want to complete your goal?

 

I’ve decided to share my goals with you, so you can all hold me accountable. I plan to provide you with updates with my accomplishments. My hope is also that these goals will inspire you to develop some plans for 2019 as well.

 

Goal 1: Go on my first solo backpacking trip

I plan to go to Adobe Town Wilderness Study Area in Sweetwater County to complete this goal. I went there with my best friend for my birthday last year. I loved the landscape and saw some even cooler looking landscape off in the distance. We were car camping, so the far off land wasn’t accessible. I plan to park my vehicle at the end of the dirt road. From there I’ll hike south and backpack in Monument Valley.

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I plan to get a one person backpacking tent to make traveling easier. About a month before my trip I’ll take my backpack out on the trail,  getting to the weight I’ll need for the trip. I will complete my goal this spring or summer.

 

Goal 2: Take a Wilderness First Aid course

Because I spend a lot of time in the outdoors, it’s important that I take the NOLS wilderness first aid course. Plus, I’m planning on getting involved in a program that requires this course (can’t reveal what it is yet). I plan to take the course in April.

 

Goal 3: Catch a fish on a fly rod

I got a fly rod last summer, but never caught a fish. It’s hard! I’ll try to get out to one of the many lakes around me or to the North Platte or Encampment River at least once a week. I’ll also let my boyfriend teach me more techniques that may help me. I want to complete this goal by July.

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Goal 4: Updating this blog twice a week

I plan to update this blog with a weekly update on what’s happening to lands and conservation in Wyoming and US. I also want to publish posts that are a little more fun, like this one, on a weekly basis. Doing this helps me to connect and share what’s happening in Wyoming. I’m also invested in the lands in this state and want Wyoming’s quietness to have a louder voice when it needs protection. I’ve already planned and written five other blog posts to get me started. As the year progresses I’ll continue writing and paying attention to the news around me.

 

Goal 5: Backpack the Encampment River Trail

I love this trail. It is my absolute favorite! But I’ve never hiked the whole 15 miles. I plan to change that this summer. I’ll do this with a group. I’ll prepare myself for this hike the same way I’ll prepare for backpacking in the Adobe Town Wilderness Study Area.

encampment river

 

Goal 6: Hike a new trail in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Two summers ago I worked hard to hike as many trails as possible in the Medicine Bow National Forest. While I knocked a few off my list and discovered some new favorites, I have several trails left to wander. I have a few trails in mind that I’d like to tackle. One is the trail to Medicine Bow Peak from Dipper Lake. It’s the least common route to the top, and the only one I haven’t done. I’m also interested in the Medicine Bow Rail Trail.

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I have a guide book that is specific to the Medicine Bow National Forest, so I’ll use it to plan my adventures. These trips will take place sometime between July and September.

 

Longer term goals

One of my lifetime goals is to travel to every National Park in the United States. So far I’ve visited Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the Badlands National Parks. I have a long ways to go. I’m hoping to be able to visit Voyageurs National Park in August, but I’m not sure I’ll make it there this year. I don’t currently have a timeline of when I’d like to do this, but I would like to complete it by the age of 50.

Another lifetime goal is to hike to the highest point in every state. This one will be a bit harder because to do so, you have to figure out how to get through private property. To date I’ve only made it to the highest point in South Dakota, which is Black Elk Peak.

I have another highest peak goal, which is to get to the highest point in every county in Wyoming. Wyoming has a total of 23 counties, and I believe I’ve made it to the highest point in one. There’s some debate over what is the highest peak in Albany County. I’ve heard it’s either Medicine Bow Peak or Laramie Peak. The guidebook I have says Medicine Bow Peak has about mile of elevation on Laramie Peak. If anybody knows which is higher for sure, let me know! Medicine Bow Peak is 12,013 feet in elevation, for reference. I might make it to Bridger Peak this summer, which is the highest point in Carbon County at 10,950 feet.

 

What are your goals, short or long term?