Having taken the small taxi boat across Evolution Lake, our troop was ready to embark on the week-long wilderness trip that would provide a lifetime of memories. Comprised of several patrols, largely separated by age and experience, our group began to make headway into the California wilderness, following our maps and the loose trails carved by generations of previous hikers.
Even laden with the excess weight unable to be carried by the younger boys, my patrol – representing the oldest and generally most athletic of the bunch – pushed on ahead, taking few breaks and enjoying the feeling of being miles and miles from civilization. True to proper Boy Scout protocol, we stopped at every major trail fork for the rest of the troop to catch up, ensuring that nobody made a wrong turn or got separated. We didn’t have a scoutmaster with us, as they were largely tending to the younger patrols and suffering under the weight of their own laden packs, and were largely allowed to move at our own pace, trusting in our extensive outdoors and leadership experience.
Halfway through the first day, after several hours of solid hiking, we reached a large split in the road. Calmly waiting for the rest of our group, we took the opportunity to study our maps, examine local wildlife – very different from the California coast where we had all grown up – and take in the beauty of the Sierras. The second-eldest patrol arrived not long after, pushing themselves in an attempt to keep up with us. One of their fathers traveled with them, an experienced scoutmaster, and seeing an opportunity to get ahead they continued down the trail, against our suggestions that we wait for the troop.
The woodworking adage of “measure twice, cut once” also holds with orienteering and wilderness hikes – glancing at their map, they strode confidently over the ridge and out of sight. Some time later the rest of the troop arrived, and after a brief respite declared they were ready to proceed. The question of the missing scoutmaster and his son’s patrol came up, and we could do little but shake our heads and jerk our thumbs toward the hill they had crested, ignoring our advice.
In their haste they had chosen the wrong path.
Most of the afternoon was spent not making progress toward Evolution Valley itself, but rather attempting to find the lost patrol. They had plenty of provisions – it was day one of a week-long adventure after all – but in the era before cell phones and GPS, there was no sure way to know where they were without finding them. After an exhaustive search, and much snickering by my patrol, we finally found them standing in a farmer’s back-yard, having realized they were on the wrong path when they started crossing broken-down fences and seeing livestock. I have no doubt there was no small amount of internal conversation between the scoutmasters as how to avoid any similar “incidents” during the trip.
Though my friends and I were young, strapping men, carrying half our bodyweight in (other people’s) supplies took its toll, and when the rest of the troop circled up to make camp, cook dinner, and reflect on their first day in nature, my patrol laid out the ground tarp, secured our food high in a nearby tree in the bear-bag we had brought for trip, and went to sleep. To reduce weight none of us had brought a tent, but with the exhaustion of the day finally overtaking us, we were all but dead to the world until the morning sun hit our faces.
That’s when we discovered the remains of our week’s worth of provisions strewn about the campsite, having been thoroughly eaten by bears.
Header image taken by Dave’s Sierra Fishing, which provides a good overview of the landscape we encountered on our journey into the mountains.