Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lost Souls

It's a bit puzzling why I keep running into lost people in the wilderness. I would understand it in Hells Canyon--there, the trails are overgrown to non-existent, disappearing in the bunchgrass, diving into head-high poison ivy. But in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, where there is a trail crew all summer, where hundreds of feet pulverize the tread into powdery dirt? Mysterious.

I should clarify. These people do not know they are lost. No, they firmly believe they know exactly where they are, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The map must be wrong! Somehow they hike a mile and a half in ten minutes! The lake is over there, not here!

Last weekend the pistol packing mamas we encountered were sure they were bound for Mirror Lake. They were not one, but two drainages off. They had merrily ridden past three trail junctions without, apparently, checking a map. On this same trip we met the man who insisted that the map showed the trail in the wrong place, and that we were in a different drainage entirely.

Are we becoming a nation of illiterate non-map readers? Why do people plod on insistently when everything in the landscape does not match their map? Our signs leave something to be desired, but then again, does wilderness really need signs? Isn't it supposed to be a place to test your wits and your skill? How hard is it to stop at a junction to figure things out?

I worry about these people. How long would it have taken the Boy Scout packer to realze he was ferrying supplies up the wrong trail? Would the two women at Laverty Lakes thought all their lives that they had camped at Chimney? Do these people ever admit they might be wrong? Does any doubt ever creep in for them?

Maybe I'm being too harsh. If someone thinks they are at Sky Lake, but are at a wild, nameless pond, does it really matter? If someone takes the wrong fork and has to climb over a snowy pass to reach their intended destination, isn't that all right? Maybe we need no names, no intended destination. Maybe we need to throw away the guidebooks and the maps and all become utterly, gloriously lost. Without even trying to say where we think we are.


  1. Being utterly, gloriously lost sounds good to me!

  2. I agree with Fonk some of the joy of being in the woods is exploring and not knowing what is around the next tree (bear) let them go out on their own, to many people out there anyway.

  3. Reminds me a little of college students I once talked to about careers in journalism. They wanted to know every step they should take on their way to a career, every guidepost in place before they started--seemed like an oxymoron to me, for would-be journalists. "You never know who, or what, is around the next corner," I said. "Stay curious and open to new experiences and different directions; your life won't be a straight line with trail markers from start to finish." Many of them looked at me as though I were crazy, but I still think it was good advice.

  4. If I stay on this road (M-185) will it take me back to town? I'm not sure where I am on this map. ^ ^

  5. Robert, I remember when I was working at the Mackinac state park visitor center and someone said, "Where am I and how do I get to Detroit?"

    I agree with you guys, my favorite people in the backcountry don't have a set destination. What worries me are the ones who can't read maps!

  6. "Not all who wander are lost" is one of my favorite sayings. But some are...and I agree, lost (or turned around) is fine as long as they aren't in danger, and don't rely on cell phones to call people to come rescue. Once in the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Country, we were thoroughly "turned around" for a whole day and kept canoeing past the same beaver house and remote beach. Camped, enjoyed the solitude, and by next morning, the map and our location came together...That was also the bear-in-camp night, but that's another story.


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