In September, 2009 I ascended a section of Utah’s Great Western Trail with an archery bull tag in my pocket and about 40 pounds of gear on my back, ready to spend two nights atop a knife-blade ridge. After settling in to my meager but beautiful campsite I dozed off in my tent, only to be rattled awake in the night by a nearby lighting strike. I had no choice but to relocate to a safer spot several hundred feet lower on the mountain, but it was hard to find a flat area. The best I could do while being savagely side-hammered by a torrent of icy rain was a small saddle overgrown by thick brush. I turned a few rocks pointy-side-down, stuffed my tent in the middle of the thicket, and managed a few hours of choppy, wet sleep. All that after missing a 300 class bull at sixteen yards just at sunset. I took the whole sequence of events as a bad sign for the trip, and I was exhausted the next day.
My headlamp saved me that night, but the life had nearly been sapped from my AAA batteries, which would prove nearly disastrous the following evening. Main problem: I didn’t pack extra batteries. Sure, I thought I was prepared because packed two lights, like normal, and I did happen to have a few backup batteries . . . none of which fit either light I had packed.
It was hot the following day and I didn’t have to cover much ground before realizing I had grossly underestimated my water requirements for the trip, and my only option was a spring in an area I didn’t want to hunt. By the time I decided to head home instead of spend another night it was late in the afternoon and I was pretty dehydrated, though not in any real danger. But it got darker faster than I expected and I still had a fair amount of bushwhacking to do before I hit the trail that I would have to walk down for at least an hour.
After a while I noticed how the dehydration was effecting me and my ability to maintain balance. The twitchy, wobbly shadows cast among the trees by my headlamp began to have a disorienting, nauseating effect. As I struggled to navigate the thick brush and rocks, while keeping an eye out for moose and mountain lions, the worst possible thing happened; My headlamp began to dim. No problem, I figured, breaking out my other light . . . which also began to fail less than ten minutes later. It was barely working when I found the main trail but I was, quite literally, not out of the woods.
I know better than to panic when things aren’t going well when I’m in a remote area, because panicking can lead to poor decisions that make everything worse. And while I wasn’t worried about actually dying of dehydration, I was nervous about my odds of successfully navigating the rocky trail in my state of fatigue, with no light, and with surly moose and stealthy mountain lions in the area. If I was forced to “feel” my way down it would take all night, and the longer it took, the more dehydrated I would end up getting.
I descended gingerly but briskly down a thousand vertical feet of switchbacks, singing and yelling loudly, out of both sheer delirium and to avoid startling any moose at close range. I’ve written and sung a hymnal-sized volume of anthems about my bowhunting failures, on those long, dejected, frightening walks down mountains in the dark; usually angry diatribes about the way or ways in which I missed a buck that day . . .
The lesson I learned about carrying fresh batteries came at a good time, too. A few weeks after my pitch-black march down the mountain I had moose encounter — also in Utah’s Wasatch range — which absolutely required the use of a flashlight, and my Energizer headlamp powered by two AA Ultimate Lithium batteries pretty much saved my butt. Read about it at https://www.outdoorhub.com/stories/camping-with-energizer/
The next time you go hunting, even if you don’t plan on spending the night, make sure you have not one, but two lights with you, and spare Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries for each light. This new generation of AA and AAA batteries are 1/3 lighter than their alkaline cousins and last eight times as long. Plus, they work in extreme temperatures ranging from -40 F to 140 F, and are designed to resist corrosion and leaking. Talk about game-changing technology . . . Remember, safety is the combination of responsibility and performance. Make sure your gear performs!