Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lost in the woods

Date: Sept. 12
Mileage: 18.1
September mileage: 292.6
Temperature upon departure: 48
Rainfall: 0"

My attempt to climb Heinzelman Ridge this morning was thwarted in one of the worst ways ... I became hopelessly lost in a bog.

These things always start out with the best intentions - setting out with an ambitious pace aimed at finishing the hike by noon; picking a new trail because it seems more adventurous; and, OK, maybe paying a bit too much attention to my iPod.

Either way, I was not as bewildered as I should have been when the trail I was following, the one that had gradually become more overgrown and congested with deadfall logs, finally petered out. "No big deal," I thought. "I couldn't have lost the real trail too far back." So I retraced my steps until I came to something that looked marginally like a spur trail, and began to move back up the mountain. When that trail petered out, I looked for another, and then another.

I forget that this whole mountain range is crawling with bears. They create plenty of their own trails, huge networks of really convincing trails. But their destination isn't Heinzelman Ridge. Pretty soon, neither was mine.

By the time I decided to hit the abort button, I hadn't seen anything resembling a foot trail in 20 minutes. I was basically just bushwhacking through devil's club and trammeling skunk cabbage at that point, with only a vague idea of which way was north and which was was south. My only real option was to point straight down the mountain, and hope gravity would lead me to the highway. Bushwhacking laterally is one thing, but bushwhacking downward was treacherous. I was falling headlong over roots I couldn't even see and picking up thorns from an assortment of strange plants. The alders became thick in spots and it was all I could do to thrash through, with my jacket pulled on just to keep my arms from being slashed to bits.

By the time I intersected anything I recognized, I was only a few minutes from the highway. I stumbled back to the trailhead, frustrated and determined never to try Heinzelman again without adequate companionship. Even as time-consuming as that mess was, my hike still came up an hour short. I decided to use the window to squeeze in a short bike ride.

Everything at sea level was shrouded in haze, but at least I knew where I was going.