Adventure: Friends on the Loose in the Woods

Uli and Otto Saur

Uli and Otto Saur

Otto and Uli are visiting for a week. We hosted one of their sons as a high-school exchange student about thirty years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. Years ago we hiked with them in the Alps, and now they wanted to hike in the Appalachians. The Appalachians have vast areas of unpopulated wilderness with poorly marked trails, and hikers who make a small mistake may walk for miles in a wrong direction.

We took them to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. The park surrounds the famous gap in the Appalachians that Native Americans used for trade and that Daniel Boone explored. He blazed the Wilderness Road through the gap, and that trail helped funnel thousands of settlers into the Kentucky Territory.

On Wednesday Otto and Uli intended to hike from the Pinnacle Overlook to the Thomas Walker parker area (from the blue circle to the blue rectangle on the nearby map). We had a map from the Park Service.

They started down the trail from Pinnacle Overlook, and Barbara and I drove the van to the Visitor Center where Barbara stayed (the years and arthritis have taken her ability to hike in rough country). I then drove to the Thomas Walker parking area, locked the van and started hiking up the trail to meet Otto and Uli.


Otto Uli Journey 2

Circle at lower right marks the start; the rectangle at lower left marks the intended destination; the oval near the top marks the actual end of their hike.

We didn’t meet. I walked to the saddle and up a little farther, but Otto and Uli were nowhere on the trail. I went back to the van and drove up to the overlook, but they weren’t there. Next I went to the Visitor Center, met Barb and reported our friends missing. In the mountains, without food, with thunder clouds gathering, danger lurks at every rock.

The Park personnel helped us figure out a few likely places Otto and Uli might end up, and we set to driving from one to the other to see if we could find them.

First, we drove KY 988 north. We went three or four miles and were about to turn around when we spotted them off in the distance. They were walking toward us and looking fit.

It turns out that although they should have turned left at Fort McCook, they instead turned right and headed north on the Harlan Road Trail. That took them north to the Sugar Run picnic area that was three or four miles away.

We laughed. Otto and Uli said they had a good discussion about who was responsible for the error and also the pros and cons of long-term marriage. We told them we had three teams of blood hounds out looking for them, with a helicopter on standby.

We went back to our rooms, rested and opened some wine. After that, all went well.

A mountain woman and her daughter, acting the ro

A mountain woman and her daughter, acting the roles of Hensley family members who lived at the top of Brush Mountain for about 50 years, from early 1900s until the 1950s.