A duncehead expedition is an adventure or trip of any type where certain duncehead choices are made. For the source of this term, refer to bastard search. I have been on several of these, and they are characterized by at least one, or sometimes, several of these four qualities:
1) There is some type of lack in the initial planning and preparation. Remember the 6P rule - proper planning prevents piss-poor performance.
2) The hikers or skiers or climbers don't go where they planned to. (I've done this. Not obviously a bad choice, unless something goes wrong, and then your friends and family are searching for you several hundred miles away from where you actually are. See definition of bastard search.
3) They forget a critical piece of equipment - a map, their boots, a raincoat, etc. (This one has led to expeditions where a friend hiked for three days in his Birkenstocks, and recently for me a ski trip where I skied all day without a jacket. Had several sweaters, lots of hats, gloves, equipment, and the imp/buddha's stuff, but no shell. Cold. Brr.)
4) They neglect some simple, basic safety precaution that has been repeated to them several hundred times. (Bring the 10 essentials. Let someone know where you will be and when you will return. Fight Fire Aggressively, but Provide for Safety First.)

The first search for dunceheads I was on was via the ether only. I was a dispatcher on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which is a fancy way to say I answered the radios, took down weather reports, read the fire weather forecast (in my best sexy Mae West voice), and sent lots of firefighters and equipment around the states. One of my jobs was to monitor the radios, since the forest is in rough country, and sometimes it was hard for someone in one valley to hear a ranger over in the next. I definitely felt like a ghost in the machine at times, like the evening a wilderness ranger I knew gave a blow-by-blow description of the last several miles of his trip, late on a Saturday afternoon. He was generally not a talker, and it was hilarious to hear him describe the rocks he was climbing over (and panting), and how far he had to go and what he would be cooking for dinner, ad nauseum, all with him completely oblivious to the fact that anyone extraneous was listening.

However, I ended up being the filter and the repeater for a search after a training hike for new wilderness rangers. One young lady had been lagging behind, and instead of assigning someone to stay with her, the somewhat macho leader just kept on ahead. By the time they realized she wasn't coming, no one knew how far behind she was, or where she might have fallen by the wayside.

A search was organized, and the hunt commenced.

I listened in, repeating messages between ground crew and ranger station when they couldn't hear each other. In this case, they knew we were monitoring. I knew most of the people on the search, since this was at the district where I had been a firefighter.

The search went on for several days. On day two, I remember hearing one of the wildlife biologists saying, "I think we found her". We all knew by the tone of her voice the news was not good, and my stomach sank.

Then there was a long period of radio silence.

She was found. Dead. She had apparently gotten disoriented, and gone over a cliff. In the fog, in the dark, committed suicide? Who knows? Was this preventable? Emphatically yes. Safety rule violated? Never leave someone who is lagging or tired or slow behind. The strongest hiker or skier should be hiking last. In this day of nifty, cheap walkie talkies and cell phones, this might also not have happened, but at the time we had large, heavy Motorola radios, and there was usually only one or two per crew. (They look rad after you drop one and burn it up in a slash burn, too.)

The second search I was on was even closer to home. My sweetie at the time and a friend of ours had gone off on a three day skiing trip. Neither was a really hard core backcountry skier, but they were pretty well-prepared. I was to pick them up the evening of the third day, but I was charged not to "call in the search until Monday". (The fourth day.) I had a map of their route, knew where to meet them, but. There's always a but. I was not super well-prepared myself.

I drove out to the trailhead, two hours on a dirt road, and there had been a freezing rain during the past few days. Lots of small trees down in the road. I drove over them, fairly white-knuckled by the end of it, and hoping that no BIG trees would come down and trap us.

I arrived at the trailhead. No boys. I sat for a while, put on my sweater, read the paper as it got dark. Still no boys. I was cold, but running the heater for too long would mean I wouldn't have enough gas to drive out - and it's also dangerous. Those stories you hear about people dying on the side of the freeway in a storm? They might not have frozen, they might have died of carbon monoxide poisoning when the snow blocked their tailpipe. It got dark, and colder.

I had a heavy sweater, boots, and a newspaper. I also had a bum knee, having blown it out firefighting the previous fall, so I could not walk very far, and walked with a severe limp. I didn't have: a sleeping bag, a flashlight, a candle, a book, any food to speak of. If I'd been prepared, I could easily have dug in, and saved the guys a miserable night. Remember what your mum used to say about having a blanket in the car when you drive in the winter? One of the problems was that I was cold and all alone with my own brain, and visions of frozen solid boyfriend and friend sticking their extremely cold fingers into my mind every 15 seconds.

SO. I left. I drove back down to the closest town, BACK over all the trees, called some friends, explained the situation. Then called the local search and rescue guys.

They said, " We're glad you called, we'll drive up in the jeep tomorrow and see what we can see. Meet us at the junction at 8 a.m."

The next day, we drove up. It was heaven to be going back up in a vehicle designed for the conditions, with someone to talk to. In the DAYLIGHT. At the trailhead, there is a little shack, and sure enough, there were the boys, cold and hungry and puffy from cold but not frostbitten or dead.

They had never made it to the lookout where they were planning to stay. They had bivy sacks, but no tent, and one of the sleeping bags was down instead of poly. You try keeping a sleeping bag dry in a freezing rain. Down bags are for good weather, or REALLY cold cold, where there's little moisture in the air. By the time they got to the trailhead, the big guy had been in a cold bag for two nights. They bunked down, and then got into a conversation.

"Are you cold?"
"Yes."
"How cold?"
"Pretty cold."

Hypothermia is yucky, so they switched. Cold guy gets into poly bag, warm guy lights stove, and proceeds to squat over the lit stove, huddled, hands on the back of his neck, all night. Good friend, that.

We drove out, both of them looking fairly pasty and dampish, but full of good spirits, and we treated them to a heart attack breakfast in town. I tried not to weep all over the search and rescue guy when we said goodbye.

Safety rules broken? LOTS. No tent. They had planned to sleep in, and be sheltered by, the lookout. However, conditions were so bad that they ended up having to bivy. If I ever bivy, I'm going to have some shit hot equipment. Another problem: my lack of preparation. First rule of a search is don't put your searchers in danger, also. Make sure they are well prepared, and they stay out of danger themselves. Kinda like being at a car wreck. First rule is to make sure your EMTs and paramedics don't get squished, also. Along with that tent, candle and food I pack in the car in the winter, if I'm going out in the bush, even on a road, I pack a saw or an axe. Preferably a chainsaw, but chopping wood warms you twice. Plus, it wasn't honestly the cold that drove me back out, it was fear. Fear that I would also get stuck, and be unable to walk out, and no one knew where I was, either. We would all freeze in the dark.

So please remember yer 10 essentials, your axe, and your smarts. I don't want your duncehead expedition to turn into my bastard search.

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