Maddie’s and my eyes met as she asked, “Should we look at the map again?” We had been hiking up-canyon for a considerable time and were encountering cattails and closing-in canyon walls. It did not feel familiar to either of us, but we were following the trickle of water and it seemed that we should be getting closer to the truck. We both knew we weren’t.
I had borrowed a GPS from another vehicle that morning, checked and replaced its batteries before we started out, and programmed several of our nest coordinates into it. When we later tried to use it to find the first nest of the day, it did not seem to be keeping time or giving correct distances. Something was funky with its satellite receiver.
Maddie pulled out her compass and we compared it to the shadows being cast by the afternoon sun. The compass was showing it setting in the northeast. The compass was bad. Really bad.
We were now left to our own devices high up in Courthouse Wash (I now know), five miles from our truck. We had a couple of maps, the sun, the stream flow direction, and our own memories. I will spare you the emotional details, but let me just say that I had plenty of time to rehearse in my brain what I might have to say over the radio. (No matter how it’s phrased, “I don’t know where I am” is downright humiliating when all of Grand County can hear you.)
I’ll jump to what saved the day: Tricia’s aerial map. There was an oddly-shaped rock formation at the confluence of two critical washes, but no topographic map would show that. My boss has a penchant for aerial maps and I am supremely glad she does. The square-nosed corner cliff soothed my nerves and I announced confidently to Maddie that we should turn right and go up this canyon. She wasn’t so sure.
Within ten minutes the familiarity of Seven Mile Wash sunk in; we both knew we were where we needed to be. High fives were happily exchanged, and the long hike out began. I sucked down the last of my water about a half mile from the truck, swallowing my pride with each gulp, and humbly apologized to Maddie. Her wonderful attitude (“The unknown simply adds drama to the adventure! And think of the good stories!”) made her an exceptional getting-lost companion.
It took me about 24 hours to get over the physical and emotional toll of my navigational mishap. I need to go back soon and find the nests with a good GPS. Yes — I have a game plan to prevent future mis-adventures.