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Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker

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Offline catfried

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Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« on: January 04, 2014, 07:28:58 PM »
Hey, all ...

My name is Cathy Frye, and I'm the woman who was rescued from the state park in October.

I had planned to join ya'll on here at some point because I am writing about what happened to us out there. I'm hoping others will learn from our mistakes. And maybe hearing about how we compensated for those errors also will be of help.

Regardless

My stories won't run for another month or so. But I was prompted to go ahead and post on here after reading some of the comments on the desert hiking safety thread.

Several said they wouldn't mind dying out in the desert, which troubled me for two reasons.

First, I always thought that if I had to go, Big Bend would be the place I wanted to go from. But after very nearly dying in the desert,  I can assure you that such a death is tortuous, horrible and NOT how you want to depart this world. There's nothing romantic about dehydration, extreme heat or cold. It's not a peaceful way to die. I can say that having been only two or three hours away from such a death, according to doctors at the hospital.

Secondly, I've since spent time with some the men and women who looked for me. I learned that two searchers suffered from heat-related problems. One had to be carried out. Others fell repeatedly while hiking. SAR teams risk their lives to find the missing -- dead or alive.

After hearing about all of the efforts and hardships involved in finding me, I would never, ever want any of those people out looking for my body simply because I thought it would be cool to die in Big Bend.

My experience was life-changing. I am so grateful to the 40 or so people who suffered discomfort and put their own lives at risk to find a lone missing hiker who, by the time it was all said and done, wanted only to get back to her young children.

We made mistakes. (Although, I do have to say that we never washed our clothes in the spring as some media reports suggested. Because ... why would we do that knowing it would be cold?)

Anyway, I'm hoping that the stories I am writing will be of use to other avid hikers, especially those who love the desert as we do.

Nice to meet all of you. I'll post a link once my stories run.

Take care out there!

Cathy Frye


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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2014, 08:11:31 PM »
I don't know much about your story. Actually nothing other than that there was a rescue. What are the main points in terms of mistakes to be learned from?  The high points?  Thanks.

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Offline catfried

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2014, 08:33:42 PM »
My husband and I have spent the past 12 years camping and hiking at the national park. I'm a newspaper reporter. He's a newspaper photographer.

Long before we met, I lived in Odessa, Texas. Big Bend was part of my coverage area. That's when I fell in love with the place. My husband once worked for two newspapers in San Antonio. While there, he often visited Big Bend.

When we decided in 2001 to get married, we did so at the national park.

Every year since, we've returned for a week of camping and hiking.

In 2013, our trip coincided with the federal government's shutdown. So we headed to the state park after learning the national park would close.

Unfortunately, we treated the state park as the national park. We made the mistake of assuming that the trails and terrain would be similar.

Mistakes: We didn't take enough water. We didn't turn back upon realizing that the state park trail we were on was more challenging than expected. Lastly, years of hiking in the national park made us overly confident in our abilities. As a result, we didn't take along anything one would need in the event of being injured or lost.

In our case, it was the latter. The trail cairns were overgrown. Some had been toppled by flash flooding. We ended up spending two nights in the desert without proper clothing or supplies.

Luckily, on the second night, we found a spring. If not for that, we would have surely died.

On the third day, I could no longer walk and told my husband to leave me. He did so, and made it back to the ranger station, where he explained that I was still out there.

This was on a Friday evening. People searched all that night. A helicopter went up. On Saturday, even more people searched, and a copter went up again.

I was found at 11:45 a.m. Mountain Time on Sunday, Oct. 6.

Rescuers carried me up to an area that had been cleared for a helicopter. The helicopter took me to the landing strip in the state park. From there, I was airlifted to El Paso. I spent four days in the hospital.

I suffered from rhabdomyolosis (the disintergration of muscle), acute renal failure and severe dehydration.

My body also was unable to regulate temperature.

The suffering was unimaginable. There's no way to describe what it feels like to be so thirsty while knowing that there's no water available. Nor can I adequately explain what it's like to feel your body shutting down. It's gross and awful.

But now? I am so grateful to be alive and here for my kids.

In the future, what would I carry? More water. Salty snacks. A space blanket. A flashlight that can also be used to signal aircraft. (My husband got one for Christmas.) A lighter or matches. A better map.

Hope this helps. I know that in the future, I will certainly be better equipped.

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Offline Geezer

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2014, 09:11:49 PM »
Cathy,

Thanks very much for writing about your experience. I have a lot to learn along those lines.

Geezer

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Offline dprather

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2014, 09:25:25 PM »
I am grateful that you have lived to tell the story.

Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2014, 09:57:00 PM »
Holy crap!  Wow. I had no idea.

It sounds like a GPS might've helped. There aren't a lot of good maps of The Ranch.

I have a SPOT that I don't use. Maybe i should start.

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Offline Quatro

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2014, 11:55:09 PM »
I am grateful that you have lived to tell the story.

+1.  I greatly look forward to your stories.  Thank you for your post.  You are a brave woman.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro - HST

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Offline perterra

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2014, 09:06:03 AM »
Glad you made it out okay, you got to admit looking back thru the news reports, you sounded like a perfect candidate for the Darwin awards.   :eusa_whistle:

I think you guys made some really dumb moves, but I will be the first to say we have all been in a situation that could have turned out just as bad.

Reading your post above reinforces that we all should be better prepared. I am glad you made it out to tell the tale.

By the way, I think the death in the desert remarks were more of a perspective, better to go in 3 or 4 days in a wild country than to live 10 years in a nursing home wasting away from alzheimers. Far as I know, there isnt a lot of good ways to go.

Welcome to the forum,

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Offline Juan Cuatro Lados

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2014, 09:53:37 AM »
I recall a tv show about a man/woman survival team who spent a week alone and "lost" in Africa with lions prowling etc. but they made it.  And the same team survived a week  on an iceberg near Greenland after their boat broke down.

They got "stranded" on another episode in the Chihuahuan desert when their truck broke down - the country looked very much like BBRSP.  They only lasted two days and had to be airlifted out.  It is a tough place.

There are acres and acres of good advice in the upper right corner of this page.

Glad you're okay.

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Offline dougstar

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2014, 12:30:59 PM »
Very glad you are OK Cathy!

And glad you are on the Forum.  I love that you are sharing your experience.
I plan on going to BBRSP in the next couple years and would be interested in your experience of the differences between it and the NP.

I saw the Weather Channel report of your experience (I think it was you?).   
It sounded like pictures from your Husbands camera helped in locating you?

I think the TV show episode that Juan mentions is "Man Women Wild".  As He notes she had to be taken out in ~2 days.




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BigBendHiker

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2014, 12:55:21 PM »
We are thankful that you are here to tell your story!  Thank you for sharing.

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Offline catfried

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2014, 06:25:38 PM »
Thanks, all. As I said, it was a life-changing experience.

Dougstar, it's a beautiful place. Our campsite offered stunning views, and I hate that we ended up spending only one night there.

The biggest difference between the national and state park is that the trails aren't as easy to follow in the latter.

There are two reasons for this. Fewer visitors to the state park means that the trails aren't as worn down by foot traffic. It's easy to get distracted by animal trails if you aren't paying attention.

Our biggest problem, however, was locating the cairns that mark the trails. Many were overgrown. Or the desert vegetation between cairns was so thick that we couldn't see the next one. We burned a lot of energy and time looking for cairns and trying to stay on the trails.

Make sure  you have a really, really detailed topo map. We did manage to stay on the trails until the third day, when we separated. By that point, we had left the trail because my husband knew what direction our truck was in and we decided to forge ahead in that direction.

As it turns out, he was correct. After leaving me, he did find it.

And yes, his photographs and visual awareness were instrumental in my rescue. He continued to take pictures throughout our ordeal and the SAR teams used those -- along with his description of ridges -- to figure out where to look.

He also led them to the rock from where he took a picture of another vehicle at the trailhead. That also proved useful.

The reason searchers had so much trouble finding me is that Rick didn't realize just how far he had hiked after leaving me. They call that "distance compression." After some of the guys watched him walking, they expanded the search area. (Rick's a tall guy who takes really long strides.) They also looked at the hours that followed our separation and realized that he had to have gone further than he realized to get back to our pickup.

Also, I was under a mesquite tree in a ravine in a cut. As one game warden put it, I was in a hidey-hole. No way was a helicopter ever going to spot me.

The good thing about the state park is that there are a lot of active springs. Once you select trails to hike, I would ask the staff or volunteers about any active springs in that area, just in case you run short on your own water.

We found a spring purely by accident because Rick spotted a cottonwood grove from where we had spent our second afternoon, waiting out the hottest part of the day.

I'm happy to answer any other questions.

Again, thanks for the kind words, everyone. We'll still visit Big Bend every year -- both parks! -- but we will be better equipped, even on familiar ground.



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Offline kevint

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2014, 06:37:35 AM »
I recall a tv show about a man/woman survival team who spent a week alone and "lost" in Africa with lions prowling etc. but they made it.  And the same team survived a week  on an iceberg near Greenland after their boat broke down.

They got "stranded" on another episode in the Chihuahuan desert when their truck broke down - the country looked very much like BBRSP.  They only lasted two days and had to be airlifted out.  It is a tough place.



I checked the episode on Netflix.  From the crosshairs they show on the google earth map, it appears to be just across the border near Ojinaga.
-- Kevin (W5KLT)

"It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."  --Yvon Chouinard

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Offline tjavery

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #13 on: January 06, 2014, 12:13:56 PM »
Welcome to the forum, Cathy. Thanks for joining and sharing your stories here!

I was in the park camping when you and your husband were there. My companion and I had no idea what was happening until days later after we'd returned home.

It was my first time to visit the interior (ie areas outside of those along Hwy 170). I was surprised at how rough and undeveloped most of it was as compared to the national park (I've been visiting the national park on a regular basis for almost 10 years).

My friend and I hiked the Cinco Tinajas trail. It's a short trail and probably one of the more popular ones. We took a wrong turn while out there. It sounds pretty stupid. But the two of us, who are experienced hikers, did indeed go the wrong way while out in the desert.

The little brochure on Cinco Tinajas we obtained from the ranger station did not have enough detail on it for us to discern where we were exactly and where we were headed. Therefore I think I can easily understand how and why you and your husband got into the situation that you experienced.

I guess you could imply that the park didn't do a good enough job providing adequate info on their trails. But I think it's fair to turn that the other way around. (and just to note, I think the park staff and volunteers do a fantastic job maintaining and running the place.)

A visitor should come prepared above and beyond what the park is willing to provide, eg topo maps, GPS units, compass, etc. That statement is true regardless of park, but I think it's imperative for BBRSP. And I only know now because I experienced it first hand.

Anyway, thank you for sharing your story here on this forum. It definitely helps us understand and be better prepared for our next trip out there!

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Lost Big Bend Ranch State Park hiker
« Reply #14 on: January 06, 2014, 12:36:13 PM »
I be honest; navigating in desert is far easier than other places, like most notably forested mountains.  It is certainly possible to get lost in the endless desert arroyos etc.; but try sometime navigating those same arroyos, or ridges and valleys, in, say, New Mexico or Colorado; you are almost guaranteed to get lost there!

Best advice is to get a GPS device with 24k topos.

 


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