SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – May 2010

Lost in the Frank Church Wilderness: What Does It Really Mean to Be Utterly, Hopelessly, Truly, Lost?

We air-dropped a blindfolded Jim Thornton into the middle of a 2-million-acre wilderness to find out.

by: Jim Thornton

Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez
Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez
Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez
Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez

video icon LOST! THE VIDEO SERIES

Part 1:
On his first day lost in Idaho's Frank Church--River of No Return Wilderness, Thornton confronts dwindling water supplies and the daunting task of getting un-lost.

Part 2: On his second day lost in Idaho's Frank Church--River of No Return Wilderness, Thornton battles cold temperatures, conflicting routes, and the onset of genuine fear.

Part 3:
On his third day lost in Idaho's Frank Church--River of No Return Wilderness, Thornton finally finds a potential way home. But fear, exhaustion, and an incoming winter snowstorm threaten to derail his progress.
The word “lost” comes from the ancient Indo-European leu, which means “to loosen, divide, cut apart, untie, or separate.” Lost love, lost minds, lost hope, lost causes: There's no shortage of metaphorical ways we can become unmoored in our lives. But for those who trek deep into nature, a more primal and frightening prospect looms. Getting lost in the wilderness isn't a metaphor; it's the root meaning of bewilderment.

Peter Kummerfeldt, former director of survival training at the United States Air Force Academy, knows firsthand how disorienting the experience can be. “I'm 65 years old this year, and over the course of my life, I've been lost eight or 10 times,” he says. “It scares the hell out of you.

You're cut off and isolated with no food or water. You start worrying that wild animals are going to attack, that you're going to die out here, that no one will ever find you. These fears just build and build and build until you panic.”

Such fears, alas, are far from groundless. Robert Koester, author of Lost Person Behavior, is the coordinator of the International Search & Rescue Incident Database (ISRID), which has amassed more than 50,000 incident reports. Of 3,837 lost hikers since 1984, six percent died, and another 16 percent suffered often-grievous injuries. “Without a doubt,” says Koester, “many of these would have perished, as well, if they hadn't been rescued in time.”

What makes getting lost even scarier is how easily it can happen. A freak snowstorm buries the trail; you take a wrong turn at an ambiguous juncture; an animal track leads you astray. Reliance on technology has brought new problems, too: You head uphill in search of cell-phone reception, then lose your bearings on the ascent or jump the trail on the way down. Or you lose your GPS or it runs out of juice.

Astonishingly, given our species' long history of getting lost--and fearing this prospect--we've had little understanding of how the human mental map really works. But recently, in fields ranging from mathematical search theory to neuroscience, researchers have been learning more and more about how we navigate terra incognita--and how we react, psychologically and behaviorally, when we're unable to find our way.

One study published last year in the journal Current Biology provides the first empirical evidence that humans do in fact walk in circles when they have no directional landmarks. The tendency is so strong, in fact, that when volunteers are blindfolded, they virtually never travel more than 100 yards from their starting point, no matter how long they are given to walk. And by examining links between brain regions like the hippocampus, where we form mental maps, and the amygdala, which initiates the fight-or-flight response, researchers are beginning to understand why panic reactions are so common when we realize we're lost.

In many ways, it's this emotional deterioration--as much as being lost itself--that poses a high risk to our survival. Just when we most need to think clearly and act rationally, the psychological fallout of disorientation can steal the very faculties we must depend upon.

When lost victims die, says Deep Survival author Laurence Gonzales, death results from many different factors--a “destructive synergy” of exhaustion, dehydration, hypothermia, hunger, and injury. “But everyone who dies out there dies, too, from confusion,” he says. “Being lost is not so much a location as a transformation. It is a failure of mind.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is the crux of this dastardly experiment, and my real challenge in the Frank: Can I go from lost to found without suffering from a failed mind?




Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star
oooooo
May 25, 2013

The following are facts about the area where this story takes place, which might give the reader a better perspective of the article:

He was dropped off at Stone Breaker Ranch. It is an old homestead, now owned and managed by the Idaho Fish and Game. Next to the airstrip there are several nice log buildings with solar power, generator power, water systems and a big sign that says STONE BREAKER RANCH IDAHO FISH AND GAME. Most years there are caretakers there. About 150 feet from the edge of the airstrip is a very visible creek, the West Fork of Chamberlain. Other creeks: Ranch Cr, Flossie Cr, Game Cr, Dog Cr, Pup Cr and Chamberlain Cr (more of a river) a person will run into by walking no more than 5-15 minutes in any direction. To the south about 1/2 mile is Chamberlain Forest Service Station, which consists of 6 log buildings, signboards, maps, 2 airstrips and is staffed by a Wilderness Ranger and a trail crew. The airstrip gets an average of 3-4 landings a day in September and is visible from nearly every ridge or knoll from miles around.

From the description he gave about his route to Root Ranch he would have crossed 5 maintained Forest Service trails which have signage at most junctions and are marked on the map he was using. The entire Chamberlain Basin he was in the middle of is criss-crossed by multiple creeks.

The "Fir" trees he saw from the plane are Lodgepole and Ponderosa Pine.

Making it a couple miles to Root Ranch is no-where even close to making it out of the Wilderness (on foot). He would have to go 3-4 times as far to make it to a trailhead, if you ignore the 5 or more highly used airstrips.

From the perspective of a person who knows the area this article is slightly offensive and highly comical. I am surprised backpacker would print an article about such a highly fabricated experience. If the author actually did not fake this I am very surprised at how moronic he must be. At any rate, he and the magazine should be ashamed for printing such non-sense.

rufus k
Sep 17, 2012

From the description, he was dropped at either Chamberlain or Stonebraker airstrip, about 1 mile apart, and walked down the creek east to root ranch. But he did not make it out of the wilderness, just a few miles east to another strip, but still in the middle of the wilderness.

KR
Jun 13, 2012

buildings are old forest service buildings, totally in the wilderness.. he had maps of many places, not just a map of where he was,, he had to first figure out which map to use...I belive he was dropped at the moose creek ranger station/airstip

Karl
Jul 30, 2011

I like the article. Is there a way to find out what gear he was given, including the brand, etc.?

James
Jun 02, 2011

This is so bogus, he was not 'lost', just play acting

idaho native
Mar 31, 2011

Making it to Root Ranch is NOT the same as hiking out of the Frank under your own power. He would still need a plane ride, horseback packout, or long hike to civilization.

As for a means to similate genuine panic over being lost, that's as good of place as any. Besides being scores of miles across, the entire place is cut by the second deepest canyon in North America (the MF Salmon). The lower end, to east of his lcoation, is known as "Impassable Canyon" for a reason. The only way in or out of Impassable is by boat, and even then it's Class IV whitewater!

Jim H
Oct 15, 2010

Now I have an idea for my next vacation. Pay some fellow with a Cessna to drop me off in the middle of nowhere. For at least the first couple days, I would love it. The main concern, in this seemingly very dry and arid place (i.e., bitteroots are an arid/dry-existing plant) would be to locate a water source. Next, I would be so happy to be away from the junk of civilization (noisy neighbors, loud thumping bass systems in car stereos, the sound of the freeway that never goes away). I'd sleep like a baby every night, I'm sure. Personally, I wouldn't be too anxious to find my way out. Instead, I'd be considering staying a few extra days. (Minus loud bass systems in car stereos and the neighbor's screaming bratty kids...) Water... more than finding my way out, I would be looking for water. Because is just a few days, you can go without food, but without water you're done for. And if any of the maps he was given were USGS Topographical maps, jeesh, might as well paint my way back home. Once you gained the bearing on the Topos, its pretty hard to stay lost, once yiu find key locations on the Topos, and you have a good compass.

Let's go, I'm game. So, how much for my story after the fact... I can just submit it to Backpacker "on spec" and if they approve for publication, we can negotiate the terms later.

:-)
.
.

Jim H
Oct 15, 2010

Now I have an idea for my next vacation. Pay some fellow with a Cessna to drop me off in the middle of nowhere. For at least the first couple days, I would love it. The main concern, in this seemingly very dry and arid place (i.e., bitteroots are an arid/dry-existing plant) would be to locate a water source. Next, I would be so happy to be away from the junk of civilization (noisy neighbors, loud thumping bass systems in car stereos, the sound of the freeway that never goes away). I'd sleep like a baby every night, I'm sure. Personally, I wouldn't be too anxious to find my way out. Instead, I'd be considering staying a few extra days. (Minus loud bass systems in car stereos and the neighbor's screaming bratty kids...) Water... more than finding my way out, I would be looking for water. Because is just a few days, you can go without food, but without water you're done for. And if any of the maps he was given were USGS Topographical maps, jeesh, might as well paint my way back home. Once you gained the bearing on the Topos, its pretty hard to stay lost, once yiu find key locations on the Topos, and you have a good compass.

Let's go, I'm game. So, how much for my story after the fact... I can just submit it to Backpacker "on spec" and if they approve for publication, we can negotiate the terms later.

:-)
.
.

Taylor
Oct 15, 2010

If you think Charlie made a good point, first make sure you know what the definition of 'simulation' is.

Fun interesting article! I like that there's video to go along with it.

Charlie
Oct 15, 2010

This did not simulate being lost...he knew that people were aware of his location, that he was not really in danger. Being really lost means no one else knows where you are either...not just you. Good luck getting any lawyers to approve simulating that.

steve quinne
Jul 14, 2010

the same as above , before that plane was off the ground , my maps would have been out and locating that before I moved an inch !!! how hard is that ?
ive been in worse and made it just fine

northsister
Jun 08, 2010

Why are you guys assuming there are buildings?? This is the wilderness! Have you ever seen wilderness?

Seth
May 28, 2010

There's no mention of buildings. It's a remote airstrip, just a flat stretch without trees. No buildings I think.

Shane
May 27, 2010

This kinda reminds me of Man vs. Wild, and Survivorman. Both of which I highly, no, Astronomically recommend to watch, for the casual "outdoorist" and the serious survivalist.

scott r
May 27, 2010

lost 4 days in bitterroots - would add, daily crying jags that would end with a laugh and me talking out loud "might as well lay down and die". The biochemical dump had me so wound up that I could not eat and survived on a jar of honey that I would force myself to eat knowing that I needed to eat. Checked the compass (after deciding that I was going to move southwest)every 5 minutes, had the common sense to back track when path was too steep and lastly, I was so tired at the end of the day I stopped imagining bear and cougar.

Mike
May 27, 2010

When I read this article my first thoughts were, "You're at a known, named location with buildings. You have maps. Sit down, pull out the maps, search for buildings." But perhaps there was a rule against doing this on the first day?

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Trailhead Register
Who Has The Lowest REI Member Number?
Posted On: Apr 17, 2014
Submitted By: hikerjer
The Political Arena
Knife control?
Posted On: Apr 17, 2014
Submitted By: Scot
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions