That was me the first time I went backpacking alone.You don’t have to feel that way! The woods have their scary moments only because we don’t know what is making the horrendous noise. In this case it was a Barred Owl, a large owl who seeks a mate by blaring a nerve shattering call throughout the backwoods. Now you know that he is no more scary than Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Whippoorwills sound romantic when their calls are linked to songs, but in a tree above your head in the middle of the night when they are screaming their thousandth whipoorwill, you will not be as charmed as when Randy Travis sings about them. Try knocking a rock against the tree trunk or shove your ear plugs deeper into your ears.
One fear new hikers (and old timers honest enough to admit it) have is getting lost in the woods. This is the time to stop the blood rushing-to-head anxiety, open your jar of calm, and evaluate the situation. We have all been there and have survived. You’re not lost, say the experts, you are disoriented.
Here is what I’ve learned from the pros about being lost, finding your way out and avoiding getting lost:
- Take a good look around for something familiar like a blaze, or landmark. Sometimes a blaze on a tree behind you can assure that you are on the right path.
- Backtrack to the last thing that looks familiar.
- Don’t roam around aimlessly.
- Sit and rest while you have a snack and think about what to do.
- If you are separated from your group, three short blasts on a whistle is the international distress signal, and blowing a whistle is easier than shouting your lungs out.
- Tip: On a small carabiner I keep a little pen knife, a whistle and a key chain light. These things are always in a zipped pocket of my pants so they will be handy if needed.
- Stay hydrated–keep drinking (I mean water).
- If it is getting dark and you can avoid traveling by night, stay put. Night travel may get you further disoriented.
To avoid getting lost:
- Stay on established trails; leave bushwhacking to those highly experienced in navigation.
- Take the map and guidebook pages with you. Some of us cut the relevant pages out of the guidebook and put them in a ziplock bag along with the map.
- Regularly check your map and constantly look for blazes, guideposts and signs.
- Always sign shelter registers so people will have an idea of where you are.
- Leave details of your route, marked on a map, with a reliable person. Check in with them by phone at regular intervals. Tell your contact person that if they haven’t heard from you at a preset check in time, for them to alert the authorities. Check in regularly so the authorities don’t start an unneeded search for you.
This list is by no means complete. Read about preventing getting lost and getting found on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s website and in publications by well known authorities on backpacking and hiking.
When asked if he ever got lost in the wilderness, Daniel Boone replied, “I can’t say I was ever lost, but I was once bewildered for about 3 days.”
About Al Dragon
Albert Dragon hiked the A.T. from Georgia to Vermont. He is the author of newly released Avalanche and Gorilla Jim, Appalachian Trail Adventures and Other Tales, a lighthearted memoir filled with adventure, belly laughs and surprises as two guys hike the mountainous Appalachian Trail. For more information about this entertaining book visit www.albertdragon.com