How I got lost on Art Loeb Section 4 Trail
You too can learn from my mistakes as I made several
Getting lost is not difficult, and can be the result of any one critical mistake. I made several toward the end of this hike that I believe could have left me in the mountains overnight. First, being part of a large group of nine hikers, with varying degrees of hiking experience, probably contributed. Our guide, Woody, was an expert hiker that knew the unmarked trail well, and was a personal friend with several in our group. I am amazed at how well he knew every optional turn. The hike up the mountain was difficult and strenuous, and we often spread out in splinter groups that would change depending on varying degrees of energy levels as we progressed during the day.  Woody was always with the lead group that would wait for the lagging groups to catch up throughout the hike. By the time we reached the top of Shining Rock, most of us were exhausted. By the time we neared the halfway point on our return down the mountain, it was much later than anyone anticipated. Since we were to meet other individuals for dinner that evening, and since we were running much later than expected, Woody asked if we thought we would be OK if he went on without us so he could let the food preparers know we were going to be very late, as our phones had no connections to call them from the trail.  This made perfect sense to the rest of us.since we felt like we must be geting close to the trailhead. As it turned out, we had a lot more trail to go.  Once we parted, I kept up with the small lead group for at least a half hour. Knowing I had over half the group scattered in subgroups behind me, I decided to just rest for awhile as I didn't have a need to rush on with the lead group. My first and most critical mistake was not waiting until others caught up with me before heading out on my own down the mountain.  This was one of the few times I did not have my gps tracks on, which may be considered my earliest mistake. Always turn your GPS tracking "on" even if you don't initially have any connection. I was still on a single trail that had not forked, so I was sure I was on the right trail that the others would eventually join me on. This trail has many ups and downs and crosses various size mountain streams throughout the hike. So I was not surprised when the trail headed down toward a stream. However, when I approached the stream, there were some of the largest rocks I had seen, which would have made it very tricky to cross, and I did not remember any crossing that difficult on the way up the mountain.  Now I was faced with the decision to wait there or go back up the trail a fairly short distance (maybe a quarter mile) to where I had headed down from.  I figured I could miss the others if I had missed a trail heading down to the stream, so I decided to head back up.  At some point on the way back up, I ran across what I thought was the trail I had left before heading down to the stream. At this point I consider I made another critical mistake by not just staying there and waiting till someone else arrived.  It's at this point I started feeling uncofortable about my situation. I thought if I just headed up the trail it might become more familiar and get me back on the trek toward the tralhead.  And besides, I could stop and turn back any time I wanted, at least, so I thought.

My third important mistake was not recognizing how soon I should give up and head back toward the little fork where the trail had headed down to the stream.  I just kept going up and down, always telling myself just a little further before I head back. For awhile it kept going slightly up, and I kept telling myself I can always go back or even bushwhack down toward the sound of the stream.  I was geting in deeper and deeper.  And then I made the fourth and possibly worst mistake of all; as my trail started geting really small, I looked down the hill and thought I saw a larger trail.  I decided to bushwhack to it. This now sounds like a horror film when they decide to go into the grave yard... how stupid can one be? When I got down to the perceived trail, it was starting to get a little darker and under the heavy foliage, everything was starting to get difficult to see clearly.  At this point I was starting to panick, even though I knew that was the wrong thing to do.  I decided I should go back up the hill to the little trail I had been on and try to head back.  But now I couldn't find that little trail.  As I became more panicked, I tried zig-zagging back in the direction I had come, bushwhacking, tripping on rocks, climbing over trees. I'm now totally off of any trail, and starting to think of rattle snakes lurking around every panicky step.  I'm walking fast and slipping and falling here and there, but I believe I'm heading in the general direction of the way I had come... I think.  After about 15 minutes of what seemed like an hour of bushwhacking in the general direction of what I thought was the return, I decided to yell HELP! and hope someone can hear and respond.  I have sense bought a very loud whistle I plan to take on every hike in the future. I stopped and yelled help several times. I now think I might be doomed to try and survive in the woods all night alone, almost "Naked and Afraid". After watching all those survival shows, I realize they were to no avail and how helpless I am feeling on this mountain side.  The stream noise far down the mountain seemed to drown out my screams. But finally, I hear a faint reply back. It was my buddy Joe, I hear yelling and asking if it was me. I yelled "do not leave - stay right there" but it took awhile for him and his partner Jill to acknowledge what I was asking, but once they acknowledged they would stay and wait (it was all very faint), I felt a huge relief as I then bushwhacked down the mountain toward Joe's voice.  I finally reached them and I don't remember ever feeling any happier or relieved. I also found out that Joe and Jill had just seen a large black bear running extremely fast up the mountain not more than ten minutes earlier. I thought that had I seen that bear run toward me as I was bushwhacking, I might have surely had a heart attack.  It is all funny to me now, but I assure you that at the time I was in a real state of panick. This will remain a great memory for life, and one that anyone reading this may find benefit as well.  That is, if you really can learn from other's mistakes.

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