My friends got lost in the woods and these are the apps that got them out

my friends got lost in the woods and these are apps that them out header

You and a friend decide to go hiking. You end up getting lost … on a cliff … on a ledge … overlooking a river. The sun is starting to set. You don’t have much water, and while you haven’t given up hope of finding your way back to your car (oh the car, the blessed car! The things you would do to just see that car again!), in the back of your mind you are beginning to wonder how long your snacks will last you.

That’s when you have to admit it: You’re not getting out of here easily. At least if you’re my friends Coral and Kevin, who got themselves stuck in a precarious position while hiking Starvation Creek trail. Yes, seriously – Starvation Creek. As a third date, these two decided to go hiking – but what they didn’t decide was to choose the wrong trail. After a few hours spent attempting to right their mistaken course, the two found themselves on a cliff ledge as the sun was setting. They realized retracing their steps back to the car – in the dark and cold – wasn’t their best option. 

Starvation Creek Loop Trail Map

What was supposed to be a two hour hike became a nearly 10-hour ordeal, an ordeal that thankfully has a happy ending because they were armed with two things: Coral’s iPhone 4 and Kevin’s Samsung Galaxy S III

Consider this the everyday user’s app guide to getting stuck in the woods and getting out alive (only prerequistes: A charged phone and common sense).

Calling

After finally admitting around 9 p.m. that they would be unable to get themselves safely back to the car, Coral made the call to 9-1-1 that her and Kevin had been avoiding. The dispatcher told them they might be in for a long night, but that the sheriff would get in touch to let them know if they would be found that night … or if they were in for a longer stay. Because both hikers had full reception and 3G coverage – as did the search and rescue crew – many, many calls between the two parties followed over the course of the night. 

Yes, obviously, you need to be able to call someone when you’re stranded. And… you can’t rock a phone without it.

A half hour after making the initial call, the sheriff’s department called to tell Coral and Kevin they were going to try and get search and rescue out to them. Still without a solid “Yes, we will be saving you, you don’t have to sleep on a cliff tonight!” they were told to turn off one of their phones to save battery. Kevin’s battery life was depleting faster and Coral’s had become the point of contact, so she left hers on.

It wasn’t until an hour later that Coral got a call affirming that search and rescue were on their way. Then the waiting game began. Around 11:20 p.m., Coral and Kevin got their first call from search and rescue, in what would be a very stressful game of phone tag that lasted until around 3 a.m.

Yes, obviously, you need to be able to call someone when you’re stranded. And – again, hitting you over the head with the obvious stick here – you can’t rock a phone without it. But how important this became to Coral and Kevin during the night should inspire you to keep a full charge anytime you wander outdoors.

Starvation Creek Trail Instagram 1
An Instagram Coral took shortly after calling 9-1-1, captioned, “Where’d the trail go?”

“Thankfully I’d charged my phone just before meeting up with Kevin so I had a full battery before we headed up there,” says Coral. “It was scary watching it drain as the night went on though, so I really wish I’d had a back-up battery.”

You know in survival movies where the last embers of the fire start to die and turn to ash? In the movie made about this incident, Coral will be played by Sara Ramirez and she will desperately clutch an iPhone 4, watching that green bar get smaller and smaller. It’s a dramatic adaption I’m in the process of writing and yes, it will air on Lifetime. Or Bravo. TBD.

Messaging

Another “duh,” but entirely essential app. This happened to be one of the first times these two hung out, and nothing says “I’m going to kill you” like getting lost in the woods on the way to something called Starvation Creek. While neither hiker was worried about being offed by the other, Coral admits she used a text to check in and let a friend know where she was, if just because of her accident-prone history.

“I made it a point to tell someone when I’m going hiking where I’ll be … especially on a third date!”

“I texted a friend I’d told where I was going so that she wasn’t worried when I hadn’t made it home,” she says. “I’m pretty nature-challenged so I made it a point to tell someone when I’m going hiking where I’ll be … especially on a third date!” 

Kevin did the same. “I texted my local cousin and coworker, letting him know I was going to be late or not coming in the next day.”

… Or maybe he’d never make it in to work again! Just kidding, this has a happy ending, everybody’s fine. Calm down.

Instagram

We Instagram everything else, a night lost in the forest is fair game, right? “We took a couple pictures, mostly to try and make light of the situation, which frankly sucked,” says Coral. “I took a couple shots of us and one of the sun falling below the horizon … but other than that we were just trying to conserve battery.” Seriously, “for posterity’s sake” more than applies here.

Google Maps (kind of)

You might have read that whole thing about these two having full reception and battery and been like, “Use your GPS, idiots.” I’m guessing this because that’s essentially what everyone they’ve told the story to has said. But because they were entirely off the correct trail, looking at a map wasn’t all that helpful. Also to be noted: They knew where they were. The river below the ledge Coral and Kevin were stuck on was a useful landmark … however, the operative phrase here is “the ledge Coral and Kevin were stuck on.” Getting around said ledge, safely, and finding their way in the dark back to the parking lot – which was miles away – was not a viable option at that point.

Starvation Creek Trail Instagram 2
Their view … before the sun set.

So … how did they use Google Maps? With good intentions is the answer. “I used Google Maps – there’s a ‘pin drop’ feature that you can just put on the map and share with people,” Kevin explains. “But I had a sneaking suspicion that it just dropped it on the road closest to the pin … [as in,] it didn’t work.” Still, this info was texted along to search and rescue.

Share My GPS Coordinates

Each time Coral and Kevin received a call from search and rescue, they were told it was getting more dangerous for the rescuers to be out there, and that eventually they would have to call it quits for the night. The pin drop hadn’t helped, so around 1 a.m. Kevin decided to try and find an alternative.

“I searched and downloaded Share My GPS Coordinates on the Android Market,” he says. “That [app] gave me latitude, longitude, and elevation – which probably saved us.”

Coral says after reading off these coordinates to the team, she heard them excitedly relaying that the hikers were at the 300 level.

Flashlight app

Once search and rescue had an idea what area of the massive Oregon forest Coral and Kevin were in, the real work began. For the next two hours, the phone tag and guessing games continued, until finally a cop on the other side of the state border (yes, that’s right, these two recieved assistance from not one but two state services … never change guys, never change) was able to find them.

“The cop on the Washington side of the Gorge shone a spotlight at us, and the [my] flashlight app helped him locate us that way as well,” says Kevin.

Starvation Creek Tail waterfall

And then, they were found … sort of. It was 2:15 a.m. when search and rescue were able to figure out where they were, thanks to the lights – but it was another hour until they got to them and were able to help them hike back to the cop car.

Let this be a lesson to us all: Everything you need to get out of the woods lives idly on your phone. Except one thing: An app that warns you when you’re traipsing through poison oak. Enjoy that prednisone prescription, you two.

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