|The summit register says “Jesus loves you!” but somehow we still got lost.
What Went Wrong?
- My friend took off ahead of me down the scree run, west of where we should have made our descent. Not wanting to lose her, I followed her into a snow filled gully.
- Our best option would have been to go back above tree line and find another way down, but we were too lazy to regain elevation, and my hiking buddy didn’t have the footwear to go through snow, so we veered southeast through the trees (toward the parking lot) and hoped we would rejoin the trail.
- Since I had done the hike before, I had assumed we wouldn’t get lost and hadn’t taken the precautions I take in unfamiliar territory or longer trips. I had a detailed topographic map, but no compass. Once we were below tree line, it was hard to navigate by sight.
- There was cell phone reception, but both of us had low batteries, so we held off on using the phones for navigation (in case we needed to make an emergency phone call). When we finally checked our coordinates, we were on the right track and only 1 km from the car. I will be sure to carry a compass and backup phone charger next time!
How Can You Avoid Getting Lost (and Yelled At)?
- Pay attention to landmarks, especially at unmarked junctions, or where the trail is undefined (on slab and scree, above treeline). If you’re on and out and back trail, look back once in a while so you will recognize landmarks on your return. Things look different from a different direction. Also, your compass will not know there is a turbulent river or cliff between you and your destination, so it is important to be aware of the terrain you are traversing.
- Good landmarks are geographical features that are unique and easy to recognize like bodies of water, canyons, man made structures (bridges, roads, towns in the distance, etc.), interesting trees.
- Follow the leader (within reason). If your hiking buddy has done the hike before and you have not, follow her. This does not mean you should be oblivious to your surroundings however. Make mental note of landmarks and question your trip leader if you think you are going the wrong way.
- Stay on the trail. Sometimes it is hard to know where the “real” trail is when you are on slab or scree (above treeline) or numerous hikers and animals have made multiple trails. Stay on the trail that looks widest and most used. Refer to landmarks, and your map and compass frequently to make sure you’re still headed in the right direction.
- Carry navigational devices on every hike:
- A detailed topographic map and compass are the best items to bring as they don’t require batteries. Compass Dude has instructions on how to read a compass.
- A GPS with extra batteries is helpful, but even fully charged gadgets can malfunction. You should always pack a compass for backup and know how to use it.
- Take a compass bearing from the trailhead pointing towards your car, and/or record your starting waypoint on your GPS.
- Make sure you are comfortable navigating with a compass and/or GPS unit.
- If you lose the trail, return to the last known point before you go too far in the wrong direction. Stay calm, get your bearings, and try again. Now would be a good time to get out the GPS or compass. If you need to, find an open area or higher ground so you can determine look for landmarks. After bushwhacking for quite a while, we made our way out of the spruce trees to an aspen forest where we could determined we were headed in the right direction, but too far south of the mountain. Worst case scenario, we would have continued south until we hit the highway, then walked to the parking lot, but getting that glimpse through the trees saved us an extra hour of walking.
|Always bring a compass and map!
Have you ever gotten lost? What happened and how did you make your way back?