Lost in the High Sierras

Lynford Turner

© Copyright 2005 by Lynford Turner


In earlier years it was not possible to simply go down to the local electronics store and purchase a calculator, CB Radio or any of the many electronic gadgets that we now take for granted. The state of the art of electronics had just a short time before advanced to such components as transistors, solid-state diodes and SCRs. If you wanted a special device and had the knowledge of electronics, you could take advantage of the latest advances by building your own equipment.

Because I was employed in the electronics industry, I had the opportunity to take advantage of the new components as they were developed. In the early 60s the only owners of a true transistor superhetrodyne radio receiver was the person who possessed a homemade radio.

I personally developed and manufactured a radio transmitter and receiver for garage door operators that sold very well. The unique thing about my manufacturing facility was that it was all done in my two-car garage.

Getting lost when hunting had never been a real bother to me until spring of 1947. I was fourteen years old and got lost in the Mark Twain forest area near Winona, Missouri. I spent the entire day trying to find my way out of the woods and back to civilization. I vowed that would never happen to me again. During future hunting expeditions I carried my trusty Boy Scout compass and kept a mind to the direction I was walking.

By 1960 I had long since moved to California and began to hunt in the High Sierras of California. During one of my trips into the mountains I became slightly disoriented and it took a few minutes for me to regain my bearings and move on. That worried me because I'd heard about people getting lost in the Sierras and never being heard from again.

I felt the need for some type of device that would accurately direct me back to my parked car after I had wandered through the woods while hunting. All of those mountain hills and valleys seem to look very much alike after you walk through them.

During those years the Citizen Band Radio was in its infancy. There were only a couple of two-way CB set brands on the market and both were entirely unsuitable for the application I had in mind. Electronics was my trade so I designed my own special radio set for direction finding purposes. I entertained thoughts that my concept would be a hot item if sold by sporting goods stores.

It was a simple circuit and shortly I was testing to see just how well it worked. It was pure instrumentation without voice. All you had to do was press the button on the little vacuum tube transmitter and the radio back at my car, wherever it was, would sound the horn. The transmitter was small and the two vacuum tubes consumed a lot of battery juice. I had installed trumpet horns on the car so they would be loud enough to hear from a greater distance.

The following fall I went to the Sierras near Convict Lake on the high side of Bishop, California. I parked my car in the woods just off the highway in a nice secluded spot. I had driven my car somewhat further into the woods than usual because I wanted more privacy at my campsite. Having arrived rather late in the afternoon I spent the remaining daylight hours preparing for the following day’s hunt. That included testing the homing device. The transmitter range was about one to three miles, depending on terrain. With all of the hilly high spots in the area I felt there would be no trouble getting a signal to the car.

The next morning I was up at four a.m. preparing breakfast and enjoying the wonderful sound of the air as it gently flowed through the tall pines. At the crack of dawn I strapped on my equipment, picked up my rifle and trekked onward toward the area where I wanted to hunt. Before long the sun was producing just enough light to hunt by.

There were other hunters in the area so I proceeded along a trail built by the CCC camp workers during the 1930’s depression. After walking approximately three quarters of a mile I pulled out my transmitter and pressed the button. Sure enough, the car horn sounded. It was a good feeling to know I had a backup to prevent me from becoming lost in the Sierras.

Having walked about a mile from my campsite I located myself on a high ridge overlooking a valley with other ridges to the right and left. It was a perfect spot for waiting out a deer. I sat there for about an hour. Just on the crest of the ridge on my right I spotted a buck and two does moving carefully in my direction. The does were out front while the buck remained in the background.

My scope was lined up for a three hundred yard shot and I knew I'd nail him when he came down within my firing area. The does moved cautiously ahead and the buck moved up within what I determined to be about three hundred and fifty yards. Then I heard a vehicle coming down the trail. I thought, “Maybe they'll turn off and not come much further.” Not so, it was a jeep full of intoxicated hunters and they were having more fun drinking and talking big and loud while holding their guns at ready. It was disgusting, especially the fact that my buck turned and ran back over the crest. I decided to move further along and see if I could find a more suitable location where jeeps could not enter.

Before I left my position I keyed the transmitter again twice. Far away in the distance I heard the car horn sound. Being pleased with the results I continued on my way. Finally, I spotted another good position to lie in wait for a buck. After getting into a comfortable shooting position I keyed the transmitter once more and, sure enough, the car horn sounded.

I lay in wait for a buck to show for the best part of the afternoon. It was a no-show. Now it was getting late and I decided I'd get back to the car and make camp for the night. I was getting hungry and the thought of a hamburger frying in the open air after my day in the woods made me even hungrier. I'd already eaten a sandwich for lunch and that had not been enough.

I keyed the transmitter and the horn sounded again. I took a shortcut across the hilltops because there was no need to retrace the steps I’d made during the day. After walking about one half mile I sent out the signal and soon I heard the expected response. I was right on track. I remember thinking just how a person could get lost right where I was without much difficulty. The mountainous hills and crests all seemed to look much alike. I cut around one big hill to avoid walking over the top and right back down again.

I keyed the transmitter again. There was no sound. Immediately I became fearful. I knew it wasn’t a transmitter range problem. On the chance that the batteries had become weak, I walked up a ridge where the transmitter could send its signal from a higher elevation. I pressed the button, still no sound of the car horn! I walked higher and keyed again. All I heard was the rustle of pine needles in the gentle late evening breeze. The sun was getting lower and I had lost the direction of where the car horn sound had last eked its way through the huge pines. I remembered my wife telling me before I left on the trip to not to trust the gadget too much because something might go wrong.

Many times I repeatedly keyed the transmitter to no avail. I was mad. What in the world could have gone wrong with my device? I had tested it more during the design than most manufacturers do before they put a product on the market. I was absolutely totally disoriented and somewhat confused. I think the disappointment of the failed gadget was stressing me out the most.

I thought to myself, I've got to get my act together because it will be completely dark very soon. The temperature had dropped several degrees and already I had begun to feel the bite of the colder night air upon my face. I was well dressed for cold weather complete with a surplus wool army blanket in my backpack. It was not that I was worried about survival; it was the self-embarrassment caused by the failure of the adventure that bothered me the most.

I observed the sun as it settled just above a distant peak. I remembered that while walking through the pines the light was on the left side of my face most of the morning. Since the sun rises mostly in the east and sets in the west, again I began to walk toward the remaining light keeping the sun on my left.

Soon it became very dark and I kept walking as straight as I could regardless of the hills or whatever. I was afraid I'd lose my direction. Occasionally I'd try the transmitter, nothing happened. After several hours I struck a match to check my watch, the time was one AM in the morning and I had no reliable idea of my location. I kept hoping to find the CCC trail but in the darkness it eluded me.

Suddenly it dawned on me, I could be right close by where some other hunters were camped and I couldn't see them in the darkness. I considered setting a forest fire, one I could control in an effort to get help. I thought better of that. Then I remembered, the signal for a hunter in distress was three fast shots from your hunting rifle. So I fired three fast shots and then listened. There was no response whatsoever. Then I fired three more shots. The 3006 roared big and loud with each pull of the trigger.

In the quiet of the night the report from the rifle was thunderous. I listened and heard nothing. I thought maybe I had been very wrong about the direction I'd been walking. As a last resort I decided to fire three more shots and if nothing happened, I'd settle down for the night. I'd gotten my second breath many hours before and now I was no longer hungry.

Bang! Bang! Bang! The noise seemed like it should wake up the dead. I listened, suddenly a light clicked on about one hundred yards away. A man came out of a tent and scowled at me. What are you doing out there? You ain't supposed to be hunting at night! It's against the law! I didn't mind the bawling out. I walked over to the tent and spoke to the man. I told him that I'd been lost and was trying to find my car. He held out his arm and pointed then said; walk about three hundred yards that away and you’ll come to the old highway. I thanked him and walked on.

Sure enough I came to the old highway and walked downhill to where there was an intersection. My car was only a short distance away. Shortly, I was sitting in the car eating a sandwich. I put down my sleeping bag and sacked out.

In the morning I awoke quite early to the rustle of noise around me. Others had parked very close to my secluded spot the day before and now I was anything but alone. One woman said to me, "I told my husband to park near somebody else because I was afraid to be alone here in the woods while he was off hunting." And of course the Jeep was parked there too. The "Real Good Ole Boys" were already getting liquored up right along with breakfast and preparing to leave.

I thought, well, I guess I'll find out what went wrong with my radio before I have breakfast. I raised the hood and bent over the radio beside the left front wheel well. Immediately I saw the problem. Coincident with my discovery, one of the drunks sauntered over and volunteered that I should get my horn fixed! He said: "The damn thing kept blowing just before dark and disturbing everybody. I reached under the hood and cut the wire with my pocket knife." You don't want to hear the rest of what happened!

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