Lost in the Woods?Maybe just turned around a bit
by Dan Hartman
Feb. 25, 2015I did a talk for a group the other day and after wondered if there were any questions. A fella to my right raised his hand and asked if I had ever been lost? I had to think a bit, because I have been confused a time or two, but actually lost? I really don't remember much about my answer, but that night laying in bed I went over all my disoriented times of my past. And there was one time when that sinking feeling appeared in the pit of my stomache. When I really had no idea which way to go.
Cindy and I were heading for Alaska travelling the Yellowhead Highway some 50 to 75 miles from Prince George. I was 25 that summer and thought I knew a lot more than that I had lived long enough to actually know. Anyway, there was a low sky that day and it was lightly raining. A light breeze was moving the trees. All factors that soon came into play. A great gray owl suddenly appeared beside the road. As we stopped, it took flight and disappeared into the thick timber. At this point in my life, I had only ever seen one great gray, so I was excited! Grabbing my old pratica camera, I was off into the woods, eager to find and photograph this beautiful bird.
Well, I finally located the owl in a small clearing. It was off again before I could take a shot. Deeper in the woods we went, zig zagging first to the left then back to the right. I would loose the owl for a time and as I was about to give up, find him again and off we'ld go! i was wearing just a flannel over tee shirt which was now soggy from the rain. It was time to give up. I started back. After a time I realized I should of reached the road by now. I walked on. Nothing looked familiar. there was no sun. The wind moaned through the trees covering any possible sound of a passing car. Now that sinking feeling. Am I lost? I knew there was nothing to the north for hundreds of miles, and nothing east or west for at least 50 miles. I fought the urge to run to the next rise. I eventually lost the fight and did run. At the overlook (that really wasn't very high) I saw nothing promising. I knew I was panicking. I found a large tree and sat against the trunk out of the rain. Ok. You got yourself into this, now figure a way out!
I made myself sit for a while longer. Clearing my head and trying to get my bearings. Finally, I got up and started walking. A half hour later, I stepped onto the highway. Our van was a dot in the distance.
I've been turned around since then. Bushwacking off the Warm Creek to Pebble Creek trail, searching for owls south of Bridge Bay and really got turned around once near Teklaneka Campground in Denali, Alaska. It seems you get off course when walking in dense timber and then encountering deadfall. You skirt the down timber which can really be like a fence built to keep you out. Then there's more deadfall, which you skirt, then more deadfall. By then it's really easy to loose your sense of direction.
One of my most confusing and somewhat disturbing episodes occurred on a fairly routine snowshoe hike.
My goal was to lay a trail starting at Trout Lake and ending up above Pebble Creek. I had pushed this trail through other winters, never really taking the same route.
I strapped on my wooden snowshoes and climbed up to Trout Lake. From there I started off in a direction that would take me north of Buck Lake. I was just passing the small lake when it began to snow. I continued on. The snow came down harder, then the wind began gusting. Before long it was a steady roar. Blizzard!! I was having trouble making out my feet and really had to feel for the slope of the ground. Visability was so low I would make out the dark mass of a tree, make it to the trunk, sight the next dark mass and head that way. So it went. Going from tree to tree. During the worst of the storm, I found myself in a cluster of three or four large spruce. I could get a little break from the wind here. Then to my amazement, I spotted a moose skull with antlers lying in the tree well beneath the largest spruce. It didn't look right, so I shuffled closer and crouched down to get a better look. There were two moose skulls! And the antlers were locked together! I've heard of this happening during the rutting season, but it's extremely rare. I vowed to come back and photograph this incredible find later, then moved on. I'm not sure how long I continued on before I finally found a sheltered spot and sat down to wait out the storm. Even though the visibility was basically 20-30 feet, the snowshoeing was good and I was only sinking in 3-4 inches. I stopped because I couldn't tell how steep the slopes were and was falling often. When I thought my next step was level it turned out to be a foot lower. Eventually, I napped. I was dressed warm and had stayed dry so really was in no danger. I just couldn't see where I was going!
Some time later, the wind let up and visibility lifted to a hundred yards or so. I continued on. Then below me and to my right, a large lake appeared. "There's no lake up here!", I muttered. I moved on down towards the frozen shore. Across the way I made out a little footbridge. On, my gosh! Trout Lake! I was approaching from the west! How can this be? Somehow, after passing by Buck Lake I had made a backward circle! And I mean a big backwards circle!
Well, I knew where I was at least. Turning right I snowshoed down the steep slope to the highway. A fifteen minute walk and I was back to my car.
Days went by before I remembered the locked moose skulls. Over the next couple years I searched but couldn't stumble onto them. After a time I wondered if I really ever had seen them at all. Could I have imagined the whole thing? I don't think so. What do you think?
Great Gray Owl