Lost in the Woods

David really loves backpacking. When I say backpacking, what I mean is packing a huge pack full of supplies (tent, food, sleeping bag, bear mace, water filter etc.) and hiking to some remote spot in the middle of the mountains where you camp for a day or two or however long you want to be there. It’s one of his favorite things to do.

Like many mountain related things, I had never gone backpacking until I met David. I’ll be honest, I’m not a very strong backpacker. Hiking by itself can a challenge for me, and when you add a 50 lb. pack to my back…it’s pretty tough. But one of my greatest goals in marriage is to love the things that my husband loves, so I keep moving forward and I try to keep a smile on my face. I’m not always successful at the smiling part..it’s hard to smile when you’re out of breath and in agony haha! =)

Anyways, so we decided to go backpacking this weekend. We picked out a pretty little lake in the Never Summer Wilderness called Bowen Lake that we wanted to go to. Our handy dandy trail book said it was a 5 mile trail to get to the lake, which is definitely something I can manage, even with a 50 pound pack strapped to my back. We got all packed up, loaded the car and headed out. Got to the trailhead with no problem and started our trek.

I swear he’s never happier than when he is headed into the mountains

 For the first 2.5 miles, the trail was downright easy. I actually heard myself say twice “I like backpacking!” The trail was pretty level, it was beautiful too. It was pretty remote, we were the only ones out there, aside from an elk or two.

And then, it all started to go downhill (figuratively, not literally. Oh how I wish we had started to hike downhill!).

We got to a trail register that said our sweet little Lake Bowen was actually another 7 miles away. Bummer. What I thought was going to be a 5 mile hike was really going to be a 10ish mile hike. Shortly after we passed the trail register, I started to have this weird pain in my leg every time I took a step. It started out mild, like a pulled muscle or something.

So we keep hiking and hiking and hiking. Hours go by.

We finally hit a sign that says <—Bowen Lake Trail. Yes! We're almost there! It should only be another 1.5 miles to the lake. And so we head left.

Shortly after heading left, the trail fell into major disrepair. There were downed trees everywhere, snow banks and major underbrush overgrowth. There obviously had not been any trail maintenance in probably 40 years. The trail started to get pretty faint. We’d be on it, then we’d lose it, then we’d find it again, then we’d cross a snow bank and lose it again. It was a mess.

This is a “good” section of the trail

So, we hike and hike some more. We begin climbing a ridge, dodging more fallen trees and snow banks and whatnot, hoping we were getting close. We’ve easily already gone 1.5 miles from the Bowen Lake sign. We should be at the lake, but there is no lake in sight.

The trail becomes so faint that we’re not sure we’re even on a trail anymore. We stop for a second to assess the situation and check our GPS. Our GPS shows that we’re on the trail, but there was so much debris, we just couldn’t be sure. Every direction we look, we see something that could resemble a trail. We couldn’t even be sure which one of these “trails” we just came from.

And then that unsettled feeling hit.

It’s getting dark. It’s getting cold. My leg pain has grown to a crippling pain. The trail is gone. What was left of it is covered in fallen trees and snow. We’ve already hiked 12 miles and we’re exhausted. We were lost. That’s not something either of us are happy to admit, but it was true. We were lost in the woods.

Neither of us felt comfortable continuing on. We made the call to go back down and get off the ridge. There were no guarantees that we’d make it to the lake before it got really dark, if we even found the lake at all (I was beginning to doubt it even existed!). At this point, we were racing (hobbling, in my case) against the clock. It’s 8pm and starting to get really dark and we needed to find a place to camp asap.

So we attempt to retrace our steps to get back down. But after you’ve crawled over your 50th fallen tree, it’s hard to be 100% sure if you’re still on the right track. We look around and nothing looks familiar. Again, we declare ourselves lost. At this point, we’re just looking for anything that resembles a piece of flat ground where we can set up camp.

We come to a fast moving river and we knew we needed to cross it to keep heading in the direction of the main trail. David goes first and attempts to jump onto a huge boulder in the middle of the river. He makes it to the rock, but his boots are wet and he slips. Into the river he goes. Then it’s my turn to cross. There’s no way I’m jumping onto the boulder after seeing what happened to David. So I find a log to cross on. Half way across the river, the log begins to roll and suddenly I’m in the river too.

So now, just to recap…it’s dark, we are lost for the second time, we are shivering cold, dripping wet, still haven’t set up camp anywhere and I can barely walk due to the amount of pain I’m in. Awesome.

Hahaha, this is us, just after falling into the river

As I’m climbing out of the river, I’m praying “Father, please help us. Bring us to safety.” I look up and through the trees, I see a meadow. A beautiful meadow that is perfect for a camp site! And right next to the meadow? The trail (before it had turned to total crap). Ahhhh, thank you Jesus! So we very quickly set up camp, change out of our wet clothes, eat a quick dinner and head to bed. Sadly, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep but 2 hours.

In the morning, I popped a handful of pain killers and we headed out. Thankfully, those pain killers worked and I was able to make it out without too much pain. We tried to enjoy the hike out since the hike in was so miserable!

The morning was beautiful, sunny, clear and warm. Our hike out was relatively uneventful aside from complaining about hiking in wet boots due to the river incident the night before. Hiking 8 miles in wet boots & socks makes for some pretty sore feet! But we spent the time distracting ourselves with good conversation and saying hello to all the wildlife.

20 miles, 6 blisters and a few dozen scrapes and scratches later, we made it back to the car. Safe and sound.

I learned a lot of good lessons on this trip. 1) Triple check guide books and trip reports before going backpacking so that you don’t get surprised when your 5 mile hike turns into a 12 mile hike. 2) Start hiking earlier than you want, just in case you find yourself lost in the woods with the sun going down 3) If you ever start to feel pain while hiking, it’s best just to turn around and head back. What starts as a twinge of a pulled muscle can turn into something much worse. 4) No matter how lost I feel, I’m never lost as long as David is next to me and God is before me.

This little backpacking trip of ours turned into one of the most difficult things I’ve done. Climbing uphill for 12 miles with a bum leg and a heavy pack is not easy. Getting lost is scary. Falling in a river at the end of an 8 hour hike is incredibly disheartening. But I learned a lot about myself in the process. And I have found myself even more grateful for David. Without him, I’d probably still be up in the Never Summer Wilderness, lost in the woods and wandering around trying to find something that looked like a trail.

Consider me happy to be home! =)

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9 thoughts on “Lost in the Woods

  1. Yikes, being lost in the dark, outside, might be one f my worst nightmares!! I am almost 30 and still have a very real fear of the dark!! Sounds like you and your hubby have an awesome relationship, I love reading about it. Stay off that leg for a while and take care of yourself!!

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  2. Wow. You are tough, and a lot more brave than I am! Good for you for doing something just because David loves it. I am not a fan of backpacking.
    SO glad you two are okay and that you decided to turn around!

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  3. I can't believe you have snow in June! I kept reading “snow drift” and kept thinking surely it was a name for a certain area… and then I saw the snow pics! That is awesome! It's 98 degrees of hot, humid air here in Texas. Backpacking in snowy Colorado sounds amazing right now! =)

    Glad you made it safely. What an awesome memory you guys made!

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