I am grateful that she is okay.
So what can be learned from this? How can you avoid being a negative statistic?
Leave an itinerary with someone you can trust to take action and have a set time for check-in: "I am going on the Lost Lake trail and I will call in by sundown Sunday." I print out the trail info and leave that with my trusted contact.
Check the weather report and coordinate it with the location and elevation you will be at. In the Cascades, I expect precipitation if the report is 30% or more. Hiking at 6500' in October with cloudy skies calls for precipitation, and I would expect snow at anything above 3000' other than MAYBE July or August. Rain is a reality 24/7/365. I have been snowed on in early June at 3000' on the west side of the Cascades, which of course turned to near freezing rain as I descended. Lovely hiking weather ;)
As in this case, if you run short on time, turn around and go home. Ditto if the weather turns. You want to survive this trip to enjoy many more. That lake isn't going anywhere. Getting lost in the dark and snow in steep country is just a first row ticket to the Darwin Awards.
If you find yourself off trail, going farther is not the best idea. If you are confident in finding your way back to the trailhead, fine. If you aren't sure what is ahead, quit. This is recreation--- fresh air and excercise-- not worth dieing for.
Be prepared: that is what the "10 essentials" are all about. First and foremost, if you have a map and compass, don't wait until your are lost to use them! Keep track of where you are. Add GPS and rinse.
In this case, she had a poncho, which I think is a prefectly good emergency shelter. I would have used my knife and fire starting gear to get a roaring fire going, strung my poncho, put on my extra clothing, climbed into my emergency bivy, ate some of my extra food, got my whistle out and started making some noise. Perhaps not cozy, but nearly comfortable with a fire going. Certainly not hypothermic or frostbitten in those conditions. It just takes some basic skills and a tiny bit of equipment.
This is not an isolated incident. I see totally unprepared day hikers on every popular trail all summer long.
Typical day hiking group of 3-4 people:
One person in the party MIGHT know the trail. The others have NO clue where they are or where they are headed other than it is a lake or waterfall, etc.
No maps or compasses. No GPS.
All bare-handed-- not even a water bottle. If they are carrying something it is a cell phone or MP3 player. Nothing on the essentials list.
All wearing cotton.
Several show signs of being out of shape-- stumbling gait, sweating, breathing hard.
Shoes vary from trail runners to flip-flops to gold lame sandals.
Three miles up a steep five mile hike, two hours from sunset.
Rain is forecast.
God watches over fools and little children!