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”.
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.
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.