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

Weekly Review: January 11th

Wyoming Counties and Forest Service worry about overuse in the Bighorns

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Four counties surrounding the Bighorn Mountains, will be assembling a group of citizens. They will provide feedback on overuse in specific areas of the Bighorns.
 
The four counties are Sheridan, Johnson, Big Horn, and Washakie. They have been collaborating to solve issues in the Bighorn Mountains for years. They each send representatives to the Bighorn Mountain Coalition, which communicates with the U.S. Forest Service. They give and receive feedback about issues in the mountains.
 
Recently, the Forest Service has focused on the issues associated with heavy groups of campers in specific areas. These campers often dole heavy use on popular sections of the forest. Dispersed camping only alleviates the issue when the campers are visiting less-travelled sections of the forest.
 
Heavy concentrations of campers impacts roads and vegetation. The forest service is also experiencing issues with garbage and sanitation. The problems have been on the Forest Service’s radar for years.
 
The popularity of the Bighorns isn’t helping the issue any. The Sheridan visitor’s center receives more than 100,000 guests per year. Sheridan Travel and Tourism has also directed its efforts to encourage dispersed camping.
 
On their website, Sheridan Travel and Tourism lists several of the campgrounds available in the Bighorns. The list for backpacking areas is far more extensive. With more than 1.1 million acres and 1,200 miles of trails, the site states that the Bighorn National Forest offers limitless camping opportunities.
 
Shawn Parker, the director of travel and tourism, says that his department tailors marketing to whatever the Forest Service needs. He reaches out to the Forest Service to discuss what their recreation numbers look like. He uses that information to target marketing efforts into areas where the agency can handle it.
 
The citizen new group is expected to have 16 members, four from each county. Applications to be a member of the group closed on Jan. 4. After members are notified of their selection, they will begin holding meetings to come up with solutions to this problem.
 
For my community, if you have plans to visit the Bighorns this summer, call the Sheridan Travel and Tourism office at (307) 673-7121. The director can tell you can some places that don’t see as much traffic.
 

Avalanche Safety

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Wyoming saw its first avalanche of the winter on December 22nd. A Rock Springs man dies after an avalanche buried his snowmobile in the Wyoming Range near Jackson Hole. It was also the first fatality of the season within the US affording to Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey.
 
The snowmobiler was riding uphill on a small convex slope when a wind slab fractured on a buried layer of faceted snow. The 100-foot-wide avalanche has a 22-inch crown and ran roughly 100 feet. It broke above the man, carrying him about 50 feet and flipping his snowmobile on top of him.
 
You can usually avoid avalanches with proper training. Take advantage of a course this winter if you plan to go snowmobiling or alpine skiing outside of a resort this season.
 
Several classes are available through the Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.
 
Many local search and rescue teams offer brief courses as well, some of which are free or have a small cost. I took a brief course through the Carbon County Search and Rescue. They talked about the different types of snow and how to know when you or other activity could trigger an avalanche. The crew also showed the gear one should have on hand in case they get stuck in an avalanche. The number one item is a beacon. It’s a device that alerts rescue teams of your location.
I also recommend taking a class once a year to refresh your knowledge.
 

Lunar Eclipse January 20th

 
Wyoming will be one of the best places to view a total lunar eclipse on January 20th. While the lunar eclipse doesn’t have quite the wonder of the solar eclipse, which took place two summers ago, it is still stunning.
 
This event is called the January Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse and it will reach its totality right about 10:20 p.m.
 

Some National Parks close

 
Joshua Tree National Park has closed as a result of visitors damaging trees during the ongoing government shutdown. Besides damaging the trees, tourists have overflowed trash cans and restrooms. Motorist have created new roads, which is not allowed.
 
The park closed yesterday because officials lack the resources to clean and protect the destination. Employees can’t return to work as the partial government shutdown drags into its third week.
 
Instead of completely closing like in past government shutdowns, the Trump Administration has forced the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, to operate with a limited workforce. This has resulted in trash cans and toilets on federally managed lands not getting serviced and acres of habitat unprotected.
 
While some bad apples have been ruining the national parks, members of the public have been volunteering to help clean and care for parks. They’ve been unclogging toilets, picking up trash and putting up sign reminding visitors that they are on their own.
 
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are also closed. Yosemite National Park limited access to some areas of the park. Park officials closed Hetch Hetchy and Mariposa Grove due to lack of restrooms and resulting impacts from human waste. Employees who are working will cite people entering closed areas.
 
Lack of staffing to plow snowy roads or to keep watch over areas for safety is also forcing park officials to limit access to the public. Arches National Park shut down because the park’s inability to plow the roads after snowfall made conditions unsafe for visitors.
To see how Wyoming’s National Parks are affected by the government shutdown, check out last week’s review
 

My upcoming adventures

 
I’m headed to South Dakota this weekend for a Women Who Hike event. I can’t tell you exactly where right now, but when I return I’ll be posting a vlog. I’ll also have a new blog post about meeting up with strangers to take hikes. If you have any questions about meet-ups feel free to leave me a DM on Instagram or ask on my twitter post.