If you spend enough time hiking or camping in the woods, you’ll realize that there’s not much going on. Sure, you can spot some pretty interesting wildlife scurrying around, but beyond that, it’s a pretty standard scene: trees, rocks, bugs, a wayward squirrel or two, and not much else.
So you can imagine his surprise when Mark Andre, the environmental services director for Arcata, California, stumbled upon something he’d never seen before. He’d been marking trees to be harvested in the Arcata Community Forest when he realized something just wasn’t quite right…
Mark Andre of Arcata, California, has devoted his career to exploring the woods in northern California. As the town’s environmental services director, it was his job to spend time out in the wilderness. He knew the area like the back of his hand… or so he thought.
Recently, while he was out marking trees to be harvested in the Arcata Community Forest, he stumbled upon something just past some trees that he hadn’t ever seen before. It certainly wasn’t there the last time he’d been in the area!
It was almost perfectly camouflaged, and as Mark moved closer to it, he realized it was some sort of elaborate makeshift cabin. Clearly illegally constructed, he wasn’t quite sure what he’d find when he went inside…
The cabin was situated in one of the most remote areas of the Arcata Forest. Mark hadn’t explored this area since about 1985, back when was still just a forest technician. Obviously, whoever built this wasn’t expecting to be discovered.
The first thing Mark noted about the cabin was that it seemed to be fairly well-constructed. Every now and then, rangers will find random pieces of debris put together by someone looking for shelter in the woods, but this was far from random—it was expertly planned.
The cabin measured roughly eight by 12 feet and was estimated to be about 15 feet high. It featured a peaked roof, a front porch and awning, and plywood walls covered in tarps. It was even built on a solid concrete foundation!
Mark could only assume its isolation was what made constructing the cabin possible in the first place. “I didn’t see it until I was 12 feet from it,” he explained. “It’s in the perfect out-of-the-way spot where it wouldn’t be detected.”
What made the cabin even more mysterious was that no footpaths or trails led to it. Mark also noted that there didn’t appear to be any sort of environmental abuse or littering, which commonly accompanies this sort of thing. Whoever lived there clearly respected nature…
Mark decided to call forest technicians Javier Nogueira and Nick Manfredonia for help. Along with park ranger Heidi Groszmann, they trekked back to the site to explore the inside. When they finally cut the padlock and flung open the doors, they weren’t sure what—or who—they’d find inside…
As Heidi entered the cabin, gun drawn, she shouted “Arcata Police!” But no one answered. Soon, the group began to scour the contents of the abode to see if they could figure out any details about its owner.
The group was quick to note the tidily kept quarters. In the living room and kitchen area, housekeeping supplies and assorted cans of food sat on shelves built into the wall. In many ways, everything seemed ordinary. Still, there was more to explore…
Beside a rocking chair, there was a coffee table with a tea kettle sitting on it. Directly across from the chair was a pot-bellied stove. Whoever had been living here wasn’t exactly struggling out in the wilderness.
In another corner of the cabin was a small bookshelf constructed on a wall. It was lined with various titles, including Catch Me If You Can and Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. Soon, the rangers began to suspect it was an older person who’d been living there…
Other items, like a stack of tapes, lent credence to the search party’s suspicions. Still, they continued to search for other clues that might help them determine just who it was that called this mysterious place home.
The group also found a handwritten list of “Things To Do And Get,” which told them a little more about the cabin’s inhabitant. The list, which included dates, was comprised of tasks such as “build bench,” “extend brush wall,” “season cast irons,” “get six-inch stovepipe flashing,” and “Get tongs 1/22/11.”
Near the stove, the group also found a copy of nearby Humboldt State University’s The Lumberjack newspaper, dated March 25, 2015. Between the list and the paper, the team started to piece together a timeline for when the cabin’s owner might have lived there.
While they did find two driver’s licenses, they each bore the names of different people, and they didn’t lead the search party to any conclusions as to who lived there. They could only assume the person was visiting seasonally.
Since camping on public property is illegal—even if the person who’s doing it is respectful of the land—and the cabin existed on a nature refuge, the crew left an eviction notice for the inhabitant. From there, things really got strange…
When authorities returned to the cabin site at a later date, they found it had been totally deconstructed! The only trace of it was a charcoal “squatters symbol” where the cabin once sat. “That’s the cleanest camp cleanup I’ve ever seen,” said Michael McDowall, the natural resources technician for the Environmental Services Department. “There wasn’t a nail, not even a gum wrapper left behind.”
It’s unlikely that the cabin’s owner would come forward, given the potential for legal trouble. After all, the cabin was built on public land. Still, it’s pretty impressive they were ever able to construct it in the first place!
When serious woodsmen venture into the woods during hunting season, they usually have one thing on their mind: get their target in the crosshairs and take the perfect shot. But sometimes an unexpected turn of events changes plans.
Ryle Gordon and his stepfather Chris Trumbich loved to hunt. As a young boy, Ryle loved talking to Chris about hunting and always admired the massive sets of antlers adorning their home’s walls.
Chris loved hunting so much that he had a second home, a cabin out in the woods of Hayden, Idaho. Every hunting season, he and Ryle would take a trip out to the cabin for a few days and see what kind of game they could bring back home.
Early one weekend morning in November 2018, Chris woke Ryle up to get a jump start to the cabin. They were going to spend the day tracking deer, and hopefully, Ryle would take down his very first buck. However, when they arrived at the trail, they were greeted with a startling sight.
There were dozens of people dressed in bright orange vests and several trucks with the words “search and rescue” written on the side. Something was happening in the Hayden forest.
Rescuers told Chris a 19-year-old girl named Katherine Ogle was missing, and she was thought to be somewhere in the wooded area. The problem was that Katherine had the cognitive development of a 10-year-old, so it was imperative she was found soon.
As he was just 15 himself, Ryle was shaken by this news. He couldn’t imagine trying to survive alone in the thick forest on his own. Even though he basically grew up in the wilderness, he was well aware of the dangers it posed if you were caught off guard.
Chris and Ryle headed into the woods after speaking with the rescuer. Even though they were there to hunt, they promised to keep an eye out for clues about Katherine.
The duo didn’t need to go far into the woods before they spotted something that made them stop in their tracks. It wasn’t a massive deer, buck, or bear — or any animal, for that matter.
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Scrawled into the dirt in front of them was the word “HELP.” Ryle saw it first and yelled out to Chris. The two men stared down at the letters trying to determine what it could mean. To be honest, it shook them up a bit.
Having decades of hunting experience, Chris’s first instinct was that the message was left by hunters who needed help hauling in a massive animal they killed. It wasn’t unusual for game to be so large it took a team of men to transport it out of the woods.
However, Ryle thought of a totally different theory: maybe, he supposed, it was written by Katherine? After explaining the thought to his stepfather, Chris’s face grew concerned. Ryle was probably correct.
The message could have been written by Katherine as soon as she realized she was lost — maybe she had the wherewithal to leave some kind of clue for rescuers? Chris and Ryle immediately returned to the search party and told them what they found.
A few members of the party radioed to their partners telling them about the message. Almost immediately, a helicopter took off scanning the area in hopes to locate the missing teen, but night soon fell, and the chopper was called off.
But Ryle and Chris had a gut feeling to investigate one more area of the woods. It was an area near their cabin, and the rescue team hadn’t explored it yet. The two men led the way through the night using flashlights.
At their cabin, they slowly opened the front door, hoping they’d see Katherine somewhere inside. Unfortunately, the cabin was empty — although it did look like someone could have been rummaging through their things.
Chris, Ryle, and the rescue team began scouring the nearby area, calling out to Katherine. However, they realized they couldn’t hear over the sounds of their engines. They killed the noise, called out once more, and listened…
Suddenly, from not too far off in the darkness, a faint voice called out, “Hello?” Stunned, they followed the sounds until they finally reached a sleeping bag nestled between trees.
In the sleeping bag was Katherine; they had found her at last! Katherine was clearly overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of so many people, but at the same time incredibly grateful. She was safe.
Although she seemed physically okay, professionals brought Katherine to the Kootenai Health Center for a full check-up. Naturally, she was shaken up, but considering what she had been through, she fared pretty well physically.
Ryle and Chris’s day of hunting was completely changed by the message they found in the dirt. Although many of the rescuers and local news hailed them as heroes, the duo just chalked it up to being in the right place at the right time.