Lost : The Companion's View (by )

Now that you have read Henry’s account of being lost in the wood, I’ll tell you my side of the story as the companion and the various thought that prompted my actions.  Henry and I had driven up Friday night, slept on the ground and had risen early for a full day of hunting.   The plan was to first look for morel at the burn north of Pipi Valley campground and then look for boletes on the way home that evening.  We spent the majority of the day walking up and down the steep hillside between the two roads that bordered the burn we were hunting.   We had been having mixed success in finding morels, but overall we were doing very well.  At lunch, we had noted how quickly the predicted stormy weather was coming in.  We also talked about the need to leave the area before it started raining since the road we were on was in such poor condition.

We had gone out on another leg of the search, splitting up, as is usual for us.  A little later we met again halfway down the ridge (again, as is usual for us) and discussed our “plans”.  I was going to go down to the road below the burn and Henry was going to work his way further east at the same elevation.   After working down the slope and finding little worth keeping me there, I worked my way back up, slowly moving eastward as well.   By this time the wind had picked up and it was getting noticeably cooler.  I was still picking lots of nice fresh morels but I heard some distant thunder and decided that it was time to get back to the truck and get out of there.  I worked slowly back up the steep ridge, packing I went.

Something seem wrong about the direction I was going.  I felt like I was going too far east and needed to move more to the west.   Even with that, I found that I was at least half a mile east of the truck.  When I got back, Henry was not there.  That really did not concern me since it is not unusual for Henry to be the last one in.  I dropped off my haul of morels and went back out on a short loop to kill some time waiting for Henry.

By now, the thunder was getting more intense, frequent and close.   When I returned, Henry still was not back.  Now I was concerned!  With the weather deteriorating rapidly, I knew something was wrong from our earlier discussions about departing before the rains.  I dropped off my basket and went to the area where we had met in the woods and searched the entire region east of there, both up and down that ridge.   We have long-established calls, whistles, etc. that we use to “communicate” and I was using them but with no answers.  I made my way back to the truck, hoping of course that Henry would be there.   No such luck.   That was the crucial decision point:  do I assume that he is just really slow in getting back or do I assume the worst?  Given the previous discussions, I made the fairly simple decision that something was wrong.

At that point, it was about 4:00 and I knew that I need more people to cover the area where he might possibly be.  I never for a second thought that he was lost; I was convinced that he was hurt and unable to answer my signals.  Henry and I had hunted together for many years and never in all those years had he ever been lost, and that was in parts of the world where it was much more likely to get lost.   Remember that the area we were hunting was a slope between two roads:  impossible to get lost, right?!  Go uphill, hit a road, go downhill, hit a road – no problem; therefore no compass, no survival gear, no water and no extra clothes in case of bad weather.   All that went through my mind in a flash and formed the basis of my decision to walk out and get help.
I had to walk since Henry had driven and he had the keys.  (Lesson #1: Take a spare set of key and give it to your hunting partner)  I knew that he needed to be found before dark and for that I needed help.  Just as I wrote a note (just in case he DID come back late), the heavens opened with a vengeance.   The next five hours were really frustrating since it took a long time for the search and rescue team to mobilize and get there from Placerville. 

All this time it was pouring rain and I was envisioning Henry in a heap somewhere, in a T-shirt, freezing.  Once the authorities were involved, I was not allowed to go back out to hunt (this was REALLY frustrating).  I did take a couple of El Dorado County Sheriff deputies out in a search right at nightfall, only to have them announce that they would take up the search the next morning since they didn’t search the woods after dark.   Their “plan” (standard issue, I guess) was to drive the roads with lights and sirens – a fine plan if some is lost, warm and can get around to find the road again.  Of course, I was jumping up and down trying to get through to those guys that all of that was worthless since he would already have come out if he could since he NEVER gets lost.  I really believed that unless we continued to search through the night, by morning he would not have survived.   My frustration level was really going off-scale and I started second-guessing my decision to get help in the first place.  I felt like I had just wasted all the daylight left in the day and had nothing to show for it.  If only I had continued to search by myself, I would have a least felt like I was doing something positive.   All of that ended abruptly when I heard that radio call from the search vehicle that had gone off in the wrong direction but was successful in finding him.

“Lost?  What do you mean, he’s lost?  You mean he isn’t hurt?”  I had all these mixed emotions going at once:  relief as well as disbelief that he really was actually lost and that they had actually found him.   The fact that he was found strictly by accident only adds to the incredulity of it all.  I must say that I really was impressed to see that Henry had come out with his basket – full of morels.   But, you know, we never did have time to go look for boletes.