A couple of South Bay folks got a good scare in the form of five frigid nights at Castle Rock State Park. Seems they set out late Saturday afternoon and got lost in the dark, then for reasons still unclear (very, very unclear) they spent not only Saturday night in the woods, but also Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Searchers found them Thursday afternoon in a ravine near Goat Rock, one of the most prominent features in the park.

I’m sure in subsequent stories they’ll explain what happened. So far the reports say they huddled under a rock the first night then spent the next four in a hollow tree (no word on elves issuing eviction notices).

Hikers around the newsroom I spoke with were mystified that anybody could get lost that badly at Castle Rock. It’s one of the most popular hiking parks in the South Bay and only has one major loop trail and a few minor side trails. The last couple Sundays I’ve been there, it’s been mobbed with Boy Scouts coming home from camping.

Near as I can tell, they must’ve decided to stay put where they had shelter and wait for rescuers to show up. Once the search was on in earnest Thursday morning they were found within a couple hours.

I guess people just figure it can’t happen to them, especially in the most heavily traveled state park in the area, one where the notion of staying lost more than a few minutes seems positively laughable.

But it’s not so hard to see how things can go wrong:

  • Suppose our couple gets caught out after dark on a Saturday, spends one nasty night in the woods but figures things will be fine on Sunday because they’ll cross paths with park’s reliable crowds.
  • But it turns out to be an especially cloudy and rainy Sunday at the end of a holiday weekend, so hardly anybody comes to the park on this Sunday. So, night number 2.
  • Come Monday, the park is empty and they’re exhausted from two nights of shivering. This renders them essentially immobile, even though the weather is clear and they should have no trouble navigating in the daytime. All they can do is wait for somebody to come find ‘em.
  • As luck would have it they aren’t reported missing till Tuesday and large-scale search doesn’t ensue till Thursday.

Reminds me of the adage that experienced outdoors people are not looking for adventure — they’re looking to avoid it.

Other news accounts: S.F. Chronicle | NBC 11 | CBS 5