PAT NEAL: Try not to get lost

Who says there is no good news these days?

A lost backpacker was found after four days by search and rescue teams made up of Olympic Mountain Rescue and Tacoma Mountain Rescue volunteers, National Park Service personnel, Washington State Search and Rescue Planning Unit and the Coast Guard helicopter crew that airlifted him to an Olympia hospital.

The search was conducted in the rugged high country, up the south fork of the Quinault River through an end-of-summer storm that brought high winds, lightning and 4 inches of rain.

Just camping in a monsoon like that can be a challenge, even if you have a blazing campfire burning.

While details have not emerged as to how the backpacker got lost, it’s easy to imagine how you can get turned around while hiking on a trail.

I blame the elk. Their trails look remarkably similar to the ones humans make.

Some elk trails have been carved into the landscape by centuries of seasonal migration from the high country to the lowlands and back again.

It’s easy to get confused between an elk trail and a man-made path, but elk trails all have one thing in common. They seem to disappear when you least expect it, leaving you somewhere in the woods with no idea how you got there.

Getting lost in the woods is a proud American tradition that goes back to before the days of Daniel Boone, who said, “I have never been lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.”

Back in the days of Daniel Boone, it was much easier to get lost in the wilderness since there was so much more wilderness to get lost in.

These days, there are more and more people getting lost in the wilderness, since there are so many more people.

The sad thing is that almost every year there are people who are lost and never found.

Jacob Gray disappeared on April 4, 2017, leaving his bicycle along the side of the Sol Duc Hot Springs Road, causing a massive search effort that covered hundreds of square miles. They found Gray’s remains Aug. 10, 2018 — 15 miles away at Hoh Lake.

How he crossed the Sol Duc and Bogachiel rivers and the many rain-swollen tributaries during a stretch of nasty wind and rain to get 5,000 feet up into avalanche country remains a mystery, and a lesson to us all.

With the autumn rains, we’re entering what is arguably the best time of year to get lost in the woods — mushroom season.

You walk through the brush with your eyes focused on the ground as you scurry from one mushroom to the other like a kid on an Easter egg hunt, until you realize you have no idea where you came from or how to get back.

None of that matters now as you see more mushrooms just over the hill and down the little gully where you cannot believe your eyes. You had no idea there could be this many mushrooms left on earth!

The mushroom fever has you in its grip. You are hopelessly lost. You try to retrace your steps, but the forest looks the same in every direction. As darkness descends, you walk faster in what you are sure is the wrong direction.

The best tip I can give to not get lost picking mushrooms is, don’t go mushroom picking.

If that doesn’t work for you, tell someone where you are going, when you’ll be back, and pack the 10 essentials for wilderness travel. Don’t get lost and make someone look for you.


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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