It’s not every day that you manage to stay on the intended path. For better or worse, there just are days when your feet (and decision making skills) take you on the road less traveled or even the path-that-isn’t-a-road-but-rather-a-thicket-in-the-woods. This past Sunday the GRP skiers set out for a long run/hike on trails near Lake Willoughby. It had rained during the night and looked dismal outside as we drove away from Craftsbury, but the weather cleared up a little at the start and it looked to be a good day for a trail run, though overcast and cool. About half of the group seemed to have had a nice point-to-point run along the trail as planned, and the other half of us… well… we had somewhat more of an adventure.
Liz, Andrew, Pete, Jake and I ran together in a group, a little ways behind the others. I don’t think anyone else in our group of five had been on this trail before, and I had run across it only once a year ago with teammates who knew the trail well. So I had no memory of the intersections, only a vague sense of the terrain. Pepa printed out maps to help guide us from start to finish, which several of us carried, but the map didn’t label trail names and we didn’t exactly study it before setting out.
The map, with the planned route in blue, starting in the lower left corner, finishing in the upper right corner
Mostly, we just made some suspect collective decisions…you know the feeling you get, when something really shouldn’t be that difficult, so you make an impetuous decision after a quick discussion and then move on, pretty confident that everything will turn out just fine, because how hard could it be really? I know I had that kind of feeling, and also I’ll be the first to admit that my on-the-fly navigation skills are known to be pretty marginal. I wasn’t trying to be the one making decisions, but I did have the map. So we came to a 3-way intersection, with two signposts that both said “North Trail”, one sign with an arrow pointing right and the other pointing left. So we looked at the map, (ignored some very obvious facts, in retrospect), looked at the trail for muddy footprints and a sign of which way everyone else went, and chose to go left, based on a vague feeling that that was the correct way, but no sign of teammate footprints and not much of an idea where on the map corresponded to our location.
Location at this point, in the center of the map where the red line ends (started in the lower left corner)
We came to a second intersection, another 3-way, maybe fifteen minutes later. This one had a single signpost, with an arrow pointing left. Above the arrow, it had separate signs for Mt. Hor, Moose Mt Trail, and something else. We had been over Moose Mt already, so we didn’t think we wanted that trail, even though we knew we needed to go over Mt. Hor still. Another impetuous decision, we chose to turn right (away from Mt. Hor), which took us down a big hill and into more major-looking dirt roads.
Some deliberations in a hay field:
Jake, Liz, Pete try to figure out where we are
A scenic hayfield that we ought not to have run to
After the fact, this is where I think the field was (upper end of the red line)
At this point, we took out my cell phone and tried to use it to look at Google Maps, but the service was too slow for it to tell us our location. We’d only been running for about 1.5 hours of the planned 3-3.5 hours, so it wasn’t nearly time to call Pepa yet and report being lost. Much to everyone’s annoyance, we made a collective decision that we needed to retrace our steps back to the previous intersection, up the big hill. There was some debate about what the signs had said at that intersection, and also a debate about whether we needed to backtrack just one intersection or two. We backtracked just one and headed towards Mt. Hor, we thought.
At this point, we ran this path
It could have turned out all right, circling back on our path like that, had we realized we were circling and thus found the single-track trail we’d run on before. We were running towards Mt. Hor, yet there wasn’t a sign to put us on the trail to continue to Mt. Hor. We most definitely didn’t know we had made a loop… oops. Instead we hopped onto some winter snowmachine trail/roads, thinking they might lead us back to the trail network somehow. Finally I pulled out my phone and looked at its compass, and I’m not sure about my teammates but my internal compass was completely off, really I had no idea which direction was north. Actual north was basically back the way we had come, not a promising fact when we should have been heading mostly east on the hike. So an attempt at the cell phone GPS again, and this time it worked… meanwhile Jake and Liz got a bit impatient and ran off down the trail. Andrew, Pete and I waited for them for a bit, then continued in our own direction on a smaller trail, resorting to finding Rt 5, a major road that passed the starting point of our hike, rather than trying to get to the original pick-up destination at all. As it turned out, the main trail was probably a faster way to get to the road, though ours was shorter “as the crow flies.”
Jake and Liz’s adventure involved hitchhiking, speed running to a point they thought they might find the van, then borrowing a stranger’s phone to call Craftsbury. A message on Ethan’s phone let Pepa know where to find them, and they were very relieved when the van pulled up.
Andrew, Pete and I went swamping. On our shortest-line path, we found a pond in between us and the road, so we skirted around it, but it had a really big marshy section on the end. First there was trudging ankle-to-calf deep in mud and water, dodging cattails and climbing over dead trees. Then we reached a channel of water, with a choice of going around, which would be a substantial distance and involve lots more mud, or going through. Since we were wet already, but not cold, the obvious choice was to go through, saving time and having a bit of fun. Yes, fun! My motto in these situations is basically, “you just have to keep laughing.” Situations like these can go downhill quickly, if you’re cold, hungry, out for too long, have no idea where you are, or have no hope of rescue, but since we weren’t in any of those categories, it was still ridiculous fun. Pete and Andrew waded the channel while I stood on the bank, laughing, encouraging, and documenting the crossing, fairly certain that one of them was going to take a step and suddenly plunge neck-deep into the mucky water. Luckily for all of us, that didn’t happen, it was only waist deep!
Diverging paths back to Rt 5
Andrew midway through the swamp
Just a few minutes later the three of us reached the road and before too long Pepa drove up, and we were safely rescued from our adventure, only about 3 hours 45 minutes after we’d started, and Jake and Liz were rescued shortly after too.
That afternoon, as soon as I got back to the house in Craftsbury, I pulled up a map of the area on Google, and took out the map I’d been carrying, and sat down to figure out where we went wrong. (Hence this description of our path and all the map route pictures… part of my way of teaching myself not to do this again, maybe?) The route we should have taken looks so obvious after contemplating the map and the turns we took, but it certainly didn’t seem straightforward out on the trail, when one bad turn compounded into confusion and a series of mistakes.
By the time we returned to Craftsbury, a little late for lunch, everyone there seemed to know about our little fiasco. Now you know the story too, if you’ve had the patience to get all the way through this tale!