Submitted March 30, 2011

A scary moment lost in the woods

Some years back I was out with a few buddies scouting potential hunting camp locations. We each split up and took different directions and we each had a FMRS radio, I was the only one who carried a day pack with what I considered the essential survival items. Inside the small pack I had a few trail bars, some trail mix, extra boot laces, 550 cord, matches and duct tape all in ziplock bags. Not having been in this particular area before, I wasn't familiar with the terrain and soon found myself hiking uphill in dense underbrush with lots of overhead tree cover. I reached the top of the hill and couldn't see anything but more trees and brush. I turned to look back at the way I had come and saw the trail I had made but also saw how it disappeared just a few yards into the bush due to the "springy" plants. I called my buds on the radio and gave them a general direction that I had taken and then started back down the way I had come. Being forced to stop several times to locate the trail I had made coming in, I soon crossed over the stream that I knew I had crossed over when I started. Some hundred yards or so further into the woods, I realized that I was seeing areas that I hadn't passed on the way in. Knowing that to keep going was a sure chance I'd get lost, I retraced my path back to the stream and thought I had my bearings.

Walking back to the hill I had come down from I tried to locate my initial path and then retraced my steps back to the stream yet again. Following the stream I found where I had first crossed over it and crossed back over. This time crossing, I lost my footing and fell in. The stream was deeper than I had expected and I went under up to my neck. Getting out of the stream, I shook myself off as best I could and thought that I'd be sitting around the campfire in a little bit and we'd all have a good laugh about this.

That was not the case.

It was getting dark and I still hadn't located my trail. Not wanting to stumble around in the dark, I headed back to the stream as I was using that as a landmark and began to search for shelter material. Having been an Eagle Scout way back in the day, I considered myself somewhat more prepared than the average person when it came to being in the woods and in a situation that I was now in. Luckily I had matches in a waterproof container, those lengths of 550 cord and my usual 50ft of duct tape in a flattened roll that I mentioned previously. What saved the tape was a quart size ziplock bag. Had it not been in that bag, the dunking in the stream would have most likely ruined it. The only casualty of the water was the FMRS radio which cut me off from contact with my buddies.

Using the 550 cord and my Leatherman tool I was able to make a shelter that would keep me moderately warm overnight. As soon as the shelter was made I gathered firewood and made a small fire. I spent the night in that shelter and next morning tried to get my bearings once again. I climbed a tree and saw what the problem was. The stream I had crossed on the way in made a shallow U. That meant that the section that I had crossed coming in was not the same section I had crossed coming out and I had headed in a different direction. Getting my bearings from my now elevated position, I was able to head back in the correct direction and made it in time for breakfast.

While this may not seem to be a scary outdoor moment, I relied on my background from both the military and the Boy Scouts to remain calm and assess the situation instead of panicking and making it worse than it could have been.

- Jerry Carter

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