Stop Getting Lost

Prepare my soap box!  

A few weekends back, a day hiker went missing for 6 days on Mount St. Helens.  At the time of the news, all authorities knew was that he wasn't from the area, borrowed a friends car to go hiking, didn't have gear for an overnight excursion, and never came back.  His car was parked at a trailhead with no further evidence.


For 6 days this hiker was lost.  They finally found him roughly 2.7 miles from from the trailhead as the crow flies where he'd been surviving on bees and berries.  The good news is that instead of mourning the loss of a life, we can celebrate the fact that rescuers were able to find him and avoid a very sad and unfortunate event.


Getting lost doesn't have to happen that easily

Here's the deal though.  This out of state hiker didn't have to get lost in the first place if he had done a little more planning before heading out.  I'm not going to sit here and judge him too harshly because I wasn't there and I wasn't in his situation, but I will say that I'm incredibly familiar with the trail head and trail system that he was using and it's not exactly a Rubiks cube.  Sure, I admit I've had to look at a map before while I'm hiking up in that area, but that's my point.  I had a map to look at.


If this was 10 years ago, I'd tell you it may have made sense that he didn't have a map on him.  Paper maps can be annoying, somewhat hard to come by, and cumbersome I guess, but it's 2018 and we literally have technology sitting in the palm of our hands on a daily basis.  Our lost hiker may not have had overnight gear or proper footwear, but not having information on the trail system is pretty much inexcusable at this point.  


I actually don't know for sure that he didn't have a map on him, but my assumption is that he didn't or else he would have found his way back to the trailhead within that 6 day window of time.  Let's say that he DID have a map though, what then?  Well, it's clear that he was not paying attention to his surroundings, turns, and details of the trails he was on.  Maps don't do you any good if you're not looking at them and figuring out where you're at through out your trip.  If it stays in your pack and doesn't come out until you're lost, then it's like fighting someone with one or two hands tied behind your back.


Lessons learned?

Let this be lesson learned to anyone out there who thinks that they can go for a simple walk in the woods and not risk getting lost.  Clearly, this can happen because it just did on Mount St. Helens.  The thoughts of "that would never happen to me" were pretty clearly flowing through this lost hikers head because of how ill prepared he was when he left the trailhead that morning.  


So where do we go from here and what can we take away from the situation?  Well, for me it's a great reminder of a few things.


  1. Don't be complacent in the wilderness.  Even if you're going for a short day hike, prepare as if the worst could happen.  You don't need a pack full of survival gear, but you should at a minimum have some layers on you, extra food and water, a first aid kit, and even a fire starter or something.  Even if you don't need to start a fire to stay warm, you can use it to signal rescuers.
  2. Know where the hell you're going.  Don't for one moment think that you can get away with entering the forest without prior knowledge or planning of where you intend to end up.  If you're unfamiliar with the area you're in, you can't rely on quality signage or human traffic to get you home that night.  A little forethought can prevent a huge mess.
  3. GET A FREAKING MAP!  Don't even think about going out into an area you don't know without a map and a way to navigate.  Be it on your phone or in your pocket, you need to track your movements somehow so you know when and where to turn.  


Final Thoughts

The wilderness is one of the only places we can go that has a way of equalizing everything.  You can be the richest or most beautiful person in the world and Mother Nature doesn't care one bit.  Know and understand that.  Expect the unexpected every single time you head out.



Further Reading



By Land,

Emory R. Wanger