Nobody sets out to get lost on a hike, but sometimes things go wrong — like the time an eagle swooped right over my head, then zipped off across the mountainside. I just had to follow it and see what had drawn its attention. I didn’t realize I was lost until I tried to find my way back to the trail… and couldn’t.Here’s what you can to prepare before you go hiking, and what to do once you realize you’re lost:
Before You Go
Create a safety net. Tell somebody you trust where you’are going, when you expect to be back, and who to alert if you don’t show up on time — then stick to your original plan. If something does go wrong, someone will know where to start looking for you.www.africaoutdoors.co.ke website suggests leaving even more with your trusted friend: a recent photo, scent articles, a description of your vehicle plus its license plate numbers, and a record of your sole pattern and size.
Pack an emergency kit. Pack a map and compass (among these other essential items), and know how to use them — they might be just what you need to get un-lost. A GPS can be helpful too, but there’s a lot that can go wrong when you take advanced technology into the wilderness; ultimately, a map and compass are more reliable.Your emergency kit should also contain some means of signaling for help. If you’re lucky enough to be hiking in a place with cell phone service, you might be able to phone for help — but phone batteries die or service can cut out, so carry a backup method of signaling for help, like an emergency whistle.If you get lost and have to spend an unplanned night outside, having a few other small, light items in your emergency kit — like a space blanket and fire-starting materials — can make a big difference. And remember, every single thing you have on you becomes a potential tool; even your trekking pole can be put to use as part of a splint or an emergency shelter
Stay aware of your surroundings. Once you’re out on the trail, use these to stay oriented and keep yourself from getting lost in the first place.
I’m Lost. Now What?
You might still be able to get yourself un-lost. But first, follow the STOP acronym:
Stop. If you move around without a good plan, you’re likely to get even more lost. So for now sit down, take a few deep breaths, drink some water, and remember that because you shared your plans with a person you trust, somebody is going to come looking for you.
Think back to the last time you were sure of your location. Mentally recap everything you did since that moment. Did you pass any landmarks that you can use to guide yourself back?
Observe your surroundings. Can you see or hear any clues that might guide you back onto the right path? Consult your map: Are there any roads, or major terrain or water features, that you can orient on? Can you see or hear them from where you’re at?
Plan your course of action. Even if you’re confident that you can now navigate your way back to known terrain, choose a nearby, easily visible landmark to help guide you back to your starting point in case things go wrong. If it’s getting dark or you’re not sure you can make it back to your starting point at need, staying put may be your best option.
While You Stay Put
Whistle or call for help if you haven’t already, then listen for a response. (Don’t keep shouting for a long time, because your vocal cords will get tired quickly. Use a whistle if you have it; three blasts is the universal signal for “Help!”)
Find dry shelter. Put on extra layers, if you have them, and find a dry, sheltered spot where you can hear or see rescuers coming. A carefully tended fire can both keep you warm and make you more visible to searchers. But be careful: You don’t want to burn down your shelter or cause a forest fire.
Make yourself visible from both land and air. Attract searchers’ attention with something that’s obviously human-made, like spelling “HELP” or 999 with rocks laid in a clearing. Hang brightly colored clothing, or something shiny, from tree limbs to draw extra attention.
How to Stay Oriented While Hiking in Fog
Let’s get a couple of things straight right away: Hiking in the fog isn’t exactly a desirable pursuit. While fanciful sorts (including myself!) may find that the fog creates a mystical, appealing environment, it also creates the perfect conditions for walking yourself right off a cliff, or at the very least getting terribly lost. Knowing an area like the back of the hand does a lot to negate that risk — but sometimes it’s still not enough.
Thick fog also creates damp, chilly conditions — not unlike hiking in a persistent drizzle — so make sure you’re wearing layers of wicking clothing that dry quickly and retain their insulating value, even when wet.
I’m not saying you should run screaming if you see a fog bank approaching — but do understand that it’s a potential monkey wrench in your hike and could, in a worst-case scenario, create a survival situation.
Here are some tips to help you get home safely and easily, next time you find yourself hiking in the fog:
Stay on the Trail
If you suddenly find yourself hiking in dense fog, the hiking trail becomes your lifeline — don’t leave it. But that’s not all; get in the habit of paying attention to twists, turns, and branches in the trail as you hike, even if there’s plenty of visibility. That way if you’re trying to navigate back in the fog, you won’t have to wonder which branch is which or whether you’ve already walked past your turn-off.If you’re not confident in your ability to spot the right turn-off when visibility is very limited,use a bandana to mark correct turn-off or lay down some other temporary trail marking, like an arrow made of sticks and stones. If you didn’t leave such markings and aren’t comfortable finding your way back, you can either explore the trail turn-offs — taking care to always be able to find your way back to where you started — or stay put until the fog clears.
Follow Definite Land Features
If you don’t have a trail to follow — or even if you do — steering by definite land features is another way to keep oriented. You won’t necessarily be able to see distant features like distinctive trees or far-off peaks, although you should still keep an eye out for them through gaps in the fog. You can, however, follow ridges or deliberately point yourself uphill or downhill.Of course, this is only helpful if you already know the terrain you’re hiking in fairly well. Atopograpic map might be of some help in helping you navigate by altitude change or major terrain features, but the truth is that most topos won’t show enough fine detail to help you if you’re truly lost in dense fog without a clue. If you’re not confident in your ability to find your way back, stay put until the fog clears.
Look for Other Clues
If you can’t spot any major landmarks or land features, look for smaller clues. Something as small as the way a certain tree’s branch is broken, a certain rut in the trail, or even the way a particular root embedded in the dirt points can help you recognize where you’ve been and which way you should go next. However these clues must be distinctive, and you must be able to tell that they haven’t been disturbed or switched around.For example, I’ll trust an oddly-shaped rock that’s embedded in or near the trail as a guide, because I can readily spot it on the way back and then tell whether or not it’s been disturbed. If you’re not absolutely, completely positive of what you’re looking at? Stay put until the fog clears.
All of the previous tricks have something in common — they only work if you’re paying attentionbefore you end up in the fog or as you head into it. So pay extra attention if fog is in the forecast or you’re in an area that’s prone to fog. Besides, paying attention will help you stay oriented on the trail as a general rule.
Track Your Position
If you have a GPS and can use it to navigate back to a known position, you’re in luck! However, carrying a GPS is no excuse for not keeping track of your position in your head or using the tricks I’ve laid out here. Batteries die, screens break; the entire unit can be dropped or lost completely, at which point you’re on your own again.If you don’t have a GPS (or your GPS stops working), you can navigate by dead reckoning with a compass — but only if you’re able to tell exactly where you’re starting from, and know that you can spot enough landmarks or terrain features to double-check yourself and stay on track as you move.The farther you have to go, the more even minor errors in heading are magnified — so if you’re not absolutely confident in your compass-wielding ability and your familiarity with the terrain you’re on, stay put until the fog clears. (If you do go for it, pay close attention so you can backtrack at need — and remember to correct for declination)
Establish a Reference Point
If you find yourself truly lost in the fog, staying put until the fog passes is often the smartest choice. Wandering aimlessly in the fog, hoping to find your way back, will just get you more thoroughly lost and confused.If for any reason that’s not an option and you absolutely have to keep trying to find your way back, make sure you establish a clearly marked reference point or “home base” as the starting point for your search. As long as you can make it back to that reference point, you won’t be making yourself even more lost as you try to find the way back home.
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