Twilight overtook us about two miles later. As shadows lengthened into darkness, I rummaged in my pack for flashlights, then remembered I had handed them to my son to pack. "You did? I don't remember that," he said.
I held back blameful potty words as we resumed our slow downward hike, painfully stubbing our toes on unseen obstacles, sliding on loose pebbles. We trudged into Bright Angel Campground at the bottom around 4:00 am; sore, hungry and grouchy. It took two days of precious camping time to fully recover. The worst part was, we were both experienced backpackers, which just goes to show that you don't have to be a rookie to make rookie mistakes.
Here's one of my favorite mistakes—before driving off for a hike with my dog, I went back in the house for my familiar 'hiking' jacket, leaving the dog in the car as it warmed up. He was so excited to see me come out with the jacket, he jumped at the window—and hit the door lock button. There we were, keys in the ignition, motor running, dog locked in, me locked out. That, and another experience with a car that would mysteriously lock its own doors, taught me to lower the driver's side window immediately after starting the engine, a solution for a variety of potential mistakes..
Many great adventure stories combine wilderness trails that fork and getting lost when the wrong fork was taken. Solution: wherever trails diverge, place a rock, broken branch or other bland but identifiable object just off the trodden trail, about ten feet along the fork you actually took so that there's no mistaking it.
Who hasn't made the rookie mistake of forgetting to bring an essential object---like water or sunglasses or an extra sweater for cool evenings. There are two ways to avoid this problem forever: one is the 'mantra,' the other is the emergency kit.
The mantra: after two—yes, two—occasions of driving 45 miles to a resort, only to realize I'd left my ski boots at home, I came up with a mantra to say when getting into the car: "Skis, boots, poles." Your mantra can be anything; "Lip balm, water, bike helmet." But don't just SAY it; visually locate each item before taking off.
The emergency kit will eventually be a problem solver, though it may stay unused in your vehicle trunk for a long time. Use an old daypack—you probably have a few lying around—and stuff it with a pair of comfortable shoes, a pair of socks, sunglasses, shorts, jeans, a tee shirt and a light shell jacket. In another daypack (or plastic bag), store more serious items like a 12-pack of bottled water, a roll of toilet paper, a fabric throw and a cheap plastic dog dish if you have a dog.
Every one of these items will be needed at some point if you spend a good portion of your time outside. Having them handy will help eliminate the consequences of many rookies mistakes you can count on making, no matter how experienced you may be.