Wild night in the woods ends happily


Herald Writer

CAMANO ISLAND — Three Camano Island residents who set out to blaze a trail through a wooded area behind their home got more of a wilderness experience than they planned.

After dinner on Thanksgiving, Gayle Bowman, 36, and her daughters, Ilsa, 12, and Gina, 7, struck out about 3:30 p.m. from the back yard of their Rocky Point home. They didn’t make it back for about 10 hours.

They’ve walked in wooded areas before, but are relatively new to Camano Island, Bowman said.

"We went around some thick brush and were headed back west toward our home, and thought we had 50 to 100 feet left to blaze through," she said. "It started getting dark, so we turned back to try to find our original trail. It was overcast, and there was a lot of thick brush and downed trees. We couldn’t find west. We’re on a hillside, but it’s two levels. My last-ditch effort at dusk was to go downhill and find home."

They couldn’t find home. They had bundled in coats, but didn’t have flashlights.

"We just had to stop and sit tight," she said.

She recalled from survival courses that she should stay in one place to help searchers find them.

"I thought we were there until morning," Bowman said. "We huddled up. I was able to pull some fir branches down to sit on and stay dry. We were under a tree and it drizzled. We did stay dry, but our feet were damp. We shivered and we huddled."

Gina went to sleep, and eventually Ilsa drifted off, too, she said.

After dark, John Bowman became concerned that his wife and two of his daughters hadn’t returned. He searched for them in the hilly, brushy woods that cover about two square miles on the west side of the island, Island County sheriff’s officials said. Neighbors hadn’t seen them, so Bowman called the sheriff’s office about 9 p.m.

Sheriff’s officials coordinated a five-hour search including sheriff’s personnel, Camano Island Fire and Rescue District 1, Island County Department of Emergency Services, Skagit County Search and Rescue personnel, and Don Mason’s tracking dogs from Freeland.

"Thanks to them, the Bowmans are now safely home," Chief Criminal Deputy Chris Ellis said.

About 1 a.m., searchers heard a response to their shouts and a team of tracking dogs then located the trio, who had ventured well beyond the pathway and became disoriented in the dense undergrowth as daylight faded, sheriff’s officials said.

"There were sirens and horrendous noise, megaphones," Gayle Bowman said.

The sound first came from too far to the south for the searchers to find them, she said.

"We were yelling and I wasn’t sure they could hear us," she said. "Then they approached from the north side. It was a combined effort. We were glad they found us. They had extra coats, but we didn’t really need anything once we were up and moving. They had extra flashlights and water."

During their adventure, the girls were frightened in the dark, she said.

"We heard some snapping twigs. We thought it was either a deer or a cougar, hopefully a deer," she said.

They had their Brittany-cocker spaniel, Abbey, with them.

It took about 25 minutes to make their way out of the woods. She later learned they’d gone "probably only half a mile — in the wrong direction," Bowman said.

"I was overconfident about my woods experience. It would have been wonderful to have matches; we’d have stayed a lot warmer. Rubbing two sticks together didn’t work," she said.

The incident has changed, but not ended, their enthusiasm for the outdoors.

"They’re not likely to wander off," she said of her daughters. "We’ll just be much more careful."

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