“No two snowflakes are alike. You too are SPECIAL,” Mr. Davis had written in my journal following the activity.
“Is that it? That’s my first clue! How is that going to help me now? That’s really annoying,” I thought to myself.
At that moment a trout darted into a shady corner of the gravel-bottomed pool. I poked my head over a large mossy boulder to get a peek and sure enough it had light spots on dark. I wondered if it was a bull trout or one of those exotic brook trout. “If no two snowflakes are alike, does that follow for bull trout?” I pondered.
All this thinking about fish was making me hungry, so I pulled out one of my three remaining granola bars and gobbled it down. I didn’t have any other food save for a small hunk of cheese, and I hardly expected at that point that I was going to be out there for six more days—alone.
Once my clothes were dry, I reckoned that I should follow the creek back upstream to look for my party—they probably were missing my witty comments by now. I began a difficult traverse up over logs and boulders, around pools, and through the lacy needles of overhanging hemlock boughs.
Thinking back on that first day, I really had an incredible time exploring that creek. The banks were lined with moss, tiny plants and small flowers. Twice I discovered shiny, dimly-spotted salamanders floating in shallow pools. Both were too quick for my hands and they escaped my examination. Occasionally I was able to follow what seemed like an old trail, scattered with piles of elk pellets along the way. After a few miles the ‘trail’ vanished into the forest. Later, I happened across an elk skull with huge antlers still attached and covered by green algae and bits of creeping moss.
The skull frightened me a bit, because what if the same cougar that most likely ate this elk was watching me stumble through the tangles of salmonberry, elderberry and devil’s club? The thought of a cougar sent me plunging faster and ever deeper into the wilderness.
Finally as the evening light was warming the mountainside above me with a golden glow, I realized that I was truly lost. Once again, I rolled up underneath a big mossy log and listened to the chatter of owls as stars began to shine in the deepening blue sky.
What I didn’t know at that point was that the creek I was trying to follow back to camp was a tributary, not the main stream. It would be the next day before I realized that I had made a dreadful mistake.
Where I Went Wrong: I created this map for you so you could understand one of my many mistakes. Notice that McAllister Creek intersects Thunder Creek at the orange dot. Instead of retracing my swim down Thunder Creek, I followed McAllister westward—deep into the wilderness. We started our journey two days prior at the Panther Creek Trailhead (yellow dot).