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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.

Lost in the Mist

“I was hurtling toward the crevasse, thinking, ‘You’re finished. You pushed your luck and now you’re cooked,'” recalls Sam Black of Vancouver. Luckily, instead of plunging into the blue maw of the Brandywine Glacier–and almost certain death–Black skipped across the opening to land on the opposite side. But he was still surrounded by crevasse-riddled ice. And lost.

Six days earlier, Black had embarked on what was supposed to be an overnight trek. The backcountry enthusiast planned to challenge his newfound route-finding skills on an ambitious, off-trail solo ascent of Brandywine Mountain, in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains.

On Friday night, he hiked to an off-trail campsite on a narrow ridge. The next morning Black opened his tent flaps to discover rainy, socked-in conditions; he couldn’t see 30 feet. He knew continuing would be foolhardy. As he attempted to backtrack, Black got hopelessly turned around.

The topo map he’d printed on 8.5″x11″ office paper turned to pulp in the steady downpour.Without a compass, he was lost at sea. He pitched his tent and rode out the storm.

When Black failed to return on schedule a search was launched, but SAR crews were hampered by low clouds. Black attempted on Tuesday and Wednesday to climb to the far side of Brandywine Mountain, where he knew a trail led to safety.

When the route became technical and slippery, Black stopped to consider his quandary. Somehow the dense fog and tricky terrain convinced him to make his biggest mistake yet. Until now he’d stayed off the ice, but in his mind, only one option remained. “I believed that traversing the glacier to go west was the only exit,” he recalls.

No sooner had he taken several tentative steps onto the ice than he lost traction–and went hurtling over the crevasse. Spared from death but deeply rattled, Black began picking his way across the glacier’s surface. Before he could slip again, a helicopter appeared and whisked him to safety.

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