Submitted May 28, 2010

Lost in the woods at 16 years old

I got lost in the woods when I was about 16 years old. My father, some friend, and I were hunting in the Hells Canyon Wilderness area of Eastern Oregon. We were bow hunting and it was early September. The weather was clear, with warm days in the 70's and chilly nights that brought a frost covering early in the morning.

That morning my dad took me down the trail a couple miles and found a spot where we were going to split up and hunt. He sat me down and told me to note that the ridge we are on runs north and south and that I should keep the sun to my back and left to know I am headed back toward camp. Unfortunately, this 16 year old wasn't paying very much attention. Since the ridge was narrow back at camp he had no fear that I would walk past camp. The idea was that we would walk along both sides of the ridge hunting our way back to camp by noon. I was walking through patchy timber not paying a lot of attention to my surroundings. About 10:00 I started walking back to where I thought the main trail was. When I got to a spot where the ridge began to slope down I thought, I have walked to the other side of the ridge. So I went back the other direction still thinking I should cross the main trail. When I again got to a point where the ridge sloped down I began to feel the psychological effects of being lost, mostly frustration and some fear. I remember going back and forth from one side to the other searching for the trail and being so sure of myself and my direction that I actually discounted and didn't believe my compass when it told me I was going East. As the afternoon turned into evening I divided to try going back to where we started that morning. By this time I had accepted the fact that I was lost and retrieved a roll of ribbon that I carried in my daypack and began marking my trail. I searched till sunset for our starting point or anything that looked familiar, then divided to find a place to prepare to spend a night. I cut boughs from a fir tree to make a bed that would keep me off the ground and hopefully insulate me from the cold. I placed my bed along a down log of about 3 feet diameter then gathered enough wood for the night and build a fire in front to reflect heat on me. It was a cold miserable night. Without the fire I'm sure hypothermia would have been a real threat. At 6000 feet elevation I imagine the temperature got down in the low 40's. The next morning my dad picked up my trail of ribbon and followed it until he found me. It turned out I had walked out onto a finger of the main ridge and should have realized it if I would have simply trusted my compass instead of my feelings.

- Clifford

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