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October 2006

Lost: True Tales of Wilderness Treks Gone Desperately Wrong

From snowblindness to wrong turns, everyday wilderness adventures can turn ugly if you're not prepared for everything.


“We were tired, wet, and cold, and knew that we would not survive another night,” recalls Bob Morris, his memory still frighteningly vivid a few months later. “We were becoming truly scared.”

Lost and separated from their tent after a day of peakbagging, Bob and his wife, Blynn, both 43, had been forced to bivouac during a surprise summer snowstorm. The couple had set out the day before from a basecamp beside Gourd Lake to tag 12,296-foot Cooper Peak, an isolated granite spire deep in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness. On the way up the 4-mile off-trail route, Bob referred frequently to his map and compass, and the couple topped out as scheduled at 1 p.m.

After savoring the view, they began their descent. But on the way down Bob spotted a series of small lakes that he misjudged as being one large body of water and therefore Gourd Lake. “On the map, you see two distinct lakes and the mistake is obvious. But as we descended, they looked like one lake instead of two because the stream connecting them is large.”

“My wife said it looked wrong. She wanted to go back and make sure we were right. I convinced her we were on the right track,” recalls Bob.

The Morrises proceeded to drop into the wrong drainage. They soon realized their error, but then made another mistake that compounded their problems. “The prospect of climbing up the way we came down, through more talus, was daunting. To go directly east to Gourd looked impossible because of a cliff. We decided to go south and then east, walking a bearing with the compass,” says Bob.

Bushwhacking through thick forest, the couple hiked in circles until dark. Their situation worsened that night when the storm arrived.

In the morning, cold and miserable and confused by the fresh snow, Bob and Blynn tried to pick up where they had left off. But when Bob checked the altimeter on his watch, he realized they had overshot their mark and were now 800 feet lower than Gourd Lake.

After turning around to hike back uphill, the couple stumbled upon the Gourd Lake Trail, its outline visible in the melting snow. They were soon back at camp gobbling bowls of oatmeal.

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