Getting lost, yes it happens and under the right circumstances it can be fun and educational. And why am I writing this blog post you might ask… Well I went up to Mt Laguna recreation area to go play around in the snow and get some winter which is a big deal for us SoCal types. It was scheduled to rain and I figured if I went up there I could catch the snow storm and have some fun, this would not necessarily be the case.
Saturday I got a late start and dint get to the mountain until about two pm and began setting up camp, by the time it was all said and done I was stepping off at three thirty. There was snow on the ground but the weather was more of a mist or light rain. What I did right, dressed properly, I had good socks, synthetic chonies, wool base layer and a rain coat on top of wearing my ASolo mountain boots. Survival starts at home and what you wear can bake a huge difference. Second I had my Tarahumaru day pack and my usual day pack gear.
What I did wrong, stepped off late hasty and with a rough plan of completing the Big Laguna Loop a ten mile trail loop that also shares portions of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) by eight thirty that night. I know with the area (notice this still under the “what I did wrong section”) so I didn’t bring a paper map and saved a copy to my phone nor did I bring a compass since I had one on my watch. Now this is a well-traveled area and the trail is clearly marked with reflective posts so you can navigate to an extent by going post to post. Besides I shouldn’t be on the trail to long and will be having a burger at the Pine House Tavern in no time.
The hike started out great I took my time taking pictures and enjoying the weather. At about an hour and a half the weather took a turn for the rainy and I threw on my jacket. I easily made it from the Laguna Camp grounds to Penny Pines where I stoped and went live on Facebook and took a break before crossing over to Sunrise Highway and on the PCT, while the sun was gone it was still bright enough to navigate without a light which is something I enjoy doing. As I climbed up the mountain and it got darker and stormier my pace slowed down and it was time to dawn a head lamp. What I did right is bring my heavy duty Princton Tech Headlamp with me. The fact is the small LED headlamps work great for camp and in good weather but in the dark with heavy mist and rain a bright light with a beam is worth its weight in gold. Another upside is well it is bulky and heavy compared to the smaller ones the burn time on these is epic.
So with the lights on the hike got a lot easier I picked up my pace and easily saw the trail markers. I departed the PCT and got back onto the Big Laguna Trail for my second crossing of the highway and back into the woods. I came across a map kiosk and got my bearings. What I did wrong, kept going at this point I was feeling really good I knew exactly where I was and although I was wet seeing the sign that told me I was three miles away made me pretty confident I would be at camp in no time. That confidence pushed me to go a little faster and a little more reckless than I should have. After all how hard can it be there are signs, yes there are signs but there are also roads, side trails, false trails, game trails no point of reference of land marks? When you are night hiking you essentially hiking in a bubble that bubble is as far as your light can push which is not very far when you are in a storm, this leaves you navigating by the physical trail at your feet and that’s where all of the above can get you turned around.
At one point during a road crossing I spent twenty minutes trying to find the actual trail, I actually was getting a little excited. What I did right, stopped took a deep breath and relaxed, I started working methodically from my last known spot and as I moved away from it was sure to leave an obvious trail in the snow back to it so I didn’t get lost following my footsteps in circles. Ultimately though it came down to relaxing and being calm I had been making such good time blowing by the markers that I didn’t initially pay attention to this one. Since I had taken my glasses off because of the rain I didn’t notice the arrow pointing me to the next section… Relax, Calm Down, don’t be in a rush to make things worse.
So I was on the trail and doing well, remember the part about not having a map well this is where I payed for it, let’s just say I zigged when I should have zagged. Yes I was on the correct trail as for direction not so much. That little life lesson got me three more hours on the trail and a four mile road march back to camp in the rain. It’s these hard little life lessons that make a big impact, haha. Now on the hike back one wardrobe accessory I wish I had brought was gaiters since my pants where not water proof and the trudge through the slush and brush soaked the lower third of them. While all of this might sound extremely frustrating it wasn’t, I actually had fun. I took this as an opportunity to learn and hopefully turn it into a teachable experience.
So my take away from this little adventure is a couple things. The right dress and gear make all the difference. I really never got panicky because I knew gear wise if I had to sit down right where I was at, I would be fine. I had warm layers, the ability to make a fire, shelter and water, boom thermo regulation. I knew that while I did get lost-ish, I needed to slow myself down, keep calm and worked through the problem. I knew the area well enough to shoot an azimuth and be on the highway to hike back to camp. I knew while the cell phone service was limited I still had it and could call for a ride. So I had some ‘knowns” that allowed for be to push a little harder and play around with getting lost, this is something I do up there once or twice a year. I like it because it keeps me humble and is a good reminder of what can happen and why we carry what we carry. But above all I cannot stress this enough, A POSOTIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE goes a long way.