Ah, life on the trail and in the mountains. It’s beautiful, it’s challenging, it’s…whoops, not supposed to go that way!? If you love the outdoors, you’ve undoubtedly run into scenarios where your adventure hasn’t gone exactly as planned.
You forget to bring an essential piece of gear, wildlife intervenes in unexpected ways, or the weather, trail, adventure partner, or whatever just doesn’t cooperate. Luckily, these small mishaps can most often be remedied and then embarrassingly (yet lovingly, of course) remembered. Here are 10 stories from adventurers whose mishaps have passed the test of time and turned into legendary tales (friend ribbing) to be told over a campfire, again and again.
1. Always Have a Second Set of Eyes- Marcus Woolf, Alabama
On a warm day in early spring, I drove to the end of Hog Jowl Road and hit the trail for an overnight hike. I was four miles into the backcountry when I paused for a snack and a large bee landed on my temple. I was so startled that I quickly swiped at it. Unfortunately, my fingers hooked my eyeglasses, which went sailing through the air. Instantly, the world was a blur, and though I peered in the direction where I believed my glasses landed, all I saw was dense forest and knee-high underbrush. I had flung the proverbial needle into the haystack.
I removed my pack to retrieve my backup glasses or extra contact lenses, but I hadn’t packed them. To make matters worse, I had gotten a very late start to my hike, and daylight was fading. I estimated that the sun would set in less than two hours. As I tried to remain calm and determine the best course of action, I recalled a lesson from leadership training in the Army:
You don’t have to make the right decision, but you do have to make a decision and do it promptly.
I was able to get a cell phone signal and called my friend and fellow writer Michael Hodgson, who was the most knowledgeable outdoor adventurer I knew. Over the years, he had negotiated plenty of difficult situations in the wild. He advised me to don my headlamp and scan the ground methodically in a grid pattern. If by chance my glasses had landed in the immediate vicinity, they would reflect the light from the headlamp. I got down on my hands and knees and started searching. After a few minutes, I hadn’t found the glasses and realized I was crawling in a patch of poison ivy.
I sprang to my feet and dove into my pack to retrieve a large Nalgene bottle full of water with which I immediately doused my legs and washed my hands to limit the effects of the poisonous plant. In my haste, I used a great deal of my drinking water, so now I was blind and facing possible dehydration.
At this point, I decided I should exit the woods before I did any more damage. I called my parents, who lived two hours away, and asked them to meet me at the trailhead—I needed one of them to drive my car home, as I was too visually impaired.
After the call, I held my GPS a few inches from my face and used the digital map to stumble back to my car. I arrived at dusk and breathed a sigh of relief when the headlights of my parents’ car appeared in the darkness. I will never again hike without backup eyewear. You need to be prepared, especially when you leave civilization behind for that long hike off Hog Jowl Road.
Lesson : It’s helpful to be able to see when you are hiking.
2. Please Pass the Applesauce, Amy Klinger, Utah
My husband and I met on a whitewater rafting trip he was guiding through the University of Utah when I was a grad student there. I must have successfully duped him into thinking I was an experienced outdoorswoman because he invited me on an overnight backpacking trip to Mystery Canyon in Zion with a couple of friends. I had never been on this extensive a trip before.
He gave little guidance on what to bring for food other than lots of portable snacks. So I packed sandwiches, granola bars, and trail mix, the usual suspects, but also opted for a 6-pack of single-serve cups of applesauce, thinking they could withstand getting jostled around. It was a total newbie move and the group ribbed me well for adding 1.5 pounds of applesauce to a pack that was already heavier than anything I’d carried on my back for more than 30 feet.
When we arrived at camp that night with low water supplies and the realization that there were no springs in the area, my applesauce suddenly became a prized possession. I savored every spoon scrape of my Mott’s cup and juice at the bottom before responding to my groups’ eager inquiries of “Mind sharing?”
Lesson : Think twice before ribbing the newbie, you may need their applesauce.
3. Ice, Ice Baby, Tana Hoffman, Wyoming
A few years back six girls and I skinned up to a mountain hut for a birthday weekend celebration. Unbeknownst to me they packed and carried in a 6-pack of Smirnoff Ice between them. I had no idea they had these and they “iced” me over and over again—one in the outhouse, one in the tinder box, one under my pillow. I never expected it because those are such a heavy thing to pack and carry.
Lesson : Never underestimate how far your friends will go for a laugh at your expense.
4. Tasty Tent, James Dziezynski, Colorado
Animals have a way of adding an interesting element to outdoor adventures. On two separate occasions, thirsty creatures thwarted my plans.
My wife and I were sleeping in our tent in Crested Butte. At around one in the morning, we heard rustling in the leaves outside that kept getting closer and closer. So close in fact that the fabric of the tent started pushing in a little bit, softly at first, then with greater force. We were both wide awake at this point. In a moment of extreme bravery, I decided to put on my headlamp, jump out of the tent, and confront the monster with the only weapon I had, my hiking pole. I quietly unzipped the tent…1.. 2.. 3 and LEAPT OUT WITH A YELL!! My headlamp illuminated the sweetest, smallest little deer licking the dew off our tent. My dramatic appearance didn’t even rattle it, it just went on licking the tent.
In stark contrast to this sweet moment, was a horrible day I had trying to climb Mount Powell in Colorado. I got stormed off, pushed into a gully, had to walk through a swamp, and ended up covering 17 miles just to get back to camp. When I got there (still soaking as it rained all day), I couldn’t go into my dry tent because a huge moose was licking the water off the tent fly. So… for like an hour, I had to sit and shiver under a tree waiting for it to leave.
Lesson : When an animal is thirsty, let it drink.
5. Lucky Day, Lou Dzierzak, Minnesota
I was about two days out on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters when I came to my island campsite late on a cold rainy night. Because of the weather, I rushed to set-up my tent so I could warm up and dry out. Though the rest of the night continued to be rainy, I woke up to a beautiful morning. I packed up and headed down to shore to start my paddling for the day, but when I got there, no boat. Gone! My head was spinning. Where did I pull it up? I scrambled to all sides of the small island looking for a handbuilt canoe with woodstrip construction (of course it would blend in with forest). It was nowhere.
I sat on the shoreline rocks and pondered going for a big lake swim to see what I could see. Luckily, about two or three hours later another canoe came into sight. He was towing my boat. He had found it beached around the next bay. I gave a very sheepish thank you and a huge sigh of relief (he had quite a chuckle). Whew.
Lesson : Boats will float away if you don’t pull them up on the bank.
7. Leave Breadcrumbs, Kristine O’Malley, Montana
My husband and I were winter camping in Montana and snowshoed into a really remote site with another couple and our dogs. It felt like we hiked in miles, but not really sure as snow tends to slow progress down. Anyway, we hiked for hours and finally found a nice spot in the middle of a bunch of pine trees—it was completely protected from all the elements. We spent the night having a great time partying and eating with no worries.
We woke up the next morning still having a great time. We ate well and before we left for our hike out we made sure to eat all our extra food to lighten the load. As we exited the pine trees we noticed it had snowed all night—we had no idea! As we looked for our tracks to lead us out, we realized they were gone. We had no idea which way we entered or where we had come from. Remember, we had no food and little drink left.
Thank goodness my husband has an amazing sense of direction and we finally found our trail markers and made it out. It was a close call and a situation that could have gone downhill quickly. It’s not quite funny, but an experience none of us will never forget.
Lesson : Snow fills in footprints.
8. Kismet, Joanna Heidkamp, Georgia
In December 2006, my husband and I headed out on a three-day kayak tour around Cumberland Island, GA. At the put-in on the St. Mary’s River, we carefully went through our checklist—food, camping gear, paddle equipment, etc, and loaded our boats. It was a long long paddle down the St Mary’s, across the Intercoastal Waterway, and through the miles of grassy marshes that surround the north end of Cumberland. By the time we got our tent set up, we were famished and ready for a hearty supper. We quickly realized we had somehow forgotten to pack our stove. It was a very dry winter, so there was a strict no-fire policy. And it was a remote campsite…on Christmas Eve. There was no one in sight. Even worse than a cold dinner was the prospect of no coffee in the morning.
And then, another kayak camper came down the trail. He told us he had packed all his gear, except a pot. Obviously we joined forces.
Lesson : Apparently you should check your list thrice.
8. Captain Morgan’s, Nathan Jarvi, Maine
It was autumn and we were hiking Katahdin on the last weekend before the mountain closes down and goes to permit hiking only for the winter. Needless to say, it was a little chilly, about 40 degrees, and the weather was overcast and a bit windy. When we got to the hardest part of the hike, the Knife Edge Trail, the winds picked up and rime ice was forming on the rocks. Some of our party turned to go back down at this point because Knife Edge was a bit sketchy. Myself and a couple of friends were determined to go on.
In celebration of making it this far and to commemorate the moment before we headed out onto the Knife Edge Trail, I thought it would be funny (and a perfect photo opp) to pose Captain-Morgan’s-style. As I picked my foot up to place it on the large boulder in front of me I heard a loud riiiiiipppppp….. My pants had split.
There I was, 4,902 feet up on Pamola Peak at the beginning of the hardest part of the hike up Katahdin with a huge hole in my pants and so much cold air rushing in things started to get quite uncomfortable. I couldn’t continue the hike like this, but there was no way I was turning around, so I found a big rock to hide behind as best I could, dropped trow, and changed into an extra pair of shell pants I had in my pack.
Lesson : If you are hiking Knife Edge Trail and see someone pulling down their pants, look away. This is not the view you came for.
9. Don’t Get Bagged On, Eric Belleville, Vermont
A couple of friends and I decided to go camping at a really cool spot where we could do some off-roading in their jeep and then set up camp not far off the trail. I was planning on sleeping next to the fire, and my two friends (twin brothers) were going to share a tent. We set up our respective sleeping areas and then finished the campfire/site setup together. When we were satisfied with the arrangement, we relaxed, cooked meals, had some drinks, and hung out.
A couple hours after sundown, we grabbed our headlamps and went on a little night hike. The area offered a wide variety of hiking options including a tucked away beaver pond, old grown over quarries, and wooded streams. I knew the area super well, so it was pretty awesome to go exploring at night. When we got back to the campsite, I got the fire going again, and we called it. They went to their tent and I fell asleep under a tree canopy. The temps probably fell into the 6os overnight.
I was the first one up in the morning so I got breakfast going. I noticed my friends did not have the rain fly on their tent and it was a mesh roof so I looked in to wake them and noticed neither had a sleeping bag or a sleeping pad. One was covered in a bath towel, and the other had his arms tucked in his sweatshirt. I asked them, where their sleeping bags were, and one told me, “Ah, I forgot to pack them and didn’t realize it.” I said, “You were coming up to go camping!!”
I had extra sleeping bags at my house, but never thought to ask.
Well now I make sure I go through a checklist with anyone I am going hiking or camping with because that could have been very painful and even dangerous if it had been much colder. This time around it was cold enough to make it funny, but not dangerous. We all still get a good laugh out of that story, and more the reaction I had in the morning.
Lesson : Sleeping with a bath towel on the hard ground is not comfortable.
10. Sniff, Sniff, Gribbin Loring, New York
I was on a climbing trip with a bunch of friends at the Gunks and after a long day at the crag we all set up camp and turned in. It was a beautiful night so I decided to sleep under-the-stars with just my sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. I was awakened in the middle of the night by something lightly tapping my face. I ran my hands across my face to see if I could move whatever it was off, but there was nothing there, and I went back to sleep.
The tapping started again and it was getting annoying so I slowly opened my eyes to see what was happening and there was a racoon sitting there staring down at me. I knew I didn’t have any food on me so I just pulled the hood of my sleeping bag down tight around my face and went back to sleep. The well-domesticated and very fat racoon eventually trotted off in search of more treats elsewhere.
Lesson : How did you not scream?
Written by Suzanne Loring for Matcha in partnership with Gregory Mountain Products.
Featured image provided by Will Saunders / Gregory Mountain Products