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I Lost My Dog & Should Have Died - Part 1

The Set-Up

  • I’m setting out on a 2-night weekend trip in the rugged and beautiful Linnville Gorge.

  • I have been backpacking for 20+ years and am very familiar with Linnville Gorge.

  • I set out to hike a couple of trails I only know from a brief day hike and my maps.

  • I’m hiking solo with my dog and best bud, Dude.

  • I meticulously prepared for the trip

    • My backpack was packed so flawlessly, I had to show it off to my brother-in-law

    • This trip was a redo because a few weeks prior I lost my tent poles and had to pull the plug and return home.

  • I arrived and got me and Dude ready.

  • It had been raining all day and a cold front was coming in.

    • 40 degrees at the trailhead when I arrived.

    • Low for that night was a forecasted 18 degrees.

    • Left the truck around 2:45pm.

The Mistakes Begin

  • Route was Brushy Ridge Trail to a non-maintained bootleg trail.

    • 1.8 miles total.

    • I did not precheck my map before leaving the truck, because I was just there 3 weeks ago.

    • “I got this.” I arrogantly said to myself.

  • We missed our turnoff and took Brushy Ridge Trail all the way to the river.

    • No campsite here. In fact, there was a 20-30ft drop off to the Linnville River.

    • This had us going back up a steep incline .2 mi.

  • As we approached the side trailhead Dude protested and began heading back to the truck.

    • This is unusual for Dude. He usually walks so close behind me that I kick him in the chin 57 times a day.

    • He was not running away but stayed just far enough away from me that I could not touch him. Like he was trying to lead us back to the truck.

    • I had to take my pack off and eventually got him to come to me.

    • I was mad and frustrated at him.

    • We were losing daylight, wasting energy, and he was being disobedient.

    • I leashed him and drug him back to my pack and then to the bootleg trailhead. What a dick!

  • We Arrived At The Bootleg Trailhead.

    • I stopped for some water and got a cramp in my abs from trying to put my water bottle back in its pocket on my backpack.

    • The cramp would relax and for 10 minutes I tried to relieve it

    • I had .3mi down a steep decline to camp

I Lost The Trail

  • Because this is not a National Forest trail the US Parks Service does not maintain it.

  • This is not a new thing for me in the gorge. I just have not been down this specific trail before.

  • There are places where there is no trail due to falling trees or rocks, washout from rain, or forest fires.

  • In one of those places, I zigged when I should have zagged and lost the trail.

Then I Lost My Way

  • We were set to camp in a bend in the river which proved to be disorienting because you could hear and see the river moving on both sides of the ridge.

  • To be honest, I really don’t have a great sense of direction and rely on the map on my phone.

  • Once I got a little off-trail I could not find my way back and was unsure which direction was the right way.

  • I didn’t know it at the time, but I was only .1mi from camp

Stuck In The Bush

  • I quickly found myself in thick underbrush, rhododendron hell, and thorns. Lots of thorns.

  • It would take 5min to cover 20-25yds.

  • Dude was periodically protesting by stopping and refusing to listen to me. This is also not his normal behavior.

  • I had to go back and get him several times, wasting more energy and time.

  • I could not leash him because our terrain was so rugged, thick, rough, and steep (we were trying to descend the side of the gorge).

  • It was after 4pm and the sun would be setting in less than 2hrs.

  • We were both getting tired and losing daylight.

  • I was also taking major falls. Head over heels, rolling falls.

    • I injured my left ankle and banged my right fake knee pretty significantly.

    • I was soaking wet from sweat and the rain from earlier in the day.

    • The temperature was dropping fast and so was the sun (I’m just a little paranoid about the whole daylight thing, I know).

  • Every time I looked at my GPS I was unsure about which direction I was supposed to go. I changed my direction more than once.

    • Probably a combination of fatigue and delay with the GPS signal.

    • My brain was having trouble making sense out of things that would normally not be confusing.

  • Dude stopped and laid down at least 4 or 5 times. He was done.

  • Our packs kept getting hung up on all the thick nasty nature all around us.

  • I’m sorry for the profanity, but I kept thinking “we are fucked”.

Crunch Time

  • After 2 hours of fighting the forest, it was about 5:30pm and things were getting really serious.

  • I was begging Dude to stay with me.

  • I dropped a pin in my map on my phone as a point of reference and was very slowly crawling my way in the right direction to camp (off-trail).

  • I knew that if Dude kept stopping, I was going to have to make a very tough decision.

  • Lack of daylight, energy, water, and shelter was pushing me toward survival mode.

  • I was also now beginning to cramp in my arms and legs. Seriously?!

  • I was going to have to leave my dog and take care of myself. This was devastating.


  • At it happened. I went back to retrieve Dude one more time and he was not where I left him.

  • The decision was clear. Temp, Daylight, Exhaustion, Cramping, and Dude were leading me to make a tough decision. I had to leave my dog alone. I the forest.

  • Ironically, I thought I had found my way out. I could now see where I was going to be camping. I just had to figure out how to get there.

I Made It

  • I’m continually calling for Dude. Something that would not stop for the next 18 hours.

  • I knew the roar of the river was drowning out my voice.

  • I also knew that I was probably not going to just walk up to the campsite like I was walking into the grocery store. The terrain and shit l have been wrestling with were going to have a say in how I made it to camp.

  • I worked my way to a ledge just as the sun was setting. It was about a 20ft drop from where I was to the flat ground right by the river.

  • Exhausted and cramping I quickly decided to let myself side down the ledge facing it.

  • I grabbed what I could to slow myself down (roots, dirt, and shit) and let myself slide down what in essence was a small cliff.

  • I hit the rocky river ground hard. Off-balance from my pack and current physical condition caused me to fall and stumble dangerously close to the roaring, freezing river. I did not care. I was down.

  • I pulled myself together and staggered to my campsite like a cross between a drunken sailor and someone lost in the desert.

  • I dropped my pack and doubled over.

  • I was cut up, banged up, exhausted, fatigued, cramping, hungry, wet, dirty, relieved, and alone.

Camp Purgatory

  • I needed water, had to put up my shelter, cook food, hang food (keeping it away from critters), get out of my wet clothes, and I was cramping so bad I couldn't do any of it.

  • Every time my muscles were used I started cramping.

  • It took me over an hour to put up a tent that should have taken me 10 minutes to erect (1st time I ever wrote that word in a sentence).

  • I'm still calling for Dude.

  • As beat up as my outsides were, my heart was feeling at least that weak and broken down.

  • I got in some dry clothes and layered up. It was now dark and getting cold.

  • I managed to eat a protein bar and some trail mix

  • I used to last of my water to choke down my vitamins for the next day and ibuprofen

  • I smoked some ahhhh…, drank a few swallows of bourbon, and tried to relax.

  • With my body still cramping and worried about Dude, sleep was a long way off.

A long and lonely night

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