How to be found when you're lost
Wilderness legend Daniel Boone once wrote, "I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks. " Lots of hikers...
Special to The Seattle Times
Wilderness legend Daniel Boone once wrote, "I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks."
Lots of hikers, hunters, skiers and snowshoers lose their way in the woods each year, but only a few are truly lost. There is a world of difference between being lost and simply not knowing exactly where you are. For example, a novice hiker who missed a trail junction can feel lost and confused even when standing on a well-maintained backcountry trail. "Everyone will react differently to various situations," said Tim Williams, chairman of Seattle Mountain Rescue. "But once they are 'lost' and in need of assistance, there are some simple, common things anyone should do."
First off, Williams says, stop where you are. Have a snack and something to drink and calmly check your map, consider your options and figure out what needs to be done.
The difference between not knowing exactly where you are and being lost generally comes down to this: panic. As anxiety and panic creep into the mind, rational thought fades away, which is when bad decisions are made.
"Typically, it's not one bad decision," William notes. "It's incremental. Little mistakes that build on one another until you find yourself in trouble."
So, according to wilderness survival experts, the first rule of "staying found" is staying calm.
Seek out shelter
"Find yourself some shelter from the elements, but stay in one place," Williams said. "It is much easier for us (Search and Rescue) to find a stationary object than a moving target."
The hiker lost in the North Cascades in late September violated this rule, trying to hike out. She reportedly left notes along her path, but later seemed to have changed her mind, so while her notes said she was traveling down valley, she later decided to change direction and hike uphill. Searchers found some of her notes, and later found her. But her rescue might have been much quicker if she had stayed at the location of her first note.
Williams said the important things folks can do to ensure quick rescue should they get into trouble include:
• Leave a detailed itinerary with someone before heading out. This should include such details as the trailhead you plan to use, the destination of your hike and your estimated time of return. It should also include some possible contingency plans. For instance: Though you may expect to be back at home by 6 p.m., you might explain that seasonal conditions could prevent you from getting back to your car until after that time, so you shouldn't be reported missing immediately — wait until morning. Road and trail conditions may force you to choose a different route. Have your secondary plans detailed in your notes as well, so searchers will have a second — or even third — trail to check should your vehicle not be found at the first trailhead.
• Be prepared. Any day hike, snowshoe trip or even out-of-bounds ski trip can easily turn into an overnight adventure. Be prepared to spend the night, if not in comfort, at least in safety. An emergency blanket, a light source, extra food and water and warm clothes can help you get through an emergency overnight bivouac safely.
• Stay put. Once you are sure you are lost or in need of help to get out, stay put. If you are in a group, stay together! Separating just doubles the work the searchers will need to do to get you all safely off the mountain.
• Carry a cellphone and GPS, but don't rely solely on them.
Cellphone coverage is spotty at best in the mountains. If you do get a signal, it is vital you be able to tell the responding agency (usually the county sheriff's department) your location, and a GPS can provide pinpoint locations for the searchers. Note, however, Williams' warning: "If you do get through to 911 and initiate a rescue, it will likely be several hours at least before those folks get to you, so you need to be prepared for a long stay regardless."
• Mark your location. A brightly colored tarp or jacket (bright orange is best) can stand out against the dark landscape of the forest. If you are traveling in snow, Williams suggests carrying a couple packages of cherry or strawberry flavored Kool-Aid. If lost, find an open area and sprinkle powdered drink sparingly over the snow in an X shape — the color will bleed out into the snow, creating a bright red marker that can be seen from helicopters.
High-tech solutions are also available to help mark your location. (See sidebar.)
Always prepare for the contingency of getting lost or stuck outside overnight (or longer). But with proper planning, you can avoid the need for rescue in the first place. Some things you can do:
• Carry and know how to use a map and compass. Use these during your hike or snowshoe outing so you are familiar with the area you are passing through. That makes it easier to navigate out should you become disoriented later.
• Carry and use a GPS device. Familiarize yourself with the unit's operation before heading out. If you store the location of the trailhead before starting your hike, its easy to use the "track-back" feature that's built into the device to find your way back to your car from any location.
• Familiarize yourself with the area before heading out. If you don't know the specific region you plan to travel, study maps before heading out, and if possible, talk with Forest Service rangers or other users to get specifics about trails and possible navigation hazards/difficulties.
Freelance writer Dan A. Nelson, of Puyallup, is an author of several outdoor guides, and a frequent contributor to Northwest Weekend and Backpacker magazine.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
NEW - 7:51 PM
Special interest? There is a camp for that
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
(The Associated Press) Fuel rules get support A Consumer Federation of America survey conducted in April found that a large majority of Americans R...
Post a comment