Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Walk in the Woods

I went hiking along the Whitetail Trail today with other members of the Sierra Club. The plan was to start at North Gate of the Quebec Run Wild Area and travel north to Lick Hollow. There were plans for a stop at Pine Knob and D***, the hike leader and senior citizen, had mentioned the possibility of a side trip to White Rocks, making the total for the day around 13 or 14 miles.

I had purchased a new pair of FRS radios and had thrown them into my
trail-end bag along with a clean shirt and a 32oz Nalgene bottle of extra water. I asked if we wanted to bring the radios along but no one else was interested. I was to learn later that this was a mistake. We started on the trail at 10am and it was 80 degrees with almost 100% humidity. I thought maybe my 3-liter Camelbak might not be enough for the day but also thought the 32oz Nalgene bottle might be more weight than I wanted to carry. I left it behind. Another mistake.

The trail was in many places almost completely obscured by overgrown ferns but the blue blazes kept us on the trail. Mid-June is the time for the Mountain Laurel to bloom and there were explosions of white and pink flowers all along the trail. At a point we needed to decide whether to go down to White Rocks or not. The D*** clearly wanted to go. My first thought was to stay on the trail because I was using my GPSr to map the trail for posting to but I thought it was selfish of me to vote to stay to the trail for only that reason. Instead, I said that I didn’t care one way or the other so the vote was to go to White Rocks.

On the way down the old logging road we encountered a black bear on the trail. We watched him while he sat down and watched us. Eventually he grew bored with us and wandered off. It was the first time I had ever encountered a bear in the woods.

We arrived at White Rocks and D*** laid down for a rest. He pulled out an 8oz Diet Pepsi to rehydrate and I started to get the willies. His water was gone and I could tell that he wasn’t carrying a third of what I was carrying. And a diet soda is a bad, bad thing to drink under these conditions.

After a rest, we went around and climbed to the top of White Rocks where he took another lie down. I was getting genuinely concerned.

On the climb out of the hollow, I began to realize that D*** was starting to have trouble. He was very slow coming up the hill and when he stopped to take a break I asked him if he was drinking water. He said he had plenty.

I had a 3-litre Camelbak and I knew I was beginning to run low. Anyone who claimed to have plenty of water was not drinking enough. Thus, the conspiracy began. Myself and two others took the lead and as we climbed the hill we started planning on what we should do. Way back in Boy Scouts I had dealt with a similar situation of an extremely hot day and running out of water. The plan was for us to press on to Lick Hollow, stock up on water and then to return to re-supply the second group. This was when I was truly regretting not bringing the FRS radios.

We got to the next turn where D*** had wanted us to stop. The three of us debated and decided to press on after leaving a note. We didn’t get far before we heard them coming up behind. The others had gotten him to take off his hat, which was causing him to overheat, and someone else was carrying his pack. He was making much better time but still didn’t look well. We decided to wait at Redstone Creek for them to catch up.

J*** spoke with me. He told me that the D*** did this sort of thing all the time. But from experience, just because he does this all the time doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

At the Redstone Creek crossing it was decided that three of us would go on ahead and D*** and others would go to the end of Pine Knob road and wait for pickup at the gate. That would cut several miles off the hike. I ran out of water and the two women that were with me ran out a short time after that. It was two hours to finally get to Lick Run. We stocked up on water and drove the waiting vehicle to the gate.

Except that they weren’t there. We got really worried. They should have been there by now. Another mistake: we should have exchanged cell phone numbers (if the second group had cell phones) in lieu of not having my FRS radios. Two of us took the water and started hiking the road but she turned back because her ankle couldn’t take it. At the road that turns off to Pine Knob itself, I left one of the water bottles to make sure that they didn’t get past me and went to be sure they hadn’t make a sightseeing detour.

When I came back there was a bear sniffing around the water bottle I had left. He heard my approach and made his way into the woods. Night fell and I continued up the road. At 9:30 it was decided to call 911. It turns out that the D*** had gone to the other end of Pine Knob Rd. where it meets Skyline Dr., not the end that we were at much closer to Lick Hollow. That miscommunication was yet another terrible mistake in a day full of stupid and careless mistakes.

I had thought to bring my FRS radios but didn’t. I had thought of taking extra water but didn’t. I had thought of bringing my microfilter water bottle but didn’t. I thought about staying on the trail but didn’t.

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