Monday, December 12, 2011

3 Women Lost in 3 Sisters Wilderness

I bought the Pacific Crest Trailside Reader last weekend. It's a collection of short stories from various hikers throughout the years compiled into one magnificent read. I've had to fight back tears a couple of times already, while reading. What a trail! Anyhow, one story I read this morning brought to mind a story that I would like to share that occurred in the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon. It's a story I am not particularly proud of. I have no pictures to share because unfortunately, this section of photos has been lost forever, thanks to a broken memory card. It's about three college aged women who were lost near Three Sisters. The story obviously will be written from my point of view. Here is my account of what happened on September 11, 2010:

Indie and I woke up at the break of dawn on a frigid morning in the Three Sister's Wilderness. It was one of the coldest mornings on the PCT. I ate my morning Pop Tarts and 2 packages of cold oatmeal, packed up my gear and was ready to hit the trail within 20 minutes. There was no point standing around, it was SO cold. Indie usually had more gear to pack up in the mornings so I began hiking while he was still packing up. The grass along the trail was covered with frost, and ice was forming in small creek beds. What a relief to know that the act of walking ignites the internal furnace. It wasn't long before my body was warming up to the early morning sun, however it was still too cold to take off my gloves and winter hat.

While approaching a shadowed, frost covered meadow, I saw three distant figures walking northbound on the PCT. From a distance, I could see that neither of the hikers were carrying backpacks.
"Must be camping nearby," I remembered thinking. "The nearest road is several miles away. Probably out for a morning stroll."
As I approached, I noticed that it was three young women, and they were all wearing hooded sweatshirts, sweatpants, and they had a tiny dog with them. It seemed a bit odd.
"Good morning!" I said, happy to see three attractive females in the wilderness.
"Good morning," they responded.
"Are you camping nearby?" I asked.
"No," one of the women answered. "We slept on the trail last night."
"Where's your gear?" I asked.
"We don't have any, we got lost hiking yesterday, couldn't find our way out, and decided to sleep on the trail last night. Are we on the PCT?"
"Yes!" I said. "You slept on the trail last night? Without a sleeping bag or tent? It was freezing!"

Turns out, the women sandwiched each other throughout the night, and took turns being the person in the middle with the little dog. They said they were shivering all night, did not sleep at all. I couldn't believe it. I asked them if they were hungry, although I only had a small amount of extra food. I gave them what I could spare, and volunteered to walk with them until they reached safety.

It was every man's dream! Three pretty damsels in distress! Here I am, a man of the mountains with super hero like stamina and strength! I will show you the way to safety!

"Do you know where we are?" One of the women asked.
Flustered, I actually had no idea where I was. I knew I was on the PCT. In fact, I hadn't checked my guidebook maps in days, and I knew they were buried in my pack somewhere. I fumbled with my pack and out spilled several unopened zip locks filled with data book descriptions, Yogi pages, and several sections of guidebook maps. There was no way I was going to be able to pinpoint our location. I didn't even know what section I was technically in.
"We are walking north on the PCT," I answered, trying to project confidence. "Where are you trying to go?"
"Oh good, we want to be on the PCT. Our car is at South Mathieu Lake," one of the women informed me.
I had no clue where that was, or what it looked like. One of the females assured me that we were heading in the right direction, so I attempted my best to lighten the situation with small talk. The little dog seemed to be the most confident of all of us, happily marching up the trail.

One of the three women really began to fall behind a mile or so up the trail. I couldn't tell if she was frustrated, tired, or didn't want to be rescued. I was feeling insecure. One of the females began to insist that they were OK, that they could make it out now. I still hadn't quite grasped the seriousness of the situation and relented.
"OK, well at least take my last Snickers." I said, giving the candy bar to the girl who was falling behind. Before departing I asked for a photo.
"This is going to be a great story for my blog!" I exclaimed stupidly.
The girls posed for a group photo, and then I said my goodbyes. Instantly, I began to beat myself up for asking for a photo. I also began to question whether I did the right thing by leaving them. At least Indie was behind us. If the girls got into trouble, he would be hiking up behind them in half an hour or so.

About five minutes after leaving the women behind, A caravan of search and rescue came galloping up the trail on horseback, decked out with emergency equipment, bright yellow jackets, and first aid.
"Did you see three college aged females this morning?" One of the crew asked somewhat frantically.
"Yes, they are a couple minutes down the trail!" I exclaimed.
"Thank God!" one of the crew members said, as they quickly sped off.

All of a sudden I felt the gravity of the situation. I continued to beat myself up the rest of the morning as I questioned whether or not I did the right thing. When I reached South Mathieu Lake, there were emergency vehicles everywhere in the parking lot. Cops talking on walkie talkies, tourists asking what was going on. I sheepishly avoided all of them, took a side trail, and filled up my water bottles at the lake. During this time, Indie had unknowingly hiked in front me, and was eating lunch at highway 242 at McKenzie Pass. I was in desperate need to talk. Trail therapy was in order.

Upon seeing Indie sitting along the highway, he greeted me by screaming, "YOU TRAIL PAPARAZZI!!!"
"NOOOOO!" was all I could say. "What did you hear???"
Indie proceeded to tell me how he met the girls after they had been rescued. They told him how I asked for their photo in their time of distress. I felt like a fool. However, I was not the only trail paparazzi that morning. You can see Indie's photos and account of the day here!


  1. Does this mean you missed a spur trail to the lake they were looking for on the way south? Or were they just that lost, heading south the entire time when they thought they were going north?

    I have to admit that I can't always reconstruct a mental map of the surrounding area, not even for places I've hiked before. It often takes a while, at least. People will ask where a trail goes, and I can't immediately tell them.

    In your defense, the girls didn't act like it was an emergency, and they were not in immediate need of medical attention. Another night on the trail wouldn't have been good, of course. Good thing they told someone where they were going hiking! Though, if I was you, I also would have kept a low profile at South Mathieu Lake. . . . ;D

    Funny comment about the dog being confident, by the way.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I wouldn't feel too bad about your actions. If these girls had made their way back to their car, as they said they were capable of, and there was no cavalry coming after them, this wouldn't even be a story. They were out for a single night, the rescue team just made all this seem more dramatic. Plus, unless you are raised or trained to approach people as being helpless despite their assurances that they are not, I don't think you can blame yourself for offering assistance and having it refused. We were raised to fend for ourselves, so if some says they can handle something, then we don't question it. If the girls were in danger and felt they were, it was up to them to take your offers of assistance. You were just a person passing through for the first time, completely unfamiliar with the gravity of their personal situation and the likelihood that more danger awaited. I think you did what any other hiker, who had spent months "just passing through" everywhere you went, would do. Offering food, directions and accompaniment, and notifying the passing rescue crews was really all you could do. It's not like these were missing toddlers who needed their hands held to prevent aimless wandering. I think Indie's description of your actions were accurate in the circumstance. You did the right thing!

  3. Skyhiker, the area where the girls were hiking had several trails. They were trying to do some sort of loop if I remember correctly, and ended up getting turned around. They didn't have maps either. When they couldn't figure out where they were and night began to fall, they hunkered down. Their lives were spared by the weather I think. Even though it was freezing cold, at least it wasn't raining, which it did do a couple days later.