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Old 04-02-2012, 10:40 AM   #1
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LOST- Gila Wilderness National Forest Rockdocking

Reading my Wall Street Journal for April 2nd, I saw a short paragraph about an athlete, staying at a Lodge in the Gila National Forest, whose body was found after "vanishing" four days earlier. This is on page A6 for Monday.

This is one of the easiest mortal hazards to avoid when back country camping. Getting LOST. We spend four weeks through out the Spring, Summer and Fall camped in our AS in this beautiful and wild country. I have mentioned this area in prior threads.

Even as experienced we are in back country hiking and camping, a lesson was learned ourselves... or myself... that even stepping out into this GNF area can get you into trouble. I know first hand. The forest has many 100 foot pine and the canyons can be deep and do not run in directions that are predictable. Elk/deer trails go on, split, disappear and dead end. There are NO established trails in the area that are marked. All roads END at the wilderness, leaving 90% true wilderness for even those of us who are comfortable in these situations.

We always leave the camp with water, candy bars, nuts or high powered snacks for a one hour hike or six hour hike. When we first began to explore the "Gila", pronounced Hila, and was looking at the marvels of volcanism and erosion we came across a road, where it was not suppose to be. Where were we? Which direction is north. Which direction was the trailer? We were LOST. Search parties understand that when a person gets lost, they tend to end up going in circles. This was an event that burned into our minds. This is what it feels like having no clue which direction to go.

We carried a magnetic pocket compass, pulled it out and knew we were north of the campsite, but which way did this road in the canyons and trees go? The compass needle pointed north. Well, that cannot be. It did not FEEL like north. But a compass does not lie. We followed the forest service road that trended south and after three miles found our camp. Without this compass, which this one cost less than $1, we would also be possible victims in the forest.

NOW we carry several things. Compass and GPS. We mark the position of the trailer, where we parked the truck to begin our hike and carry the compass as a back up in the event our GPS batteries give out. We turn the GPS watch on only when we need to find the direction to the truck, and then back to our base camp.

I only offer this advice to those of you, like ourselves, that keep mental tracking of where your point of references are. But this feeling of no sense of direction of our campsite was a reminder of how important it is to have a compass and GPS to find your way out of the wilderness, or even a short jaunt into the woods by yourself. This $1 compass saved our lives...in a way. Oh sure, moss on the north side of a tree, wait until later afternoon to find the west bearing... we are not urban bumpkins. This IS our idea of adventure.

If you go to this or any other remote area, carry the compass and GPS. Practice recalling the general direction of the vehicle or camp. Then to check your skill, look at the GPS for direction and distance. Surprise... you would have been lost.

One time in the Southwest part of Montana, northwest of Yellowstone we went smokey quartz crystal hunting and the forests are so thick, so tall and the trails wander all over the topography, one can easily become lost. So trust me. With over fifty years of back country exploring the equipment available today WILL and CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE! Buy a GPS watch or hand held unit and a compass. What is your life worth? Even a Cracker Jack compass that attaches to your zipper will WORK in an emergency.

If you can give a personal example of a similar situation, please explain how you worked through the event. It will help others and you are taking this experience to teach others. The unfamiliar campsite can be fun and exciting to explore, but it can kill you as well.

Thank you for working through this "monograph", but if I can get one person to take any of my suggestions, my efforts have been well rewarded.
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Old 04-02-2012, 10:53 AM   #2
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I appreciate your passion and concern for posting this caution. People going out into the backcountry should be prepared.

But nothing seems to point to Micah True, the well-known ultrarunner who was prominently figured in the book Born To Run, actually having been lost. His body was found by a stream, cooling his feet, with his water bottle out. He also had run in the area before and wasn't known for going on trails where he hadn't been before.

The owner of the lodge where he was staying knew him and that he had gone out for a run. I guess True could have told him his exact planned route, which would have accelerated the search. But it doesn't sound like the outcome would have been different.

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Old 04-02-2012, 10:53 AM   #3
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And please remember, that the GPS units work on batteries, and batteries go dead, so relying on a GPS unit totally is foolish. The $1 compass is better sometimes.

Also, people tend to think their cell phone will get them service anywhere, and they can just call for help. Same issue, dead batteries, compounded with the fact that many areas have no cell service. I am amazed at how many people go into Glacier National Park and are upset because they cannot get cell reception at popular places like the major park hotels in the NE corner of the park. Actually most campgrounds in the park are in cell dead areas.
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Old 04-02-2012, 11:22 AM   #4
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If you have a watch with hands on it, you can find South by lining up the hour hand with the sun. A small stick (for a shadow line) helps. South will be halfway between the hour hand and 12.

Ray's larger point is for us all to be prepared when stepping off the curb.

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Old 04-02-2012, 12:03 PM   #5
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Compass AND GPS insurance

Thanks Tom. You must have read the short paragraph, as I did. Information was sparse and he was probably along the Gila River which seems to have water running and pools throughout the year. I figure he was staying near the Gila Cliff Dwellings that have a lodge facility not far south of the cliff dwellings in the middle of the GNF area and Wilderness outside of the minimal private property zone.

I doubt if the Wall Street will add to the story as the facts become known. Even athletes can die of physical ailments unknown to them... or known. Even experienced climbers of Mount Everest die. Break a leg on a solo back country hike with no one knowing where you went can be a death sentence. So there is risk, but it can be mitigated to nearly zero risk.

It is wise to leave a note on your parked vehicle on a day hike... name, number of people on the hike, date, time and purpose of your parking where you are at. If you are worried some car thief will steal your truck, tires or whatever... come on. You are already not there without a note. Just another tip to the wise. Some are born with common sense, others need to be taught.
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Old 04-02-2012, 12:57 PM   #6
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This is all very good information to read, reflect upon, and digest before taking on back country adventures.

We do at lot of back country excursions in our truck camper, and then hikes from these remote points. We often spend the night in the back country.

We have always carried a compass and a back trackers GPS to get us back to our campsite or vehicle is we were to become disoriented. Virtually all of these excursions were outside of cell phone signal areas.

After reading about excursions on the Expedition Portal Forums, we decided to add another piece of back country safety equipment. We recently purchased an Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). This is a small (about the size of a cell phone) direct satellite transceiver that when activated sends an emergency signal to NOAA who then passes the information to the appropriate search and rescue authorities. This unit specifies and exact GPS location where the help is needed. These devices require registration with NOAA.

We decided to do this as many of our off road excursions in the truck camper are 20 or miles from the highway. Our hikes from there are several miles into the wilderness. Our major concern (more than getting lost) is one of us getting injured, and the other cannot get the injured party back to the vehicle. Another concern is our vehicle becoming disabled 40 or 50 miles from the nearest paved road.

Our PLB is a last resort device that we hope we will never have to use.

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Old 04-02-2012, 01:02 PM   #7
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A bit more information in this article:Renowned runner Micah True's body found in NM *| ajc.com
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Old 04-02-2012, 01:27 PM   #8
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And please remember, that the GPS units work on batteries, and batteries go dead, so relying on a GPS unit totally is foolish.
Foolish? I don't think so. Not if you carry an extra set of batteries which I do and use rechargeable batteries so I can always put in a fresh set before a hike. Plus the camera uses the same batteries for additional backup.

A GPS left on will leave a bread crumb trail so you can always find your way back to the main trail. I have had to rely on this a several times when I missed a turn on the trail.

A compass is a necessary back-up but can send you in the correct general direction and right past your vehicle.
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Old 04-02-2012, 01:51 PM   #9
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A map is a good idea and even more important, knowing how to read it. Topos have a lot of info, but not everyone knows what to look for. FS maps leave out a lot, but much can be gleaned from them if you understand maps. Learn how to read contour lines. Even so, maps have mistakes, so double check everything.

Being observant is very important. Look at landmarks that are obvious and commit them to memory. Look back at them, because they will look different when you return. Check out distant landmarks you can see from everywhere and memorize them too.

A cheap compass is invaluable. Shadows can tell you where the sun is even on a cloudy day (not too cloudy). They require no batteries.

Dead reckoning is the ability to know where you are at all times and retrace your steps and come back to where you started. I have always been able to do that and I think it makes me too confident. I guess I developed it by being familiar with maps and studying them, being observant, and being able to visualize the landscape as if I were a bird. It also helps to trust your time sense if you don't have a watch or it stops. It just comes naturally to me I suppose, but unless you have tested it, bring maps, watch and compass, and then bring them anyway. Someday I will be wrong, so I'll be glad to check myself. Maps and compass work very well. GPS, sat phone, and a guide help too, but people have used the basic items for centuries and found their way home.

And some people are going to screw it up anyway. They ignore warnings of bad weather—floods, snow, etc.—and die or are lost for long periods. I don't know how that guy died, but he may have had bad water or a heart condition and the authorities didn't do the toxicology.

People will walk in a circle if they have no other idea what to do. This is the Coriolis Effect caused by the Earth's rotation. It is hard to believe this, but it has been proved many times.

If all else fails, follow the water. It will go someplace where there are people. In the SW, follow dry streams if there are none with water. Avoid narrow canyons—they are difficult to walk through, subject to flash floods and dead end sometimes; follow the canyon rim. Roads can be a problem—they can end, go around in circles, be washed out. Look for recent tire tracks. Go downhill rather than uphill is a general rule, but it doesn't always work. Uphill often means more severe weather, but in desert country downhill can mean very hot weather. Fill canteens when you can, but filter the water or take it from seeps or springs. If a small pool has bugs swimming in it, it probably is safe; bad water has only dead bugs. As a last resort, your own urine will not kill you. Radiator water probably has antifreeze in it and it will kill you.

Once I led a group of men into The Maze, a remote and confusing series of canyons in Canyonlands NP. None of them had any idea where we entered or where we had gone after a quarter mile of walking. They were not watching landmarks and counting canyons as we walked, even though I explained how to not get lost. Every canyon looked pretty much the same, so small details can be very important. Counting them helps. If I had abandoned these guys, most of them would have been in serious trouble. Smart guys can screw up. Have backup plans.

We all learn to get around our neighborhoods, cities, entire states. This is complex knowledge, but we learn over time. The wilderness or just any national forest or park are unfamiliar to most of us. We can learn this too. Learn it and then you can enjoy it.

The forest and desert can be dangerous, but to me big cities and interstate highways can be pretty dangerous to if you aren't acclimated to them. They can all be enjoyed (well, interstates will never be enjoyable, but they are usable).

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Old 04-02-2012, 02:19 PM   #10
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A GPS is related to a computer, which means it WILL die at some time. A compass can fool you if you do not keep it away from iron objects. The sun is the best direction finder there is as long as it is daytime, you are not in a cave, or there is not dense fog or clouds completely obscuring its location. If the sun is not accurate, then we all have much greater problems, and it could be best to be lost.

Pat's (pmclemore) advice for using a watch with hands is very good and is quite accurate. If you don't have a watch with hands you can draw one on a piece of bark or a rock with the correct time from your digital watch. If you do not know how to draw a watch with hands.......................................?????? ?????

I once used the watch method (with topographical maps) to find my way back to base camp in the MT. Jefferson wilderness years ago. I had the most difficulty convincing the two others with me that the watch method actually worked. I finally had to take the lead and slowly veer 90* off their course to get back safely.

And, as Ray advises, do not rely on one device.

Sam
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Old 04-02-2012, 03:03 PM   #11
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I once used the watch method (with topographical maps) to find my way back to base camp in the MT. Jefferson wilderness years ago. I had the most difficulty convincing the two others with me that the watch method actually worked. I finally had to take the lead and slowly veer 90* off their course to get back safely.
Friends and spouses can be a problem. Another time at Canyonlands, about 20 years ago, my wife and I followed a trail through very large boulders on a hike. We ran out of water coming back and could find no seeps that weren't contaminated by oil. We were thirsty.

The trail through the boulders was unclear and we came out in a different place than we had entered on the way out. The map did not help. I think I forgot the compass. In front of us was a dry creek. I knew the creek was upstream from the parking because I had noted that when we started and it went right by the parking area. My wife, relying on me, had not paid attention and was sure we should go uphill—this would lead us toward where we had been. When I pointed out where the sun was and which way seemed correct, this logic was ignored. She was pretty wound up and started out on her own uphill. Splitting up is a really bad idea. I let her go about 150' to see if she would realize I wasn't following. I may have yelled something like "who do you want to get your jewelry?"

I can't remember how I got her turned around. She was in no mood to listen to me, but she discovered I wasn't following her, that got her attention. I may have told her to stay put and I would walk to the parking lot downhill and come back when I found the truck and got some water. Then say, "why not come with me?; have I ever gotten us lost?" Whatever I did, it worked, and the parking area was several hundred yards away, just not visible yet.

I still have her and she still has her jewelry. Good, smart people can make awful decisions. A bit of panic is easy in unfamiliar places. Splitting up is often the worst decision you can make. If people know where you are and you are very lost, wait for them to come find you. Don't wear yourself out. If no one knows where you are, you are probably on your own. If it starts getting close to dusk, make a shelter, watch for snakes, and keep warm. Matches or a (full) lighter are a good thing to have. Hiking in the wilderness in the dark is not fun even if you are on a trail and you know where it goes.

The first time I came to Colorado was 36 years ago with a girl friend who seemed to know a lot about wilderness camping. I knew nothing. We made lots of mistakes. We carried too much—that bottle of Jack Daniels seemed necessary when we started. We were cold because we didn't realize at high altitude it gets close to freezing even in July at night and we had summer sleeping bags. We had a fire in front of the tent and when the evening wind came downhill, it blew sparks toward the tent. It is easy to get sunburned badly at altitude and I did. I made the sunburn worse by soaking in a hot spring. We hiked out in the dark so I could treat the sunburn and that was freaky because we had no idea how close we were to the trailhead which seemed to be 100 miles away. It was great adventure, but we sure were dumb. From this I learned a lot.

Make sure everyone agrees on your goals and understands what you are doing and where things are. There are very few reasons to split up. Sam was smart enough to gradually turn his friends toward the camp, but some people never listen and you have to decide how to solve that, or you may have to go on alone if you are sure you know what you are doing. Hope that never happens to you.

Almost everyone who hikes will never run into anything but minor problems. We are talking about being prepared for things that probably won't happen, especially if you take reasonable precautions. Some people drive on bald tires in a snowstorm and we can't do anything about them except keep clear of them. A very, very few people know better but ignore things. Every year some hunters in Colorado get caught in a big snow storm that was predicted for days. They have to come back the next summer and get their truck and tow it out. Those are the people we hear about. Most of us do fine. I hope we are not scaring anyone.

Gene
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Old 04-02-2012, 04:21 PM   #12
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Foolish? I don't think so. Not if you carry an extra set of batteries which I do and use rechargeable batteries so I can always put in a fresh set before a hike. Plus the camera uses the same batteries for additional backup.

A GPS left on will leave a bread crumb trail so you can always find your way back to the main trail. I have had to rely on this a several times when I missed a turn on the trail.

A compass is a necessary back-up but can send you in the correct general direction and right past your vehicle.
Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that GPS units are foolish. My wording was not the best. They are very valuable, what I was trying to say is that total reliance on them is not wise. The electronic bread crumbs they leave are extremely useful. However if you don't start out with fresh batteries, or you don't have extras, you can get caught off guard very easily.
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Old 04-02-2012, 07:11 PM   #13
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Ray,
Many years ago three of us packed deep into the Gila with horses and a pack traiin to an established hunting camp below the summit of Mt. Baldy (was it?) after stopping at the cabin on the summit. It was an elk hunting trip that I will never forget for the wilderness experience of it all. Each of us led a pack animal behind our saddle horse and how in the world the cowboys ever found our camp I will never know. We slept in wall tents complete with a wood burning stove for warmth, hunted until dark and then rode in the dark back to camp each night. Once we arrived we found the dutch oven dinner or steaks on a grille with hot coffee or cold boubon to wash it all down.
One day we hunted far from base camp and set up a "Spike Camp" one in the rain. The cowboys slept on the ground rolled up in a tarp.
I'd love to head back up those forest roads towing my Airstream and just camp on the side of the road for a couple of nights recalling our youthful adventures miles back into the wilderness.
Then I'd be tempted to head over into Arizona and the White Mountains to relive some of our mountain lake trout fishing adventures.
That area of the Southwest is amazing country and I would guess that it's still relatively sparsely populated and not crowded with visitors like Colorado.
Thanks for your story as it helped me recall mine.
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Old 04-02-2012, 08:49 PM   #14
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The Gila HAS lots of AS camping options!

Zoomin. I know from your reply to the thread you did do Elk hunting in the Gila. There is plenty of hunting activity in the area during various seasons. There are many hunting guides in the area during hunting season and the better guides take the horses into the back country... way... back. They hunt Elk, Deer, Turkey and Bear during seasons and then you have the squirrel hunters coming through. We take our 23 footer to a number of accessible, safe camping spots along the Gila National Forest and the Wilderness areas. It is truly an experience, perfectly safe for those who make some planning after reading yours and Crawford Gene's additions.

This area we camp has Apache Mountain to the East and the Arizona border to the West. Silver City, NM to the South and Quemado, NM to the North. Thousands of square miles of easy, mild and difficult terrain is available to hike. We actually will be heading down there to explore some of the volcanic caldera(s) in this area mid-April, so if you see an AS with Colorado plates... stop in and say hi. We hunt white opal, agate, banded agate and chalcedony in the area (for those of you who are rockhounds). This is a large area and the pretty rocks are distributed through out the area. There is even a mining district near Glenwood, NM to explore. Not to camp, as the road is rough and check it out after finding a camp site. Go to the Gila Cliff Dwellings as they are very nice. Do not take the trailer with you. The road is paved, but curves and lots of up and down grades to navigate... but worth the visit.

Those of you who enjoy walking into Indian pit house ruins, there are many scattered in the Gila. The pot sherds are pretty to look at and should be left where you find them.

Our latest entertainment in the Gila NF is hunting Elk and Deer antler sheds. It takes a lot of hiking but when you see a five or six point Elk antler of pair of them laying among the trees, it is exciting. They are also heavy. Many locals collect the antlers to sell to vendors that park along the highway, buying antlers for decorators. So, even those of you that are not interested in rocks, back country camping, or hiking, might find hunting for antlers might be fun to do, as well. Trade them in town for a lunch, or take them home and build a lamp. Just get out and find an excuse to go.
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