I have always thought it is important to learn for one's mistakes. I also think it is important to learn from the mistakes of others so as not to repeat them. That is why I am telling this story
A group of nine decided to make a bid to summit the four peaks in one day. The information about that hike is found here:
http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?TN=F ... her%20Lode
For different reasons, eight of the nine elected to stop this pursuit after summiting two peaks. I know that some wished to continue on but chose not to for their own reasons. I chose to make a solo bid for the remaining two peaks. I am certain most will say this was a foolish choice. I am aware that this could have been a dangerous decision. However, it was a VERY PERSONAL DECISION that probably only some can understand and one that I do not regret. Judgment of that decision is not the purpose of this post. I hope to recount my experience and share it, so that perhaps someone can learn from my decisions or my errors. I also wish to thank the group of guys that went on this trip, those who unselfishly waited for me, and gave me the time to talk about this on my own. Classy group and I appreciate it greatly.
Here is the rest of the story:
I arrived at peak 4 (aka Brown's Peak) at 5:45 pm. The final peak of the day! There was still a fairly good sun on the horizon and I was certain that I would make it close to the trailhead by sundown. Even if that did not happen, I had a headlamp with me, that had fresh batteries, so i was not concerned. I radioed down to the rest of my party to tell them of my position. I heard someone respond back thru the crackling FRS radio that they were half way back to the cars. I told them I was heading down the scree chute and to expect me soon.
I started down the mountain. This side of the mountain was the north face and completely covered in show. I had never been to Brown's Peak but knew the scree chute was a one way trip to the trailhead. Things were going very well and I thought that I was making excellent progress down the hill. After a longer than anticipated journey, I began to notice that the sun was setting. I made some quick mental notes about my postion in relation to the sunset. As I did that, I also became somewhat concerned. The ridgeline ahead of me appeared to be higher to me than I thought it should be from what I remembered from the Trailhead that morning. I had likely descended too far!! I also began to consider that I may have descended a draw different from the scree chute. As I thought of all of this, I noted the constellation in the opposite sky from the rapidly disappearing sun and marked the little dipper as my East bearing. I was also painfully aware that during my haste to leave the meeting point that morning and catch my shuttle to the trailhead, I had left behind my first aid kit and compass. (DOH!)
As the sun continued to set, I tried unsuccessfully to radio the group. It was at that point when I realized I was lost and alone with a long, cold night staring me in the face. Having long rehearsed and prepared for such an event, I knew that there were several things that I needed to do in order survive, and either make it out or be rescued.
First of all, I had to admit to myself that I was lost. That was not easy to do! I didn't want to hold the guys up any longer, and I honestly felt pretty embarassed about the whole thing. I was even fairly certain that the correct trail was to my east, but, I was not sure. (I knew I had to be honest with myself and not be in denial about the circumstances-) Considering the alternatives, the humble pie tasted okay-and I stayed put. What I knew already, and George had also mentioned earlier in the day is......many, many people die from making poor choices or obviously bad choices. So, the next order of business was to make some good decisions. I made sure that I did not panic and made some initial actions. I moved from the draw to the spur (wall of the draw) This made me more visible and made it much better to hear and be heard. Next, I rembered reading a survivalist writing something to the effect: If you get lost, stop, build a fire (for warmth, comfort, and signalling), make a hot beverage, and consider your options and develop a plan. So, I did just that.
I collected some fuel and lit the fire. I was afraid that my lighter might quit working, due to struggling with the wet wood, so I light my stove and put it on low as a failsafe. I DID NOT want to do the night without fire as I approximated that the low was probably going to be in the 30's or perhaps lower.
After finally getting the fire going, I had a cup of cocoa with the last of my water. I decided that I had to stay put and if I was to move again, it would ONLY be to retrace my steps and not until the next morning. -In fact, stopping was the hardest thing to do-my mind did not want to stop. I wanted desperately to keep going. It must be the natural tendency.
After deciding to stay put, I set my watch to run a countdown timer every half hour and blow my whistle throughout the night on that mark. That gave me busy work. Based on that countdown timer, I rationed out my snacks to eat one every hour-thus giving me something to look forward to. I set my sights on making it through the night, rather than being found. I reasoned that if I hoped to be found but was not, that would severly diminish my spirits.
Of more pressing concern, as I was re-evaluating my supplies, I noticed that I had lost my fleece top, as well as, my top and bottom thermals somewhere on the day's hike. (bad to worse) That was a bit of an alarming note, but, just had to deal with it. Next, I began to melt water with the stove and fill my nalgene bottle. (Snow takes FOREVER to melt and boil) I wrapped my feet in my muffler then wrapped myself up in my space blanket and started drying my shoes and socks by the fire.
Beyond that, I noticed a pair of glowing eyes hanging around me when I shined my headlamp (this caused me to blow my whistle more often) Then I noticed that I had no knife because it was with first aid kit. I will never know what that creature was. I thought coyote, mtn lion, or racoon because it was so low to the ground.
I guess the rest was mental. I knew that I would make it-just didnt know when or how. The guys had told me over the radio that the scree chute was "Down and to the left" So, I just kept making fun of that, thinking of the spoof of the movie JFK, where they mocked Kevin Costner saying "Down and to the left." Anyway, it kept me going making fun of them- I was thinking ...."OH, down and to the left, huh?!"
I had time to notice the sky, the shooting stars, the beeline in the distance, and the planes flying overhead oblivious to my situation. They were comforting things to think about nonetheless. I also revelled in how quickly things went from no problem to big problems. Hiking IS a dangerous sport.
After a couple hours I thought that I heard one of the guys yelling my name in the distance. It was so faint that I almost didnt notice. I yelled and whistled back and heard someone say, "Radio!" I turned it on (it was off to conserve the little battery I did have) and heard them talking to me. Two of the guys had doubled back for me when I didnt show up. I quickly cleaned up the campsite, put the fire dead out, and started moving.
Tom came towards me and met me in the middle of the divide. We hiked toward each others' headlamps-while another person (please remind me of the name) smartly stayed on the trail with a light to guide us back. How great it was to hear and see them. I guesstimate that I was about 1/2 to 3/4 mile off the trail. Had I gone in the direction that I thought the trail was instead of staying put, I would have been much further away. I doubt that I would have been seen or heard from that night. Since the whole hillside was covered in snow, sound did not travel very far. If the wind had been even slightly the wrong direction, I would likely not have heard them. Bottom line is alot of things happened right to get me out that night. Many things could have been better. Thanks to the guys that waited and those that got me out. I owe you guys!
Draw your own lessons
Below is what i got
Things that went wrong or could have been better
1. I rushed to get my gear without thoroughly checking my equiptment list(I had promised never to do this to myself)
2. Fire too small for signalling ( I tried to conserve my fuel-though more was available)
3. Should have blown whistle more often and had a better whistle
4. Did not have a GPS (with good waypoints and fresh batteries EVERY time.)-could have eliminated the whole situation
5. I will use a space bag not a space blanket from now on. (way better with the drafts)
6. could have stayed with the group-
Things that went right
1. Others knew where I was and backtracked for me
2. I knew what the terrain looked likeand paid diligent attention to it- I just couldnt see it- so I would have been out in the morning.
3. Had reasonable supplies; eg radio, stove, fire, food, space blanket, clothes (sort of)
4. STOPPED Moving
5. Didnt panic!!
6. Had a plan
7. made a decision to survive
"I'd feel better if we had some crampons. Oh, what the hell, let's go for it..." — Common climbing last words.