PAT NEAL: A legend of the lost

THIS HAS BEEN a banner year for lost and injured hikers.

As of Labor Day, 71 people were rescued or recovered from Olympic National Park.

That’s a big job.

Lost people could save a truckload of trouble if they’d just tell someone where they are going and when they’re coming back.

Carry the 10 essentials of wilderness survival which include a firestarter and something to drink, eat, wear, navigate, communicate and survive in one of the toughest environments on Earth — the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula.

We are coming up to one of the best times to get lost, elk hunting season.

Gone hunting

Hunters are focused on the elk to the point where you ignore everything else until it starts getting dark, which can be at 3 in the afternoon on a stormy day.

There’s the story of three elk hunters who took off at daylight on opening day of elk season, Nov. 4, 1974, up the Sams River, a tributary of the Queets.

Two of the hunters, a father and son, got lost and stayed that way until rescued Nov. 7.

This pair of elk hunters did not have the recommended 10 essentials for wilderness survival. All they had a was little cardboard box of raisins like you’d give out at Halloween, which they rationed by eating four per day.

The first day they became lost in a canyon with night coming on.

Their failed efforts to build a fire resulted in what they described as one long night. On the second day they decided that since all rivers flowed west into the Pacific Ocean, they would follow a stream.

That was until they found themselves at the bottom of an impassable gorge where darkness caught them once again.

Luckily, they found a snag that would burn and were able to dry out their clothes on one side while the rain soaked the other. This was another long night.

On the third day they made their way out of the gorge and into a swamp. By this time, it was getting dark again.

They found some blown down timber that had a dry spot underneath where they built a fire and warmed up for the first time since they were lost.

That’s when the mental and physical effects of the ordeal caught up with the father.

He began shaking. He couldn’t sleep. He said his heart felt strange. He knew time was running out for them.

He described his state of exhaustion where he could only go ten steps until he had to lean against a tree and try not to go to sleep.

They heard voices in the trees and thought the babbling creeks were talking to them.

Then they heard a shot on a ridge above them.

Howard Rotter and Cliff Hay, Clearwater loggers who had hunted and logged the country, had been alerted by a park ranger who asked for help. He got it.

Howard and Cliff strapped on their pistols and took off through the woods firing signal shots until they heard an answer from the lost hunters.

Howard yelled at the pair to stay put.

The father tried to walk toward Howard but he was in such a state of confusion he walked off in the opposite direction.

Luckily, Dad could not outrun the loggers.

They gave the lost elk hunters some candy bars and hiked them up the ridge to a road where the rest of the search and rescue crew gave them dry clothes, hot coffee and a helicopter ride to a hospital in Tacoma.

They did not get an elk.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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