“Not all who wander are lost.” -J. R.R. Tolkien
(Note: But some are. The good news is that even if lost, the lucky ones will be found.)
My 40-year-old son was visiting me for the weekend. Since we both love hiking, we
decided to climb to Deception and Lake Peaks, located in Santa Fe National Forest, both above 12,000 feet. We had just one day available for the hike. This particular Saturday was iffy, threatening rain and cold mountain top temperatures. An early start was mandatory. Fortified by Starbucks, we drove to Santa Fe Ski Basin and were forging up Winsor Trail shortly after 7:30 a.m.
A few hours after embarking, we’d traversed Raven’s Ridge and were above the treeline. The temperature had dropped from 50 degrees to below 40. Wind picked up; Cloud level lowered. Reaching Lake Peak, which is just beyond Deception, involved scrambling over a rocky ledge. Because my son is stronger and faster, I told him that Deception would be my final destination. I’d wait while he went on to the more technical destination of Lake Peak. Then, when he’d gone the difficult extra half mile, he’d turn around, come back and we’d reunite forces.
He instructed me to wait on a boulder near the grove of trees next to the end of Raven’s Ridge and at the base of Deception. He’d be back, he promised, in 30 minutes or less. Though this seemed like a fine plan, that’s when the trouble began.
You might say it was my fault. Instead of just sitting on a boulder near the grove of trees, I decided to keep warm by temporarily joining some hikers who were headed toward Lake Peak. My plan was, after the 20-minute trek to keep warm, to take the same path down to the tree line and wait for my son.
At the top of Deception Peak, all paths are just slight demarcations in the rocky dirt, one resembling another. Shivering from the cold wind and realizing that it had been MORE than 30 minutes since I was to meet my son, I mistakenly started down a path that led to another ridge, NOT Raven’s Ridge. Thus began a scary interlude of searching. I tried my smart phone. No voice reception. Panicking, I decided to start sending texts. Here, transcribed, is our broken conversation….
ME: I’m here at the top
SON: Top of what? Went past treeline yelling and I didn’t see you
ME: I went back down and I’m headed toward the trees on the path…go down the path
ME: I;m headed right to the trees where you told me to wait…down the path
SON: I am already down a ways. Head down and I’ll wait
ME: Okay, I’m coming down
SON: Make sure you are on the right path. Stay on the ridge
I’m down about a half mile on but where it starts to go up again…
At this point, texting failed, and I was practically running, not at all sure I was headed toward the right landscape. When you’re lost in the wild, everything can begin to look alike.
Then a minor miracle! It came in the form of two other hikers, total strangers, who were there when I needed help. The first hiker was a man with a long white beard who looked as though he’d stepped from the last century.
“I’m headed toward Raven’s Ridge,” he said, after I’d explained my plight. Another five minutes and we were at the grove of trees where I’d been told to wait. I learned that the stranger’s name was Paul, then hugged and thanked him for being a Good Samaritan. He went on toward Lake Peak and I hurried toward the path that my son was already partially down. Another hiker appeared from nowhere, a young man named Jason and a few of his friends.
“Are you Elaine,” he called out.
“Yes, I’m sort of lost and I’m looking for my son.”
“He’s looking for you,” said the young man. He escorted me a half mile down the trail where my son, who’d hiked two extra miles, was awaiting. It turned out that Jason and his pals were doing field work to qualify for the local Search and Rescue Team. After thanking him profusely, I made a feeble joke:
“Well, at least I gave you a case study.”
My son was relieved but furious. As we hurried down the trail, it started to rain. “I
can’t leave you alone for a minute,” he grumbled. “You’re a terrible hiker.” Thoroughly chilled, we reached the car in record time. Fortunately, my son’s a forgiving soul and reneged on his decision never to hike with me again.
In retrospect, the episode reminded me of my adoption, of how I’d been lost but then found. It was fate that my birthmother was not able to be a parent. Figuratively and literally, she lost me. My adoptive parents, by a series of fortuitous events, found me and my brother and provided us with a stable home and good childhood. Above all, what I gained from this memorable day, was a sense of gratitude. Oh yes, and this as well: follow directions. and pay attention to the landscape.