Frequently, people comment about my safety camping/hiking/backpacking solo. I admit that I enjoy the serenity, but there have been some situations that have tested me. This weekend was a prime example – I balanced my own safety with potentially saving 3 people’s lives…
I took off for a couple of days of secluded car cat camping along Noontootla Creek in the 3 Forks area of north Georgia. It is a remote dispersed spot where there is no cell service for miles and often, not a single car passes by.
The first two days/evenings were uneventful – involved taking cats out to explore area, picking up broken glass, reading and just enjoying the rain. I had decided to stay Sunday evening because there was a front coming through (aka wind) that would dry off my gear.
About 9pm, I heard voices. No cars had passed by all day. Then I saw a light. A man and woman hollering that they needed help. Cautious, I spoke to them first through my tent as I didn’t want to rush into an unsafe situation. They explained they were lost. Sounded sincere and desperate, so I grabbed my bear spray (for protection) and my light, and got out of my tent.
A woman, two men, and a large dog were shivering in front of me. They had started off hiking a 5 mile loop before 10am. And they got lost. So they came upon the FS road, and decided to look for help at dark. My campsite was more than 4miles from the intersection…
They needed a ride back to their car.
I asked where there car was. They didn’t know.
I asked what trail they were hiking. They couldn’t agree. They had selected one off AtlantaTrails.com, used the GPS to drive to the trailhead and went from there. They couldn’t even name a road that they had turned at (I had rattled off a few that came to mind.)
They hadn’t told anyone that they were going hiking – so no one would have been looking for them. I know the Rangers after hours are difficult, at best, to reach.
The female was soaked in cotton sweatpants, no one had any raingear – the forecast was for rain most of the day. They had no flashlights, no water bottles, no GPS, no fire, nada. They were all shivering and it was windy and temps were dropping to 27degrees overnight.
I explained to them that I had horrible night vision, only half a tank of gas, and I wasn’t going to be driving around the slippery FS roads at night looking for their car without more info.
One of the men said they would leave their dog with me as collateral to take my car. I laughed. He kept insisting that if they could get the AtlantaTrails site, they could get to their car.
I told them that they had 2 options: they could shelter the night in my car, I would give them food/water and at daylight, we would head out and see if they recognized any landmarks and at 8am, we could call the Rangers for more help.
Or, I would give them a flashlight and there was a house about 8miles up the road. I didn’t know if it was occupied.
They chose my car.
I didn’t sleep at all that night – I was concerned for my own safety – but baffled at how 3 seemingly intelligent people would not think to turn around or ask someone after 4 hours for a hike that should have been 2.5-3 hours. They had been hiking for almost 12 hours! They were either on the AT/BMT, which on a Sunday, definitely had plenty of traffic… They didn’t venture off the trail, but clearly missed some junctions/turns. But, I was also amazed that they happened upon me. If I hadn’t have been there – they could have certainly faced a very different night.
At sunrise, I made myself some coffee. Loaded my cats in the front seat. Loaded them in the back of the car with their dog and we started driving. 2 hours later, I paused at the Springer Mtn road – asked if this looked familiar. They paused and then said they thought this was it. Halfway up, they definitely recognized the area. And, there was their truck at the trailhead parking.
I used those 2 hours to explain how downright dire their situation was – from the cotton clothing, to not having a trail map, to not having water filtration, to not having flashlight and way to make fire, to not telling anyone their itinerary. I also emphasized why it was better not to rely on a cell phone GPS for trail navigation and encouraged them to stick to some in/out trails like Ravens Cliff, Panther Creek, or along the Chattahoochee River.
After jumping their dead battery, I hauled tail out of there for another 30 miles of bumpy forest service roads. They were grateful, but I was still dumbfounded at the events.
I admit I was cautious about the situation being that I was solo in such a remote location. Fortunately, they weren’t bad people and everything worked out okay. But, looking back, I wondered what I would have done had they gotten more aggressive/insistent about me driving them out. Not sure what I would have done… what would you have done if 3 strangers showed up at your tent in the middle of nowhere at night?