Saturday, May 20, 2017


No one plans on getting lost, but if you hike long enough, chances are you will find yourself off course, wondering where you went wrong.  Hopefully it is only a few yard off the intended path when you discover you are heading off in the wrong directions and can correct your ways.  But sometimes it is not discovered until later and you wonder where you went wrong.

It often starts out the same way. a hiker, having escaped into the forest to enjoy the day, is late returning home.  Their car waits at the trailhead, empty.  A search and rescue team is called in, and the hiker is found--tired, cold, hungry, and embarrassed.  Luckily this ending was a happy one.  Perhaps they were a beginner hiker unfamiliar with the area, or maybe they were experience and just missed a crucial trail marker.  Sometimes they have just thrown caution and preparation to the wind. 

The first step in avoiding a tragedy is your preparation.  Research your hike.  Study a map and read trail descriptions before you go on your hike.  In today's world, using a GPS on a hike can really help you avoid getting lost, and if you do get lost, it can help you find our way back to safety.  (Be sure you know how to use it before you hike.)

Make sure you are prepared for the off chance you do get lost.  Carry these essentials:  nutrition, hydration, sun protection, additional clothing for insulation, illumination, first-aid,waterproof matches, and emergency signalling (old cd and whistle.)

It is never a good idea to hike alone.  There is safety in numbers.  If you do hike alone, and in fact any time you hike, leave a hike itinerary with someone.  Let them know where you are going and when you plan to return.  This can make the difference between life and death, as it gives search and rescue a general location for where to start looking.  Make sure you notify your contact if you change plans during your hike.

Taking a detour to waterfalls, venturing off-trail to see wildlife and other adventurous exploration are why we hike.  (And there are thoe side trips to heed the call of mother nature.)  They are also what get us lost.  Make sure you watch for landmarks--interesting rocks, trees, topography.  That way you can navigate back to your trail.  Don't consider taking a short cut or going off trail.  Remaining on the trail reduces your chances of getting lost. 

Remember, weather changes quickly in the mountains.  Fatigue and unexpected conditions can affect your hike.  Know your limitations and when to postpone ahike or turn back.  The mountains will be there another day.

If you find yourself clueless in the forest, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Don't panic.  Sop, take a deep breath and look around.
  • Never run when you get lost.  Not only could you hurt yourself, but you can take yourself farther and farther away from your point of origin and become further disoriented.  Good advice for a lost child is "hug a tree" meaning stay put.  That's good advice for all of us.  Don't move until you have a specific reason to do so. The only time you might want to leave your spot when lost is if you know you haven't gone too far afield and can retrace your steps until you are back on familiar ground.  You also want to eave a location that is unsafe, severe weather is approaching and you need shelter, if no one will know you are missing to search for you, your rescue signal will probably not be seen, or you do not have enough food or water to survive.  These exception make the situation pretty complicated.
Spend enough time exploring the outdoors and chances are you're going to get lost sometime.  All in all, you can't ever prevent getting lost with 100% certainty.  But plan and follow the tips above, and chances are you won't be lost for long.