Archive for March, 2012

Tom Fitzpatrick

This post is about getting lost and what you need to get by until you find your way out. It is easier than you think, getting lost I mean. For example, just last February an adult family of three was lost for six days in the forests of Oregon. They got that way while looking for mushrooms and for nearly a week they had little to drink and nothing to eat; they slept in a hollow tree and got frostbite.  And, again this February, a woman and her dog were lost for three weeks in Southern New Mexico.  Just a few paces from the trail, they huddled together, drank from a stream and subsisted on a bag of pretzels. Getting lost is easy and it could happen to you—especially if you want to follow Forrest Fenn around a wilderness looking for his treasure.

Tom Fitzpatrick, of course, is the iconic mountain man. One event that made him so happened in 1832 when, solo, he was ambushed by a group of unhappy Blackfoot Indians. He lost his horses and supplies in the fight and then lost his possibles sack, gun, clothes and knife while crossing a flooded river. For the next few weeks he took a circuitous route to his destination to avoid more Indians; he hid by day and walked by night eating nothing but buds and roots until found by friends out looking for him after he failed to show for the rendezvous at Pierre’s Hole.

E. Jean Carroll gives advice to the dateless, fashion-challenged, and dieters who read the glossy women’s magazine Elle. Ms. Carroll is famous for once being selected as Miss Cheerleader USA; as a contributing editor at various magazines and for getting lost in the Star Mountains of New Guinea while hiking across that country with a couple of native warriors who wouldn’t let her sleep in her tent. She rafted the Grand Canyon with a group of topless women and contributed to a book called, Sand in my Bra. She once jumped off a 120-foot cliff into a flooded quarry and made her first jump from an airplane at age fifty.  She lives alone on an island in upstate New York where she keeps a “go-bag”—the modern equivalent of the mountain man’s “possibles sack.” She takes a back seat to no man.

E. Jean Carroll
Wikimedia Commons

Forrest Fenn, you have met. In his memoir, he writes of the time he and his friend, Donnie Joe, got lost while “camping” in Red Canyon, Montana. The fish weren’t biting, it rained a lot, and they could barely get a fire started. He also writes of a more important emergency when he had to bail from his crippled jet over Laos where he found himself in enemy territory, in a place he had never been, without his side arm, and with few rations and little water. Since he mentions neither a possibles sack nor a go-bag, we can assume that his storage container of choice was nothing more than his pockets.

Of course, the contents of a go-bag, a possibles sack and pockets depend on the owner’s personality, their survival strategy and what they deem necessary in an emergency. Below is a table comparing what evidence suggests would be carried by Tom, E. Jean, and Forrest to sustain them through just about anything.

Tom Fitzpatrick

E. Jean Carroll

Forrest Fenn




Knife  Meditations by Aurelius Knife
Leather for Making and Mending Moccasins Pen/Notebook Pen/Flight Log
Tinder for Starting Fires Photograph of Father Three Baby Ruth Candy Bars
Flint & Fire-steel for Starting Fires 1 Bottle of Chartreuse Matches
Extra Powder and Shot for Long Gun 5 Pounds of Mixed Nuts Map for Starting Fires
Ginger Snaps Large Can of Black Pepper
Block of Colby Cheese Apple Cider

The list for Tom reflects his life as a mountain man. A knife, material for starting a fire, and extra powder and shot were what often kept these guys alive. Their diet was simple and consisted of little but the dried meat of what they could kill. Leather was an absolute necessity because their moccasins wore through fast and often.

E. Jean’s list is an emergency strategy of waiting it out. Indeed, she sometimes calls her “go-bag” a “no go-bag.” Condoms are included because, as she explains; “One needs to thank the men from FEMA when they get there.” Had condoms been around during the early-1800s, the mountain men could have used a few in their possibles sack.  Many tribes shared their women as a way to build alliances and this sharing was responsible for an epidemic of venereal disease among the mountain men which, incidentally, had nothing to do with a number of them becoming politicians later in life.

Forrest Fenn’s list is an amalgam of some of what he had available during the two “lost” episodes he tells us about. (I have added his favorite beverage when he visits the Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe.) His strategy to get out of these messes seemed to be something like “What’s a strategy?” since Lightening, his horse, got him out of the first one and his buddies in the U.S. Air force got him out of the second.

What these three individuals have in common is not evident in the lists noted above because what they have in common is something intangible.  I have no doubt that Tom Fitzpatrick would have made it to Pierre’s Hole on his own; that E. Jean Carroll could have slept in her tent if she really wanted to and she could have made it back to civilization by herself.  And Forrest Fenn could have walked out of Laos and back to safety without the help of anyone.

What they have in common is something else: it’s pride, a near mystic energy, courage, stubbornness and self-confidence; things you and I may or may not have.

I recommend, therefore, that we not take off empty-handed just to see if we can make it in the woods.  We’ll be far more comfortable if we fill our daypack with water, trail-mix, space blankets, whistles, mirrors, fire starters, and, if I may, some toilet paper.

Best wishes,


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