Sunday, October 28, 2012

What to do if you're lost on a hike with kids

If lost, don't panic. Simply stop walking and see if you
can determine your location and how to get back
to your trail.
Q: How do you know you’re lost?

A: When you don’t know where you are and you don’t know which way to go.

The two are not mutually exclusive.

You could be hiking along a trail and not be able to pinpoint on a map exactly where you are yet still be confident that you’re heading in the right direction simply because no other trails have branched off yours and because key landmarks are easily identifiable on the horizon.

Stop walking
As soon as you’re uncertain where you are and whether or not you’re heading in the right direction, stop walking. It’s time to figure out where you are.

As when searching for someone lost, don’t panic. It’s the greatest danger to anyone who is lost. Just take a rest stop and pull out your maps. Check the topo map and see if you can spot any obvious landmarks. These could include prominent peaks, roads, water towers, power lines or waterways.

If you can’t locate an obvious landmark, consider tracing your way back to the last spot you checked your map and knew you were going in the right direction. From there, either head in the correct direction or return to your vehicle before you get lost again.

Should you see other hikers, don’t hesitate to tell them you’re lost. They’ll probably be able to help you find your bearings. At the very least, they can take you to a trailhead and then hopefully back to your vehicle.

Locate main trail
If lost, you’re probably not too far away from your trail. Experienced hikers know the odds are good that they can get back to the trail.

As Melissa F., of Moab, Utah, advises: “Estimate how much time has passed since you last knew where you were, then estimate how far you probably can walk in that amount of time. If you cover a mile every half hour, and 15 minutes have passed since you last saw a landmark that you knew was on your trail, at worse you’re only a half-mile off course. By knowing the compass direction of a landmark you can identify, you can estimate which direction the trail is.”

Fair warning, though: It’s probably not a good idea to go back to the trail but best to stay where you are and take comfort in knowing that you’ll be fairly easy for rescuers to find. If you keep walking in the wrong direction, you likely will increase the time rescuers need to locate you.

Should you rescue yourself while a search operation is underway, be sure to let a park ranger or the authorities know. There’s no need to continue the search once you’re safe. Such operations are expensive and you may needlessly be draining manpower and resources away from another rescue.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.