EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Don’t look for me, I’m lost
You always think you know better, until you realize that you don’t know anything at all.
I remember last spring, the wife and I went down to Yosemite and had a swell time hiking, climbing and slapping skeeters. It was as close to a perfect weekend as you can get, really.
If I hadn’t nearly died starving in the woods, it would have been totally perfect.
You see, Avril and I went on a little hike that Saturday morning, starting up a steep trail to Cathedral Lakes at the godawful early hour of 7 a.m., about eight miles of sturdy round-trip back-country hiking to look forward to. No couch potatoes were we, no sir! This was hardcore hiking and we were ready.
When we got to the trailhead, we met a Yosemite Ranger there, part of a search-and-rescue team looking for an unfortunate fellow from Napa who’d disappeared along the Pacific Rim Trail a day or two before. The ranger showed us a blurry faxed photo of the guy, Gary Something was his name, and told us to be on the lookout for him.
We said we’d look out for Gary Something, and headed up the trail into the woods. I thought to myself that Gary Something was likely another one of these foolhardy bozos who heads into the woods in a tank top and Tevas, thinking he’s Superman and nothing can hurt him.
We ended up losing the trail ourselves a mile or two later, when the still-thick patches of snow and marshy ground managed to obscure the path entirely. It was a good 10 minutes of hiking before my wife and I realized we weren’t anywhere near the trail anymore.
We stopped, surrounded by fallen trees and piles of snow. We were on a very sharp 45-degree slope, near the top. Behind us we could see several granite domes and what looked like parts of Tuolumne Meadows. But where exactly we were, we had no clue.
So, like any smart hiker, I suggested my wife and I split up. She’d backtrack and look for the trail, and I’d stay where we were and scout the immediate area for signs others had passed through recently.
Then she walked into the woods. No problems here, I thought.
And then I noticed how quiet everything seemed.
I sat there on a log for a few minutes and realized how incredibly stupid it was for us to separate.
The woods suddenly took on a dark, Blair Witch-esque aura to me, even though the sun was shining and the birds were chirping awayOr was that bird chirping noise really the sound of a grizzled madman sharpening his axe behind that nearby tree, waiting for the perfect moment to lop my head off and add it to his collection of grim trophies? What direction was I facing in, anyway? Where was North? Where was South? Where was I?
Where would they even get a photo of me for the flyer that park rangers would undoubtedly be handing out at the trailhead within a day or two?
And what if it was a really terrible photo, like that driver’s license one where I appeared to be eating a bug? I could see it now, the ranger showing intrepid hikers a smudged photo of Nik Something, asking them to keep an eye out for me, unaware that my mangled remains were already in some hungry mountain lion’s stomach down in Tenaya Canyon
When Avril cheerfully called to me from down the hill a few minutes later, I was well into a terrible fantasy about me having to eat my own legs to stay alive.
She, less panic-stricken than I, had found the missing trail, of course, and all was well.
It was all worth it when we finally stumbled upon Upper Cathedral Lake an hour or so later, with sweeping polished granite cliffs pouring snowmelt into the shallow alpine lake, squirrel-like picas running back and forth amongst the pine trees.
I thought a bit about Gary Something, whom I don’t know if they ever found, and about the handful of fatalities Yosemite has every year, people who fall off cliffs or have heart attacks and just disappear, never to be heard from again until their bleached bones are found years later.
I know, it’s not like we were in Bhutan or the Yukon, but Yosemite is still a mighty big place to get lost in, and it happens all the time, to people like me who think they know better.
It’s a big world still no matter how much of it we think we’ve conquered, and all it can take to get lost in it is a wrong turn on a mountain trail.
Just ask Gary Something.
Sierra Sun Editor Nik Dirga grew up in Nevada County.
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