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  1. #1
    Registered User English Stu's Avatar
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    Default What to do when lost

    I have this with me an aide memoir.

    Things to do if lost -possible rescue situation

    Stop
    Think
    Orientate
    Plan

    Put on warm gear.
    Climb higher to orientate better.
    Find shelter-under tree branches, next to a rock. Put up a stuff sack, or similar, as flag.
    Make a signal fire in a raised position, make smoke during day, flames at night.
    On the trail make a triangle sign (the international rescue signal)i.e A bandana in triangle with three rocks, also three twigs straight/parallel with trail with a direction of travel arrow.

    I am reading an old US bushcraft book i,e Trappers; who speaks of walking in a 200yd circle to recover a trail.Not sure how to keep the circle.On the AT I did come across a guy who had lost the trail and said he quartered it to find it again.Not sure how that works either.

  2. #2
    Registered User Kookork's Avatar
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    Using that whistle we have been carrying all our hiking lives and never used it is another step. The SOS (save our souls) signal . . . - - - . . . can be performed by a whistle or a headlamp or torch during the dark hours but I am not sure about the percentage of ordinary people who can distinguish SOS code . I personally think three sharp whistle is a good start.

    I also start to take notes of my surrounding in a note book and try to have a schematic sketch of my surrounding and my route to remember for backtrack if the salvation plan does not work and I am still lost.

  3. #3

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    Of course, the trick is not to get too lost.

    Lets assume you were on a hiking trail to start with and then made a wrong turn. That can happen for a number of reasons, but usually because you missed a turn. The quicker you realize your going the wrong way, the easier it is to correct the mistake.

    Lets also assume your on a well marked and trodden trail like the AT. If you got off onto some side trail or herd path, the "feel" and "look" of the trail along with the lack of blazes should clue you in before long your no longer on the AT. Once that happens, turn around and go back the way you came! No doubt you were on some kind of path or you wouldn't have followed it. Once it starts to peter out, you don't just keep going the same way, you go back while there is still something to follow.

    Case in point. One day the trail in Virginia was following the ridge line on an old forest road. At some point the road started to go down the side of the ridge, but the trail continued straight ahead. Unfortunately, a big bush had grown up in front of the tree with the blaze on it and also obscured the path. It looked like the trail continued to follow the road, which is of course what I did. But after about 100 yards I said "this doesn't feel right" and went back to the top of the ridge and then discovered my mistake. And then hacked away at the bush so others behind me wouldn't make the same mistake. Now another hiker who I knew was ahead of me that day later showed up behind me while I was taking a break. Turns out he made that same mistake of following the woods road, but didn't realize his mistake for like 2 miles!

    As for making distress signs or fires, those aren't really helpful unless you know someone is looking for you. That will only happen if you use a SPOT, make a call or have been missing for so long someone gets worried about you. Climbing higher probably isn't a good idea in most cases. That can just get you into more trouble. Except in some of the more remote wilderness areas along the AT, following a stream down hill will more often then not bring you out to a road.
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  4. #4
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    Second what Slo is saying, I think. Use your senses to stay on the path. If it doesn't feel right, or if you haven't seen a blaze in some time, deal with that sooner rather than later. Stop and think: when was the last time I saw a blaze?

    If there's the slightest doubt in my mind about being on the trail, I look at my watch and mark the time. I allow myself X minutes of forward movement to see the next blaze -- if I don't see a blaze in those next X minutes, I turn around and retrace my steps until I do.

    During those X minutes I turn around frequently in hopes of seeing a blaze meant for those coming the other way.

    Under certain conditions, I might mark the time when I do see a blaze.

    It's smart to hone your dead-reckoning skills at every opportunity. That kinda stuff can come in handy.

  5. #5
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    It is very easy to give bad advice on subjects like this. As such, I will limit my comments and look forward to learning something from this thread.

    There is a truth that I learned in school as a young boy that applies. "Know your audience". It is a tortured comparison, but it applies. Another way to say it is something my grandfather would say. "If you don't know where you are when you go in, you are already lost". The point is that you should know the exits before entering. As an example, my exit plan for the Long Trail was east or west. The trail runs north and south. Seldom are you more than a few miles from a road that runs north and south. My plan was to assess each day by the maps and look at the worst case scenario. If I am hopelessly lost this day, how far is it east or west to the main road? Pick a direction and hold a course. Who knows? I might hit the trail. If not, I will hit a road. That is an over simplified case. Each day there are major landmarks where I hike. I know those landmarks before I take a step. Those landmarks are used to assess a bail out plan. If I get hopelessly lost, I hold a course based on those landmarks until I reach a man made destination.

    The previous is the worst case scenario based on my life of walking in the woods in Maine. Until I hiked on the AT, I had never walked on a trail in the woods more than a mile or two. Almost all of my walking was many miles through hilly wooded tracts will no paths. Decades of this type of activity taught me the importance of knowing where I was going in, where the landmarks were, and holding a course based on those landmarks. I will let others explain how to hold an accurate course. The short of that discussion is that one does not plow a straight furrow by knowing what is behind. My point is more about knowing how to choose a direction. It is useless to be able to hold an accurate course if you don't have a plan for determining a course.

    Because I am a OCD driven planner, I have only felt lost once in my life. I was about 15 years old and several miles from any road, making my own path through the woods. I came across a massive marshy area. It was a foggy morning with no wind. I paused at the edge of it. I was headed east (without a compass). I knew what was on the other side. I underestimated the size of the swamp. Half way through, I started questioning my course. It was not a good feeling. I stopped and wrestled with myself for 10 minutes or so. In the end, I abandoned the walk, turned around, and followed my tracks back out. When I got out of the marsh, I backtracked to my starting point. Lesson learned. Always carry a compass. I did not have one.

    What is the point of that example? If you do not know where you are going, backtrack until you know where you are. This only works if you lay pride aside. On the AT, it is pretty easy to know you are not on a trail. There are many places where numerous people have made the mistake you just made. There are many places where a path seems to be a path and soon does not look like a path. I have taken a few of those wrong turns. The second I question direction, I turn around and look for a blaze. If I see one, I go back to that blaze and assess the situation. If I do not see one, I walk back until I see where I took the wrong turn. Every step you let pride or schedule or what ever delay that decision, your odds of a worst case scenario increase.

    Okay. I step aside now and listen to those with formal training. I never had any. My training was in the woods, by myself. No sarcasm intended. I am certain there are things I can learn.
    Last edited by BirdBrain; 10-24-2015 at 12:01.
    In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. - Abraham Lincoln

  6. #6
    Registered User English Stu's Avatar
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    Yes, fortunately I know that off trail feeling. Keeping track of the blazes I found essential. I also picked up the habit of making directional arrows for my own use if you go a little off track for camp or meal, or down for a shelter.
    Last edited by English Stu; 10-24-2015 at 11:59. Reason: Spelling

  7. #7

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    Any advice requires more specifics - from the original post, it seems like it's a not-so-dire case of being lost. You still have the means to orient yourself. One habit is to periodically stop and look back at where you've been coming from. That makes it easier to backtrack - this is particularly true if you reach an ambiguous fork. If you proceed, there should be a 'caution' light in your mind that you may have to backtrack to the spot where you thought things looked ambiguous.

    If you know something about the trail, this can aid in regaining it - eg. it follows a ridge line or a lake shore. Carry a map and be able to use a compass to triangulate landmarks. I do this often when bushwhacking - which, in a sense, by definition a person is off-trail.

    If you develop some skill in tracking, you can track your own prints backward as well. I did this once to find a knife I'd lost when I had to do number two in an off-trail area.

    There's the more serious case of being lost with no means to reorient yourself. There staying put is a good idea. Typically, give someone you know an itinerary of where you're going and when - check in periodically. Give them some idea of when it would be appropriate to call the authorities to initiate a search and rescue. I know people who have gone so far as to use aluminum foil to get a boot print and leave it with their car to aid trackers.

    In this extreme case, you can do some things to aid possible SAR teams - carry surveyor's tape and if you're trying to move, put up some tape at eye-height and use a marker to give information of the direction of motion. That way, a SAR team can find a line and follow the line rather than to find a point in the woods. At some point, stay put, and make a fire, hopefully in an open area - this also aids a SAR team, and provides warmth and keeps your mind focused on something other than panic.

  8. #8
    Getting out as much as I can..which is never enough. :) Mags's Avatar
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    Play some solitaire....

    Eventually some busybody will come by and tell you which cards to play and that you are doing it wrong.
    Paul "Mags" Magnanti
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    The true harvest of my life is intangible...a little stardust caught,a portion of the rainbow I have clutched -Thoreau

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    On the not-to-do list: If you miss a fork, don't take supposed shortcut to the desired trail. It will surely be more work than backtracking, and possibly dangerous.
    "It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how." ---Dr. Seuss

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    Quote Originally Posted by Feral Bill View Post
    . . . If you miss a fork, don't take supposed shortcut to the desired trail. It will surely be more work than backtracking, and possibly dangerous.
    Yeah, but backtracking isn't nearly as much fun or adventure.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    Yeah, but backtracking isn't nearly as much fun or adventure.
    Not as much adventure, sure, but not always fun.
    "It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how." ---Dr. Seuss

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mags View Post
    Play some solitaire...Eventually some busybody will come by and tell you which cards to play and that you are doing it wrong.
    Ah, the ol' Team Solitaire! One of my only strengths in this world! Please allow me to help you! "You're doing it all wrong!"

    Back on topic, I find that in our ever-shrinking "wilderness," at least what we think of wilderness here in the Lower-48, it is more and more difficult to get lost. (And goodness knows I've tried.) This is too bad. More roads, more extraction-exploration, more cattle, more trails, more fences, more footprints, more humans.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by English Stu View Post
    I have this with me an aide memoir.

    Things to do if lost -possible rescue situation

    Stop
    Think
    Orientate
    Plan

    Put on warm gear.
    Climb higher to orientate better.
    Find shelter-under tree branches, next to a rock. Put up a stuff sack, or similar, as flag.
    Make a signal fire in a raised position, make smoke during day, flames at night.
    On the trail make a triangle sign (the international rescue signal)i.e A bandana in triangle with three rocks, also three twigs straight/parallel with trail with a direction of travel arrow.

    I am reading an old US bushcraft book i,e Trappers; who speaks of walking in a 200yd circle to recover a trail.Not sure how to keep the circle.On the AT I did come across a guy who had lost the trail and said he quartered it to find it again.Not sure how that works either.
    May I offer a couple of items.
    1. Look back behind you occasionally to get a view of where you have been. If you get turned around or are trying to backtrack, then this might help you regain your bearings quicker.

    That about item on recovering a trail. In short. Put or mark something somehow that you can see from a distance. Ie bright cloth tied up in tree or another person that can yell or whistle to communicate with.
    Look out best guess direction which should be the one you just came from and find an object to walk STRAIGHT toward whil maintaining a visual on your starting point. Nothing after walking to limits of visibility or communication? Turn around and go back to starting point and repeat as necessary.
    none of them worked? Leave a note and arrow pointing direction you are heading. Then at limit of visibility mark again with a new arrow pointing direction. If you are looked for by SAR then they have an idea which way to look by following bread crumbs.

    No plan,can't find anything, injured? No compass, map or idea where you now are. Now you're officially Lost.
    Sit your ass down. Start worrying about survival until someone comes to you. Whistle, signals, bright objects to catch airplane or foot searchers eyes from a distance. It is harder to hit a moving target. Don't be one.

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    This is kind of embarrassing, but was a learning experience so I'll go ahead and write about it.

    On Day 2 of my Foothills Trail thru hike this past February, I sat down on a bench to take a break for lunch. The bench was located slightly above the tread of the trail next to a switchback, but the grading wasn't steep so effectively I was sitting down at a spot looking at a "U" in the trail. It was a nice day, I took my time eating, and then took a bunch of photos in the general vicinity leaving my pack at the bench. I then picked up my pack and started walking.

    Well, I walked in the wrong direction! I had a funny sense that something was "off" a few times and after an hour passed and I didn't get to a landmark that I was expecting, I thought something must be really off. Being stubborn I just hiked on and, eventually, reached a road junction that made my mistake painfully obvious. It was around 3-4 miles from the bench.

    The story doesn't end there. I turned around and started walking in the correct direction, pissed off at myself for being stupid and stubborn. As I walked somehow I got the idea that maybe I hadn't made a mistake but got diverted onto some side trail and eventually rejoined the main trail in the wrong direction. So I got back to the bench and then started looking around to see if there was a logical reason for my mistake other than just stupidly turning myself around. My mind started messing with me but eventually I proceeded on the correct course. The trail was deserted and I saw no one else that day or I might have realized my error sooner.

    My new rule after this incident is that whenever I stop, I take a minute to take a mental picture of my bearings and then I put my trekking pole down with the tip pointing in the direction of my travel. I do this obsessively now even though it may seem stupid.

    My guess is that I'm not the first hiker to turn himself around like this. While not lost or in danger, it did suck.

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    There is an infinite variety of "being lost" even in backpacking.


    First and foremost, don't panic! Stay calm. Maintain your ability to respond intelligently. You do not need to fear the unknown or unexpected. The unexpected can be a great teacher and opportunity for adventure and exploration. Maintain a positive, energetic, and resourceful disposition.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Coffee View Post
    My new rule after this incident is that whenever I stop, I take a minute to take a mental picture of my bearings and then I put my trekking pole down with the tip pointing in the direction of my travel. I do this obsessively now even though it may seem stupid.

    My guess is that I'm not the first hiker to turn himself around like this. While not lost or in danger, it did suck.
    I have made the same mistake, more than once, I think. And I have used the same trick of laying down my trekking poles to point in the direction I should go. And then when I start up again, I get up, put the poles in my hands, and forget which way they were pointed before I picked them up.

    The mind plays tricks, especially on a cloudy day in Connecticut woods.

  17. #17
    A proper quick, brave, steady, ready gentleman! ocourse's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=English Stu;2013957]I have this with me an aide memoir.

    Things to do if lost -possible rescue situation

    Stop
    Think
    Orientate
    Plan

    Put on warm gear.
    Climb higher to orientate better.
    Find shelter-under tree branches, next to a rock. Put up a stuff sack, or similar, as flag.
    Make a signal fire in a raised position, make smoke during day, flames at night.
    On the trail make a triangle sign (the international rescue signal)i.e A bandana in triangle with three rocks, also three twigs straight/parallel with trail with a direction of travel arrow.

    I am reading an old US bushcraft book i,e Trappers; who speaks of walking in a 200yd circle to recover a trail.Not sure how to keep the circle.On the AT I did come across a guy who had lost the trail and said he quartered it to find it again.Not sure how that works either.

    A lot of information is needed for any specific "lost" scenario.
    Putting on warm gear may or may not be necessary.
    Climbing higher might deplete your remaining energy and take you farther away from help. Also, trails downhill would eventually strike civilization, while hiking up would probably not provide any clue to a hiker who is already lost. Truly lost usually means your best chance is to stay put.
    Near a rock? Not sure what that would mean unless it means warmth from a reflected fire.
    Finally, "on the trail", leaving a sign wouldn't be necessary since you know where the trail is.
    So, there are many definitions of "lost", and your source of information isn't complete.
    I've learned....
    That a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.

  18. #18
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    Well, there's "turned around" - and there's "lost". Most of us get turned around from time to time, following a false trail and then having to backtrack, getting disoriented gathering wood, water, or even answering the call.

    You'll know when you're really lost because it will be one of the few times in life you'll be happy to hear the words, "Hello, we're the government and we're here to help."
    I was self employed once, but it proved too stressful. My boss was a jerk and my employee was a slacker - I didn't know whether to quit or fire myself.

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    One factor to consider is how frequently traveled the area you are lost in may be. Fires, triangles and such will only help if someone comes near enough to see them. Staying put is a good idea in some cases but may not be in others. The story of David Boomhower is illustrative of this problem. He decided he was lost while traveling on a side trail off the Northville-Placid Trail and set up camp waiting to be rescued. No one happened to go down that side trail for several months, by which time he had, sadly, died. He was only a few miles from the NP trail and from a state campground in the other direction, but he just sat there for several weeks until it was too late.
    Zach

  20. #20
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    I looked up the David Boomhower story. Wow, that is incredibly sad. I hope that is not what happened in Inchworm's case.

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