I was incredibly stupid a few weekends ago and got hopelessly lost and borderline delirious in the Ansel Adams Wilderness area near Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada of California. I love adventure, both close to where I live and halfway across the world but this time I went a little too far. Below, I catalog my mistakes:
1) Don’t hike on your own – And yet I definitely did. My buddies and I had hiked about 3 miles from our camp to the absolutely stunning Thousand Island Lake. The scenery was amazing but I was feeling sleepy so I told the group I was heading back to camp for a nap. At least two people protested, saying that I might get lost. “I’ll take my chances,” I said.
2) Don’t hike without a map, GPS or a compass – With the exception of my iPhone which provided limited help at best (the reception was sketchy and even when I did have reception, the inbuilt navigation only works well for street navigation), I had nothing in the way of way-finding devices.
3) Do not automatically assume other hikers are brilliant navigators – The start of my hike home went just great… until I got to a fork in the path. It was more like a crossroads – and none of the arrows on the wooden sign pointed to Clark Lakes – where I needed to go. Confused, I asked a hiker that was coming by. She was positive that there was a sign to Clark Lakes further down the path.
4) If you are obviously on the wrong path, turn around, EVEN if it is beautiful – OK, so I am embarrassed about this one. I KNEW I was on the wrong path. But the great river and AMAZING waterfall to my right kept me going. Just a little further… maybe I’ll find a sign for Clark Lakes like the hiker told me. I kept going… and going. Even after some other hikers told me they had NOT seen a sign for Clark Lakes.
5) Don’t think you know a short cut – That’s when I decided I knew a shortcut. “I’m pretty sure that if I just cross that ridge on the right, I’ll be at camp.” Eager to avoid wasting time backtracking, I followed my impulses and set off wildly, straight up a ridge. The bushes were thick, wild grass grew high and I felt like I spent half my time getting torn to shreds by the brush as I rode the adrenaline of my potential discovery of the ultimate route home. It was not until hours later that I would have to admit to myself that I had made a huge mistake and was beyond lost.
6) Don’t not drink water – Conscious that I had a limited water supply I decided to conserve water by consuming as little as possible. This was stupid as I had water purification tablets that I could have used on stream water. I was being lazy in the worst way possible. Soon I was parched and slowing down.
7) Don’t waste your phones precious battery life on audio books and random video and pictures while lost – I was bored and eager to get my mind off the exhausting hike up the ridge so I started taking random picture and videos as well as listening to an audio book. This was obviously a ridiculous move as I should have preserved battery power for emergency calls.
8) Don’t wait until almost sunset to get real about your problems – I think I would have kept exploring and abandoning myself to more denial had it not been for the fact that I knew the sun would set and I would be stuck on a mountain ridge, completely lost and all alone. Two hours before sunset I decided that pride-be-damned, I would retrace my steps and find the long way home.
9) Don’t take off without a flash light or jacket – You’ve clearly given up on me by now but yes, as nightfall approached I faced the darkness with no flash light or jacket. Mad at myself for being so irresponsible, I stumbled down the ridge in the cool dusk until I found a small path I had not taken previously. I followed it in the general direction of where I thought my Clark Lakes camp was. As though by a miracle, I eventually came across this sign (pictured) for Clark Lakes and I was able to follow these signs back to the general vicinity of camp. From there other hikers helped me find my way home.
Needless to say I received much love/chastisement as I finally stumbled into camp, hours after dark. Never again would I be so foolish. My list of hiking sins was long and nature can be very unforgiving. I was incredibly fortunate to be OK. Exhausted, I crawled into my sleeping bag, relieved to have survived to tell my tale.