Ethan, who was camping in Morris Meadow with a few of his friends, came to where I was collecting firewood and said this guy Ron was looking for his friend Hosea, a 6 ' 3”, African American backpacker in his early 60s. Had I seen him? No, I replied. He went on to say, he and his friends were going on a day hike to Emerald Lake, which was about six miles away.
The meadow was a lush expanse of tall grass and wild flowers surrounded by forests and snow capped mountains. My campsite was next to a gentle stream. I sat zen for a few hours on a stuff sack until Ron walked into my campsite. I still hadn't seen his friend.
A few days prior, he and Hosea were hiking a steep, rocky trail that went along a treeless ridge under the August sun. Hosea complained he had gotten botulism from something he had eaten earlier. They got lost. Instead of backtracking to find the trail, they followed a stream down the side of a mountain which would take them to Portuguese Camp. This involved much tossing, scrambling and climbing. They moved away from the stream. Ron got ahead of Hosea and called back that he would wait. “Push on!” Hosea told him. “I'll catch up.”
At one point, Ron passed out from dehydration but awoke and found a spring nearby. After nine and a half hours of bushwhacking, he came to Portuguese Camp, where he spent the night. The following day, he searched for Hosea but to no avail. On this day, they planned to spend the night in Morris Meadow. Ron hiked here to see if he could find his friend, but no.
He went to the adjacent site and set up his tent. We got a fire going, made some tea and got to talking. Ron used to be a social worker that helped the newly disabled reintegrate into society. Hosea was a doctor, and they worked at the same hospital. Ron took Hosea on his first backpacking trip about 16 years ago. Since then, his friend went on numerous excursions and trained as a Wilderness EMT. Ron still felt responsible for what was happening.
Around mid-afternoon, Ethan and his friends returned from Emerald Lake. They found Hosea. He had spent a night on a ledge and the following day made it to Portuguese Camp. Over exertion, botulism, dehydration and exposure had taken its toll, and he couldn't walk. One of the people camping in the meadow, George, had walky talkies and an SOS beacon. He alerted the authorities via satellite. There was no cell service in Trinity Alps Wilderness. Ethan, George and a few others hiked five miles of mountainous terrain to were Hosea was and made a stretcher out of rope and branches. They then began carrying him back to the meadow where a helicopter could land.
Ron's mind was not feeling well. He gave me an instant backpacker dinner and we ate by the fire. Again, he talked about how he felt responsible for what was happening. The idea to follow the stream down the mountain was not a good one. He regretted that he did not campaign harder to instead backtrack and find the trail. When Hosea told him to “push on,” he should have stayed. He felt he had abandoned his friend who was hiking through harsh terrain while suffering stomach flu. And finally, what was he going to say to Hosea's wife?
Around midnight, the carriers of Hosea called Morris Meadow with the walky talky. They were about three and half miles away and tired. They wanted two tents and sleeping bags to sleep on the trail. I and two others hiked under the stars wearing head lamps. In less than an hour, I saw Hosea lying on his side wrapped in a sleeping bag, tent and space blanket. Still, he was cold. We didn't stay long. By 3am, I was in my tent sleeping. At about 8am, I awoke to someone saying, “he has no pulse!”
I loaded my pack, said “goodbye” and left the meadow. The helicopter had not yet come for Hosea's remains. I thought it would creep me out to see his covered body on the trail. But when I came upon him, the sun shined through the trees and a morning bird sang. There was something solemn and peaceful about the place. I hiked on to Emerald Lake.