Reality Check - Dispelling a Myth (reposted article from our paper newletter, the Duff) by Henry P. Young June 1998 (by )

After getting rained out on this year's annual Pipi camping foray, Phil and I decided to return several weeks later based on reports from friend of good hunting.  We drove up Friday evening, June 5, arriving at Pipi campground about 10:30 PM.   First things first, we each had a beer.  Then we made a minimal camp.  We decided that since we could see the moon through the clouds that it wouldn’t rain and didn’t set up the tent.  Phil set out his tarp and sleeping bag at the base of a large pine.  I set my gear down in the open.

On a trip to the restroom I found three Boletus edulis with my flashlight!  We both took this as a good sign and planned on checking the campground in the morning.  Before dawn I awoke to a clear sky and stars.  Not long after, with the first sounds of morning, birdsong greeting us, the day began.  With daylight we had coffee and sweet rolls and headed for the burn.

Burns, whether controlled burns or forest fires, are good places to hunt morels in the Sierra Nevada.  This was a controlled burn from the previous year.   Arriving at the burn, Phil recommended a road I was unfamiliar with, that ran along the ridge above the burn.  The road I knew as a few hundred yards below the ridge.   This road was more like a stream bed than a road.   The surface was “gravel” composed of 3-6” rocks.  The lower road was earthen and smoother.  With the burn bounded by the two roads we had good reference points for knowing where we were in relation to the truck.  We would hunt up and down the slope and move down the road, driving the truck up a few hundred yards at a time.

At the first likely spot we looked, we found a few fresh morels in what I call bear clover (not sure of the species) a habitat where neither of us had previously found any fungi.  Encouraged, we kept moving up the ridge, stopping, checking, and collecting a few here and there.  We found good habitat after a couple of hours and collected several pounds of morels each.   At about 11:30 AM we broke for lunch.  Phil had those obnoxious sardines in hot sauce, cheese, pickles, and potato chips.  “Have you had the fat free chips?”, he asked.  “Try some, they’re really good”.  I did, not bad.  I had my usual chub of salami, cheese, bread and some fruit.  Of course both of us had beer.

While we had lunch we observed the skyline and Phil noticed a coolness in the air that presaged a storm.  Since we had heard the weather prediction, thunderstorms starting late Saturday for the weekend we were not surprised and agreed to get off that road before the rain started.   After lunch we went back for more morels.  At one point Phil chose to go further down the slope.   Starting to tire, I decided to head back up slope to the truck.  As I went, I intentionally drifted east or to my right thinking to search areas we hadn’t been in before I got to the road.  I expected to come out on the road above the truck and just walked down to the truck.   When I got to the ridge there was the road and a nice patch of morels which I picked.  I then started down the road to the truck but quickly realized that I was on a different road than the ridge road the truck was on.   This road led down between two ridges.  “How did this happen?”, I asked myself.   As I had worked my way up the hill I kept the ridge in sight and felt that I was still below the ridge road.  What I did not know was that the ridge road ended a short distance from the truck and I had gone past that point before reaching the ridge.   The road I was on was on the next ridge over.

It was then about 2PM and I wasn’t worried about time to find my way back yet.  Thinking to retrace my path, I returned to the last morel patch and tried to figure which way led back the way I had come.  I realized that I had gotten turned around and no longer knew which way to go.  Have you ever walked down a trail you know, searching for mushrooms you had missed?  What was different?  Your perspective?  So was mine, I could not recognize ground I covered from a different direction.  I was lost.  In the hope that I was wrong, I started up the ridge road I was on.  I thought that if I was on the right road I’d get to the truck in a few minutes.  Five minutes became ten, then fifteen, at which point I turned around and started back to the morel patch.

By this time I was fatigued and not thinking clearly.  I had gone out wearing just a tee shirt and jeans, leaving my fanny pack with emergency supplies in the truck.  I had no food and no water.  As I walked, and I walk at a fast pace, I noticed that my hands were turning blue.  I assumed that it was from oxygen deprivation, since the day was still warm and I was not chilled, and I stopped to catch my breath.  After that I would walk for 24-40 paces, stop, and breath ten times and resume walking.

When I got back to the morel patch reference point I spent about fifteen more minutes frantically trying to figure which way to go.  As I tried to hike through the woods, off road I got light headed and dizzy, my legs cramping.  I returned to the road and decided on the direction that led out to North-South Road and headed down it.  After what seemed to be a couple of miles, I decided that I had gone too far and was going in the wrong direction.  I turned around thinking that I should have followed one of the first rules when lost, say put.  I wanted to get back to the last morel patch because I knew it was within a few hundred yards of the truck and Phil would at some point honk the horn on the truck and I could follow the sound back.  Then it started raining.

Meanwhile Phil was wondering where I was since we had agreed to get out before the rain started.  After I had left him he hunted down the slope and back up.   When he got to the truck and I wasn’t there he just figured that I was still hunting elsewhere so he went back out again.  Returning the second time and finding that I still wasn’t there he got concerned.  He started honking the horn and calling out to me.   When he got no response he became worried that I might be hurt and unable to respond.  He then searched the slope we had been hunting, up and down, side to side.   Since I had not gotten lost in the twelve years we’ve hunted together, he held firm in his mind, “Henry doesn’t get lost”.  So the only other explanation for my absence was that I was hurt.   When it started raining he knew that something must be wrong and he got his rain gear on and hiked out to North-South Road, where some horsemen were camped.  This was because I had the truck keys and had not given him a duplicate since we were not locking the truck.

He explained the situation to them and one of them gave him a ride to the nearest phone at Pipi campground to call for help.  Phil started by called 911, but they could not connect him to the ranger search and rescue team.  He finally got the search and rescue phone number and called direct.  The effort to find me, beyond Phil’s, had begun.  It was a frustratingly slow start for Phil as it took over an hour to get anyone else into the woods to search.  He and two sheriff’s deputies finally got back out to where the truck was and re-searched the slope we had been hunting on.  By then it was 5:30PM and Phil was tiring from all of the hiking he had done that day but he still moved up and down the slope easier and faster than the two deputies half his age.

With darkness approaching, the deputies call off the search in the woods and explained to Phil that they would drive the roads with lights and sirens on to give me something to hone in on.   At this point Phil said, “Aren’t you going to keep looking?  Give me a light and I will.”  “No.  We don’t need two missing persons.”  “But I’m telling you, Henry doesn’t get lost.  He must be hurt and down in this rain he won’t survive the night.”  “We’re going to drive the roads.  You stay with the truck in case he shows up.”  “What are you going to do about me?”,  Phil asked.  “Can’t you sleep in the back of the truck?”  “No, it’s wet and full of gear.”

When the rain started I knew that I had to make a shelter and hope that a rescue effort would start soon.  I needed shelter from the rain and the cold of night.  I chose a cedar tree to build a lean-to against.  I chose the cedar because of its thick canopy, hoping it would help shed the rain.  I started building the lean-to with eight foot branches about 3 inches in diameter.  I leaned three main poles against the tree and started cutting green boughs from other trees to layer over the poles.  I then added pine duff and more boughs.  Then two of the poles collapsed and all I had was a pile of debris.

I fished out the poles, moved the boughs and duff out of the way and started over.  I made the second attempt a bit smaller than the first, but it too collapsed.

At that point, I remembered that for heat retention, smaller is better.  My third attempt to build a lean-to was small, the poles only touching the tree about three feet up.  Just enough so that sitting with my back to the tree I had just enough room.  This time it worked.  I piled and gathered and piled until at most all I could see when looking out was a few specks of daylight.  I left one side open so I could get in and out.  One side kept collapsing which let the breeze flow through – finally though it stabilized.  It helped to drape green branches over the doorway to reduce airflow.  By then I was soaked to the skin and my activity and adrenaline were not enough to keep me warm so I stuffed my T-shirt with pine needles for insulation.  Around 4PM I reached the point of exhaustion and chill that I could not work on my lean-to any longer, so I crawled in to wait.

After a while I started thinking, “There’s still lots of daylight, the rain is letting up, I could walk for ½ hour trying to get back, and if not, return to the shelter.”  I crawled out of my shelter, picked up my basket and started walking.  I reached a dirt bike road going up a short distance from my shelter and started up it.  My legs protested with trembling and cramps.  My head spun.  “You idiot, get back to your shelter.”  I did.

Sitting in my little lean-to, I had a lot of time to think over all of the things I could or should have done.  The first and most obvious was that I should have worn my fanny pack.  Had I done so, I would have been warm and dry in my shelter rather than cold and soaked to the skin.  Being tired, I should have just gone to the truck instead of hunting more, as anyone who knows me is aware I wear a bandana to keep the sweat out of my eyes.  I took it off and squeezed as much of water out of it as I could.  I then retied it in triangular fashion over my head to help retain some body heat.  A short while later I reached up and felt it, it was dry!  If you are cold, cover your head.  You lose a lot of body heat out the top of your head and a hat will help retain it.

I wondered what Phil was thinking and doing.  I hoped he’d realized I was lost by this time and had gone for help.  I shivered and rubbed my arms, stuffed my shirt with more pine needles and waited for dark.

A while before dark I did something I hadn’t done in years.  I said a prayer.  This was different though.  I prayed to my mother who had died just over two weeks ago on May 20.  I prayed to her because at her funeral service, Father Mike urged us to when we were in a time of need.   It was short and simple, “Ma, please send someone to find your son”.  With darkness I started the long wait for the return of daylight. 

After calling for search and rescue, Phil called home to have his wife Margaret pass the word that I was missing to Marje, my wife.  Marje was spending her afternoon shopping.  About the time it started raining on me she started feeling uneasy.  At 4PM a voice inside and “Go home, now!”.  So she did.  Since Phil or I hadn’t called to say we’d be back in time for dinner, Marge made dinner plans with a friend.   Then Margaret called with the news that I was missing.  Marge’s concern was the same as Phil’s.  “Henry doesn’t get lost, so he must be hurt.”

Two El Dorado Park Rangers arrived on the scene and following directions headed to where my truck was.  Whether the directions were inaccurate or in the darkness they missed the second road to the right I don’t know.  They wound up taking the third road right.

Sitting shivering, thinking, fearing the night and hypothermia, I heard the sound of a motor vehicle.  Turning toward the sound I saw headlights and spotlights round a bend in the road.  I was instantly out of the shelter shouting and whistling to get their attention.  The vehicle started down a side road away from me when I hear a woman’s voice say, “Where are you?”.  I was thinking, “Come up the road not down.”, but all I could shout was “Up, up, up.”   They understood and drove up to where I was.  I had been found.  Getting out of the vehicle someone noticed my lean-to and said, “Built yourself a shelter, smart move.”  At that point I was untucking my shirt and dumping out the pine needles.  I must have been a sight.  “What are the pine needles for?”  “Insulation.”  “Another smart move.”  They made room for me in the truck, gave me the front passenger seat and cranked up the heat.

The myth?  Henry doesn’t get lost; dispelled.

Henry got lost


Now read  Phil's full version

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