I donâ€™t want to forget the fear.
On the final morning of a church backpack I led, by a Sierra Nevada lake four pleasant downhill miles from the trailhead and tripâ€™s end, I became lost.
Since then Iâ€™ve reviewed the actions that inexplicably transformed a routine morning jaunt to standing anxiously at the edge of an unfamiliar lake. No. Not anxiety. What gripped me was primal, relentless fear. A fear that kept shoving logic, inch by inch, beyond reach. A fear that made any sound threatening and every silence even worse. A fear that caused the friendly lodgepole pines and stately Douglas firs to blur together into a foreboding green and brown wall.
The morning began with a stroll for my â€œconstitutional.â€ With toilet paper and trowel in hand, I made a series of mistakes. One blunder (ignoring landmarks around me) added to the next blunder (meandering further from camp than necessary into an area I hadnâ€™t explored). Worst of all, when I finished my â€œbusiness,â€ I didnâ€™t pay attention to my first return steps, instead reminiscing about yesterdayâ€™s thunderstorm and the next dayâ€™s obligations. Dreamily pondering, I couldâ€™ve been sitting in my office or walking around the block.
But I was in wilderness. Middle Blue Lake*, where we camped, went from right there to where the heck is it?
I love Californiaâ€™s Sierra Nevada. Iâ€™ve hiked the Cascades and Olympics in the northwest, the rolling Porcupine Mountains of Michigan, the rugged New England stretches of the Appalachian Trail, and the â€œinverted mountainâ€ of the Grand Canyon, but the Sierra remains home. The joyous interplay of sky, granite, light, and water beckon me for rambling hikes and demanding backpacks.
But there I was, probably no more than a quarter-mile from Middle Blue Lake and the companions I journeyed with, adrift in the woods. I yelled and whistled. No response. I stood still, attuned to any familiar sound. Nothing.
Then I ignored the advice of the experts: stay where you are when disoriented. After all, being lost and acting stupid are always eager to make plans together. So I started tramping through the woods, my heart pounding louder than a woodpecker searching for dinner. After slogging through dense trees and thick underbrush, I proved the experts wrong. I found a lake. Well, half wrong. The lake I stumbled onto, about the size of a baseball infield, was definitely not Middle Blue Lake. Continue reading →