So at some point, it just went wrong. My folks either made a bad choice at diverging trails, or got turned around, or just walked right passed a juncture, but their demeanor changed. They slowed. The tone of their voices got more serious. My sister and I were hot and tired and getting crabby in a sustained way. My parents probably were too. We should have been back to the car by now, it was getting on towards dinner time. We came to a stop. And there they were, lost, with darkness falling and two very very tired girls with them. They started to discuss. They could not be that far offtrack, we had not walked very far. They could still see the ridge we had descended, and the sun was setting in the west, they had a sense of where they were. They were young and resourceful and figured worst case scenario they would be fine overnight with us if we got caught in the dark, everyone had a warm layer tied around their waste. It would be an adventure, a story to to tell. And also quite likely entirely unpleasant. My Dad thought we could backtrack and either discover where we had gone wrong or return the full length of the way we came before it got too dark. There was also the possibility that we were only a short distance from a connecting trail, or even the trail head itself, the trail simply being longer than we anticipated. But we knew how to get back the way we came. We turned around.
This terrified me. I was little, I had no sense of time or distance with which to put the problem into perspective. I was still afraid of the dark and I remembered the view from the top of the trail, it seemed like a really really big place to be lost in. I was imagining lions and tigers and bears and Yeti and rodents of unusual size. I was thinking that this very kind of thing was what had happened to those Hobbits. My sister was fixated on talking about spending the night out there; she may have said something about having to eat me first. In all, this probably only happened over the course of a couple of hours, but in my memory it feels like we wandered forever, like Lawrence of Arabia, parched for water and slowly weakening with hunger. Walking with my Dad holding my hand, I started to cry.