Summer Sunday: The Art Of Getting Lost

photo 2I’m always surprised if I get lost when I’m hiking. But the friends who hike with me never are. They expect it. Perhaps it’s semantics rooted in a difference of definitions. Often I’m headed in the right direction, but just may not be on the right trail — or any trail at all.

I don’t consider this being lost per se, because I’m comfortable bushwhacking, scrambling up scree, and having to circle back to find a trail. But, as I get a little older, I’ve realized that not everyone enjoys “being lost”  — or in my terminology “hiking in the general direction” of where you want to go. They like trails.

In my defense, I argue that getting a little lost is a necessity if you want to hike to new places, link peaks and basins, and explore some of the less-traveled territory around Telluride. During the last few summers, new hikes –or new variations of familiar trails –for me have included linking the Sheridan Crosscut to Valley View to Marshall Basin and into Liberty Bell Basin, and hiking the La Junta Trail to La Junta Peak then linking the ridge to No Name and Ballard Peaks, descending via Ballard Trail.

On both of these hikes, I got lost. Yet both had completely different outcomes. From them, I learned there is a certain art to getting lost; there is a right way and a wrong way.

The first rule I learned is—know matter how local you are —  bring a hiking guide or map, even if you’ve vetted a friend who has done the route recently. Duh, right?

I never bring one.

There is nowhere else in the world I’d simply start hiking and not consult a map or route description. But the more you hike and explore in an area, the more comfortable you become. “I’ve been up there, a few years ago. I’ve done part of that hike,” you think. “I can figure it out, I’ll remember it when I get up there.” And most of the time you will, until that one time when you don’t. And, that’s usually the time when you’ve told your friends how great the hike is.

Follow me. Oops.

The second rule is give full disclosure. Tell the people you are hiking with that this is a new route and there is a chance you might get lost, bushwhack, and/or have to circle back. Let them choose not to come. You can join them on the Jud Wiebe the next time.

The third rule is to buy a backcountry card for $5 and always be prepared so you don’t have to use it. In extreme circumstances, if you do have to be rescued, a backcountry card covers the cost of the rescue.

The fourth rule is that, no matter how hypocritical it might be, the first three rules become obsolete if your spouse is leading and gets you lost for two hours (after already riding for four) on a mountain bike ride in which you have to scramble, while carrying your bike, straight up a mountainside because you ran into a bear while bushwhacking the wrong way during your 10th year-wedding anniversary bike ride together.

But I digress.

Reflecting on my two lost hikes, the Sheridan Crosscut Liberty Bell loop loss was executed beautifully. My friend, Annie, and I both had done our homework. We had Susan Kees’ Telluride Hiking Guide with us and we let our party know that there was a chance we’d get lost—or at least a little.

As we hiked, we constantly referenced the route and we really only made one mistake. We overshot the ridge that links Marshall Basin to Liberty Bell Basin and had to backtrack. The mistake only cost us 45 minutes and added some more vertical to our hike—a better workout.

The La Junta Loop loss, however, was textbook bad. I broke every rule. I had done the hike twice before and was overconfident. La Junta Trail is hard to find and I didn’t do my homework; I didn’t review the route description nor did I have it on me.

I did however call my family friend, Susan Kees (conveniently also the author of Telluride Hiking Guide as mentioned above) during the hike, from the middle of the incorrect steep, scree field that I was leading friends up. I also phoned professional mountaineer and friend, Hilaree O’Neill, who had showed me the trail that I was looking for the year before.

It didn’t work.

Trying to explain to someone where you are, when you don’t know where you are, and then have them tell you where you’re supposed to be, when you may not be exactly sure of that either, will not get you “unlost”.

Chalk that up for rule number five.

photoBy calling, I did gain a little credibility with my fellow hikers in that I knew people who were very accomplished. But, how far does, “I know people who know the way,” get you really?

In the end, I redeemed myself – sort of. We retraced our steps, and accessed La Junta Peak via the well-marked Wasatch Trail. We intelligently decided not to try the ridge as afternoon weather was coming in and we were pretty tired from our hour of bushwhacking and scree scrambling.

The same folks agreed to hike Ballard with me the following week – something I’m not sure I would’ve agreed to if I were them. I intelligently invited Annie, who knew the trail better than I and we summited without incident. After summiting both La Junta and Ballard, I’m confident I can now link them successfully again.

But you better bet I’ll bring the hiking guide—and probably O’Neill.



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2 Responses

  1. Kendall says:

    The 10th anniversary part had me laughing out loud! 🙂

  2. Emily Brendler Shoff says:

    This made me feel so much better about getting lost– half the fun!