I shouldered my pack and started down the trail that skirted around the lake. On the west side of the lake, the trail immediately started up a steep and extremely washed out mountain pass. I took my time, pacing my breathing and myself but still could feel the burn in my legs as I plugged along up the trail. Finally after three hours of climbing, I was at the apex of the pass. As I looked down into the valley below, I could see the lake that I remembered seeing on the map and knew that the trail went towards it. I took a drink of water and gladly headed down the trail towards it.
About halfway down the mountain pass, the trail began to grow faint and eventually disappeared into a tangle of trees blown down in some windstorm. I bushwhacked around the pile looking for the trail to pick up again and couldn't find it. I pulled out my map again verifying that the trail did hike down towards the lake and pushed on. I had planned an eight-mile day the first day and had only gone two or three when an hour later I knew something was wrong. I was at the shore of the lake and could still find no signs of the trail. I was officially lost on day one of my 14 day backpacking trip and the weather was about ready to cut loose into a thunderstorm. I set down my pack, oriented my map on the ground with my compass, anchored it with rocks and studied where I had gone wrong.
After about ten minutes of tracing the route I should have taken with the visions of what I had seen, I finally found it. In my haste at the top of the pass, I hadn't noticed that the map showed the trail turning to the south and heading up higher onto the ridge before turning back to the west. I had immediately gone off the west side and stumbled down to a lake, but not the one that I had wanted. I had wanted to use my arms to help ease the packs load from my unconditioned hip bones so had began the hike with the map in my pocket. Normally I would have folded the map so that it only showed the section where I was at and stowed it in a waterproof plastic bag that I always kept in my hand so to follow along at all times. Now I was sitting here in the pouring rain with a tough choice. Do I hike all the way back up to the summit of the pass and figure out where I had gone wrong or bushwhack through about a mile of terrain until I crossed the trail that I knew was now somewhere to the south of me. I chose the latter.
It was already mid afternoon when I set out and immediately ran into countless tangled piles of trees blown down in some horrific and recent storm. Many had leaves that were still green. I had to push my way through, around and over them all the while trying to follow a bearing that would cross the trail. It was hot steamy work in the humidity following the rain and everything was extremely slippery from the moisture. It was late in the day when I finally stumbled out onto the trail, wet and exhausted. I hiked to the lake I thought I had been originally hiking towards and half as far as I had planned on hiking and called it a day. As I reflected on the day, I realized that I had started off with the wrong attitude and now had been set straight by Mother Nature that I was in her house and I had to play by her rules. I had to respect her rules or it was going to cost me. Fortunately my first lesson only cost me time and energy and not the ultimate price that it easily could have had I not been able to read a map that I should have been reading in the beginning.