I found myself on a very narrow ledge, with a long drop-off. So I made a U-turn, and found the correct route.
Because you were still thinking rationally. Introduce even the slightest hint of panic - racing thoughts like: it's getting dark, I'm cold, my friends/parents/kids will be worried, etc - sets into motion a whole different level of reaction(s), most of which most would not be classified as 'calm'.
In the vignette I shared above, I'll admit I had around 10 seconds of 'what should I do'? I'll repeat - I'd been out for 4 days hiking from Kearsarge, I wanted out, and it was beginning to snow. But, because I've been up there a number of times before, I knew in general where I was ie the trail drops down to Trailside meadow, so I had no problem backtracking knowing that the Consulation drainage would get me to the same place.
I don't know if anyone from this board saw this TR from last spring (http://www.highsierratopix.com/community/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=14472
), but there was a moment where I lost the trail (ie boot tracks) for around 5-10 minutes below Muir pass.
Finally, I reached a ledge where I could see boot tracks way down below. For around 5-10 seconds, I was tempted to downclimb the cliffy area (made easier by the snow), rather than hike back up for 5-10 minutes in deep post-hole conditions to regain the point where I should have turned.
However, because I've been in these kinds of situations before, I just had to relax, laugh at myself, and begin trudging back. But, if you take someone who is placed in this kind of situation for the first time, and take into consideration basic human nature, then the annual death tolls (including one just a few days ago) begin to make more sense.