Once they realized they were off-trail, they decided to try and get to Hells Gate anyway via a different canyon. I think that's where they went wrong.
I found myself in that situation once in the middle of the Blue Range. It was a miracle that we managed to find a trail again. On the Grant Creek trail (I think) we lost the trail a little past Moonshine Park. We followed the trail up a ridge, and then ended up following a small drainage we thought was a trail off the ridge. When it petered out, rather than backtracking, we headed straight down the side of the hill where I thought the trail would go (based off my wilderness map, which definitely wasn't a 7.5 minute topo). Of course we were wrong, and ended up eventually finding a trail about a half hour later at the bottom of a canyon. After much rejoicing, we followed this trail in what we figured would be the right direction until my hiking partner spotted a tall, broken reed he recognized from earlier. As it turns out, we had managed to wander back to a portion of trail we had hiked a couple hours earlier, nowhere near where we should have been. Looking back, I realize we were completely disoriented not even a minute after losing the trail. It's amazing how quickly that happens, and in a place as remote as the Blue, it can turn really bad. I consider myself REALLY REALLY lucky that this situation didn't turn out worse, cause had we not happened upon that part of the trail we had hiked earlier, who know where we would have ended up. I don't imagine there would have been any tall hills with reception way out there.
"Arizona is the land of contrast... You can go from Minnesota to California in a matter of minutes, then have Mexican food that night." -Jack Dykingahttp://www.joelhazelton.com