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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.

In Too Deep

What business Greg Cone and Glenn Zimmerman had being on North Sister – the expert-class peak in central Oregon’s Three Sisters group–is anyone’s guess. Its easiest approach, the standard route up the southeast ridge, involves churning upward through thousands of feet of shifting talus, plus a long traverse with gut-wrenching exposure. The right equipment and skill might land you on top; Cone, 46, and Zimmerman, 55, both of Eugene, had neither.

As near as searchers with Deschutes County Search and Rescue can determine (Cone and Zimmerman did not return BACKPACKER’s phone calls), the duo intended to climb North Sister from the difficult north side. What most puzzles rescuers is the approach route the pair chose. Rather than stroll in on the easy Pole Creek Trail, Cone and Zimmerman planned to bushwhack up the Alder Creek drainage.

“We’ve never seen anyone try to go in this way,” says Wayne Jack, who coordinated the search that extricated Cone and Zimmerman. “North Sister is a highly technical climb. At best, these guys were prepared for an easy dayhike.” Between them, Cone and Zimmerman didn’t have an ice axe, helmet, rope, picket, map, or compass.

At 2 p.m. on October 4, 2003, the pair reached timberline exhausted and hours behind schedule. Despite possessing a newly purchased GPS, the two hikers could not reconcile where they were with a safe route to the summit. Running out of time, they decided to return to their car. Midway down the Alder Creek drainage, they were overtaken by darkness. Late that night, SAR officials received a call about two overdue hikers. The women on the other end could only tell authorities to look around North Sister, since neither of their husbands had mentioned where they would park or what route they planned to take.

When searchers finally located the disoriented hikers the next morning, the volunteers checked the men’s GPS unit. Cone and Zimmerman said that it had malfunctioned. “They didn’t have the know-how to use their GPS unit to navigate from the parking area,” says Jack. “We found no waypoints punched into the unit.” Considering the hazards waiting up high, getting lost was probably a blessing in disguise for these two.

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