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  1. #1

    Default "Death by GPS", Nevada 2011, a sad update

    Fellow travelers,
    A host of searchable news reports from the beginning of this month note the finding and positive identification of the remains of Albert Chretien in the mountains of Elko County, Nevada. The late Mr. Chretien was the husband of the couple who in March 2011 followed a GPS route off of paved roads in nearby Idaho and onto graded gravel then two-track trails as they penetrated deeper and deeper into an area rarely traveled in winter. Their van got stuck and after 3 days Mr. Chretien took the GPS, a blanket, and a handful of food and attempted to walk out to the tiny community of Mountain City, NV to get help. He was never seen alive again, and in nothing short of a miracle, Mrs. Chretien survived some 46 more days in the van until a family on an ATV outing found her on Mother's Day weekend.

    In early October 2012, elk hunters found the body of Albert Chretien on the upper slopes on the north side of Merritt Mountain, over 18 months from the time he'd started walking out for help. He'd walked around 7 miles from the van and was some 6 miles away from Mountain City. Searchers did not find his GPS, but it was of the variety which re-charges its battery from hook-ups in a vehicle's 12-volt system or from household current, meaning there was no way to replace batteries. The searchers noted he'd left detailed information with his wife as to his intended route from the van to Mountain City, and from the location of his body, they speculate the GPS battery failed and he wandered off-course to the north, gaining over 2,400' of elevation, walking into deeper and deeper snow, and ultimately sought shelter in a "tree hole", a common feature in high snowpack mountains, where a tree's branches and boughs prevent deep accumulation, providing something of a shelter from wind and falling snow. His body was found at the base of a large tree, which precluded locating it from the air and which prevented ground searches from locating it.

    The episode was roundly discussed here in "Gear-up" back then. Having a keen interest in off-road travel in exactly the part of Nevada the tragedy unfolded in, I've spent some time with maps and Google trying to determine more exactly where their van was found and where the search for Mr. Chretien was focused. The whole episode is sad, with not a small dose of shocking. The initial foray took the Chretiens off of I-84 at Mountain Home, ID, south down a paved 2-lane road which does enter and traverse the mountains in Nevada, leading to the Great Basin and connecting to other routes to Las Vegas, their destination. But the Chretiens were trying to make it to Jackpot, NV, on the ID-NV line on US 93, for an overnight stop, before continuing to Vegas the next day. Mrs. Chretien told searchers and investigators they'd realized they'd turned off of I-84 too soon and were miles and miles down ID-51, the two lane road, before realizing their error. At that point, Mr. Chretien consulted his new GPS, purchased to navigate the streets of Las Vegas, and searched for a more direct route to Jackpot, saving them the time and distance of backtracking up to I-84. There are US Forest Service roads, county roads, and BLM roads all over that border area of ID and NV, so Chretien came up with a route, but the problem was these roads enter and traverse mountains over 5,000' higher in elevation than the Snake River Plain from which he was departing. They're not maintained in winter, and nobody ever attempts to enter the mountains from the Idaho side until May or June.

    The "shortcut" started at Grasmere, ID, a dot on the map now uninhabited. After some 30 miles, it enters a steep-walled canyon and reaches an intersection which would lead over a range to intersect the road to Jackpot. Chretien must have realized his mistake by this time, and he turned south, looking for a road leading to Mountain City, a much closer route by which to reach a town with motels and fuel, Elko. Once again, such roads exist, but he was in fact going farther and farther into the mountains, and farther away from the direction where help might come from. He ultimately turned off of a "main road" along Meadow Creek and attempted to drive up a steep canyon road more directly in the direction of Mountain City, up Taylor Creek Canyon. Realizing, after a couple of miles, that he could not get up the canyon's road, he tried to turn around, got stuck in the mud alongside the road, and that was as far as the van went. Attempts to un-stick it were futile, and after 2 nights, he started walking out on Day 3.

    It is said that hindsight is 20-20. Truer words were never spoken about the decisions made by Albert Chretien in March 2011. As is most often the case, the Law of Serial Consequences took hold, too, with one bad decision creating opportunity for another, and with a compounding effect. Absence of a paper map, absence of "situational awareness" as to the general nature of the geography his trip was intended to traverse, reliance solely on GPS, then continued reliance on GPS to get him out of the mess it had gotten him in to, right down to having the unit die on him at the very point he needed directional guidance most, leading him to walk away from help instead of more directly towards it, killed Albert Chretien in March 2011, and it brought his wife to within days of death from starvation and exposure.

    The hope is, of course, that travelers can learn from the tragic mistakes of others. RIP, Albert Chretien.

    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 10-18-2012 at 06:03 PM. Reason: link to Sedenquist's Serial Consequences article

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Rip.

    That sure is a sad and sobering story, thanks for the update Foy. I hope that finally being able to lay him to rest will help his family and friends to find some comfort and peace.


    Perhaps this thread should be made a sticky [?]

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Excellent research


    That was quite an update. And certainly something that we should all share as seems appropriate. I've posted a direct link to your article on the RTA Facebook page.


  4. #4


    Informative and well written piece bringing attention to the dangers of over reliance on a GPS.

    Excitement of a road trip can sometimes override common sense measures and going off paved roads in these vast areas of the US can lead to numerous dangers. Mr and Mrs Chretien unfortunately put too much faith into their GPS.

    No doubt like many other road trippers I have had signals from my GPS to take very tempting roads into the wilderness. Learned to resist temptation and unless I have consulted a good paper map and aware of what is ahead it is a no go.

    To give a flavour of the roads Mr and Mrs Chretien were using here is a short clip of the place they were travelling near Rowland, near the NV and ID border. Remember they were travelling in March when snow was still in abundance.

    And lastly a very good clip of Mrs Chretien being interviewed after her rescue.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default What those clips!

    Whoa, those are great clips -- really shows the country and her interview is very interesting as well. Particularly how she managed to survive on so little food for 49 days. I didn't realize that they managed to dig out the first time and then got stuck again.


  6. #6

    Default Great clips!

    Wow, those are great clips of the interview with Rita. Her direct description differs somewhat from the patched-together then-current news stories I summarized above as to how they initially came to head south from I-84 and entered the canyon of the Bruneau River. In fact, to be brutally frank about it, her testimony in the interview doesn't seem to square with the terrain out there. Highway ID 51 heads south/southwest from Mountain Home, ID at I-84, crosses the Nevada border near Owhyee, NV, and in NV it is re-numbered as NV 225, which then runs through the Mountain City, NV community and on down south/southeast to Elko, NV. Mrs Chretien seems to indicate the GPS led them to exit I-84 onto ID 51 for the shortest route to Jackpot from I-84. This is essentially impossible inasmuch as Mapquest shows a shortest route being mostly the best route: I-84 on east from Mountain Home to Twin Falls, ID, crossing the enormous Snake River canyon at Twin Falls, then south down US 93 to Jackpot, that being 132 miles. You can cut it down to 127 miles by noodling around some side roads paralleling I-84 close to Twin Falls. Admittedly there are some factors within the Mapquest data set which might not show roads more directly connecting ID 51 at Mountain Home and Jackpot, NV, but there are at least two major and virtually impossible to cross canyons between ID 51 and US 93- the Bruneau River and the Salmon Falls Creek, and besides that, but no direct route can possibly involve going all the way south on ID 51 to Grasmere, where taking that long of a jog to the south/southwest when your target is about due southeast of Mountain Home inevitably means more miles. The inconsistencies in how I understand Mrs Chretien's interview testimony vs. detailed map study supports the accuracy of the various news accounts from the time of her rescue, which say the Chretien's turned off of I-84 prematurely at Mountain Home rather than continuing to Twin Falls (were they enticed by signage suggesting ID 51 led to Mountain City and Elko, Nevada? Who knows). The consensus of the news accounts say they realized they were not headed to Jackpot when they were some distance down ID 51 and THEN punched in "shortest route". From a position of, say, Grasmere, ID, the shortest route to Jackpot WOULD take one to Rowland, NV, where at a road junction one Forest Service route goes east, over the Bruneau River, and way up over 2 +8,000' passes, to the even deeper canyon of the Jarbidge River, then east/northeast to Rogerson, ID, on US 93 just a handful of miles north of the border, at which Jackpot occupies the NV side.

    What a calm and reserved lady Mrs Chretien seems to have been at the time of the interview. I don't think I could drive that van around after the experience she had in it. I'm mighty grateful for her having the strength to do the interview, and grateful to Eris for finding and posting it.

    Our preliminary plans for a return to annual Road Trips during 2013 are centered on the NV ID border area, right through Rowland and up Taylor Creek Rd, summiting Merritt Mountain (where Albert Chretien's remains were found) and on to Mountain City before crossing the upper (southern) portion of the Owyhee Desert enroute to Winnemucca, NV. Should be a lot different in July than the pics from March/April depict.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    South Central Orange County


    That is sad news indeed. Thanks for sharing the update.

  8. #8

    Default Update for the update

    When insomnia attacked at 0245 today, I looked at my Idaho Benchmark Atlas for a while. Turns out there IS a network of roads leading from ID 51 immediately south of I-84 at Mountain Home to the Jarbidge-Rogerson Road, which in turn goes to US 93 close to Jackpot. I don't have mapping software to measure it out, but it may be slightly shorter than the I-84 to US 93 route. It definitely avoids the canyon-crossing issue in that it starts on the east side of the Bruneau Canyon, down by its mouth where it dumps into the Snake, and runs along "table lands" all the way nearly to the NV border. I can now better imagine following a GPS route departing I-84 onto ID 51, the immediately missing the turn up Hot Springs Road and instead heading far south/southwest on ID 51 before discovering one's mistake, THEN plotting a new route from Grasmere, which would be necessary to avoid backtracking nearly all the way back to I-84.


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