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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.

Trail to Nowhere

Linda Voll is willing to admit that her fascination with big trees got her hopelessly lost on a nature trail, of all places. The 57-year-old Voll was visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when she decided to check out the behemoths at Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. For a short dayhike on a nature trail, Voll was, if anything, overprepared. “Every walk I go on I carry raingear, plenty of snacks, a flashlight, water, warm clothes, plastic bags, and a Therm-a-Rest stadium chair,” says Voll. But there was one glaring omission on her checklist: a compass.

Earlier that week a violent gale had ripped through Estivant Pines, knocking down trees and obliterating trail signs. Still, Voll managed to stay on track until she decided to take a detour on an unmaintained spur trail that led toward the stump of a big pine. But on her way back Voll lost the path. “I had been following a game track. I looked around for the trail and couldn’t make it out,” she says. The park’s handout trail map offered little clue to her whereabouts, so Voll tried to retrace her steps. Nothing looked familiar. Flat gray light suffused the forest, further distorting her sense of direction. When she came across a fallen tree she knew she’d seen before, Voll realized she’d been hiking in a circle.

“I’ve always had a pretty good sense of direction, but I was so twisted around that I couldn’t trust my own instincts,” says Voll.

Tired and confused, she could feel panic creeping in. To calm herself, Voll sat down and dug into her pack for a snack. “I remember thinking, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ All I had to do was pick a direction, start hiking, and it might take a day or two, but sooner or later I’d hit Lake Superior.”

Resolved to hike until she was too tired to go farther, Voll resumed her search for a trail or road. Twenty minutes later she stumbled upon her car at the trailhead. “Two things I never do anymore: believe anyone who says a trail is easy to follow, or forget a compass,” says Voll.

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