Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 28, 2011

Mom, don’t read this

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:21 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.


  1. That had all the makings of a good adventure and even better stories.
    Too bad you figured it out so soon . . . ;-?
    Your Father

    Comment by leroque — May 28, 2011 @ 10:46 am | Reply

    • So soon? SO SOON?!?! It felt like EONS!! A 6-mile hike turning into a 9- or 10-mile hike is kind of awful!

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — May 29, 2011 @ 6:50 pm | Reply

  2. Don’t ever tell Mom not to read this…as she will. 🙂

    Comment by Chris — May 28, 2011 @ 11:12 am | Reply

    • Of course. But, then again, she reads everything I write, because she’s my mom…

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — May 29, 2011 @ 6:52 pm | Reply

  3. I’m starting to say, “I don’t know where I am” on a daily basis in my familiar surroundings!!!!! Glad you found your way!!!! I enjoy living your adventures with you!!!!

    Comment by Ginger — May 28, 2011 @ 11:20 am | Reply

  4. Glad you found your way. You have the best adventures and misadventures old friend.

    Comment by Kate Kresse — May 28, 2011 @ 11:22 am | Reply

  5. love your title……… you two are such putz’s

    Comment by john — May 28, 2011 @ 8:33 pm | Reply

    • Little brothers should try to be more encouraging.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — May 29, 2011 @ 6:51 pm | Reply

  6. You know anything with a title like that has to be a good one! During this very slow spring when looking for silver linings to this climate, your story made me think of a couple of times I’ve been confused in the woods, but could easily retrace my footsteps in the snow. Chris

    Comment by chris youngman — May 29, 2011 @ 5:58 am | Reply

  7. Putz… meant in a kind, loving way 🙂

    Comment by john — May 30, 2011 @ 6:47 am | Reply

  8. I used to think that compasses were infallible until: My backpacking buddy showed up with a compass that always pointed south. Until I put my expensive Silva next to a neodynium magnet. But here you have both a bad compass and bad GPS! I suggest you stay home when lightning if forecast…

    Comment by Alan M. — November 21, 2013 @ 11:58 am | Reply

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