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The Benefits of Getting Lost

The Benefits of Getting Lost

Aug 24, 2013

This past week, Jim Maddock and I found ourselves in the Val Anniviers, looking for great trail running routes along the course of the fabled Sierre-Zinal trail race route.  (We found them! But, that’s a story for some other time.)

Running along, chatting, half distracted, we were enjoying a late summer, sunny alp afternoon on a ridge a thousand meters above the village of St. Luc and Grimentz, when we missed a turn– fact learned much later, mind you.

The route grew wilder, the path fainter, and we were soon trail running along a fairytale-like stream in a miniature ravine: riverbank plants wafting in a local breeze, no sound but the tumble of mountain water over the rocks. Fifteen minutes later, and we were amid untrammeled pastures thousands of acres in size. From there, we wended our way to little-traveled col, and, topping out, discovered vistas of the icy, 4,221 meter-high Zinalrothorn. On the other side of the col? An enormous basin, with just one faint trail, and an alp farm far below.

Let's hear it for getting lost! Headed towards the col, Zinalrothorn in the far distance.
Let’s hear it for getting lost! Headed towards the col, the icy summit of Zinalrothorn is barely visible in the distance.

We all know the downsides of getting lost. Society drills them into us time and again, and we read of the tragic consequences of pushing on, despite the error. But, less often discussed are the benefits that sometimes accrue from such errors: discovery, adventure, pristine terrain traveled by a few—and the life lesson about the importance of walking through suddenly-opened doors.

The result of our wrong turn was a stunningly beautiful afternoon. For those who come after us, the running description we’ll share will allow them to enjoy the same beautiful place we stumbled across, that day. Here’s to getting lost!

Doug Mayer
Doug Mayer is the founder of Run the Alps and lives in Chamonix, France with his labradoodle, Izzy. He is the author of The Race that Changed Running: The Inside Story of UTMB and writes for Outside Online and Ultrasignup News. His upcoming book is a graphic novel about Italy’s 330km long Tor des Géants trail race.