Ever feel lost in the wilderness? Here's a true story of how NOT to respond:
During one early winter afternoon in the mid-1980s, 2 friends drove for miles on a Forest Service road in Montana. Far from a paved road, their vehicle became stuck. The pair elected to hike into the forest rather than retrace their entry route. They eventually concluded that they were lost. Wandering along, they came across what they believed to be an abandoned ranger station. They decided that they should do something that could attract attention from afar. Their idea? Set the cabin on fire.
It turns out the cabin was designated as a historic structure. The hikers, discovered not long after the cabin was set ablaze, were cited for destroying public property.
Better options exist for handling such a situation. These hikers, for instance, had actually found an excellent survival shelter, yet in their panicked thinking they destroyed it.
We hope you never become lost. If it happens, though, be prepared to calmly respond to the situation. It would have been much better for these 2 hikers if they had a backup plan in mind before they started making bad decisions.
What follows is an assortment of advice gleaned from experienced navigators and search-and-rescue educators. Consider keeping these tips handy on your next backcountry trip.
IMPORTANT: Let someone know where you're going, what route you plan to take and your estimated return time. If you get lost, the sooner a rescue operation begins, the better for your searchers and you, the lost party.
Tip: Make a hardcopy of a map with your intended route highlighted, then leave it with a family member, friend or a ranger. Slide one more copy under the seat of your vehicle at the trailhead. (Rescuers, racing against time, may attempt to enter your car at a trailhead in search of clues to your possible whereabouts.) If you change your plans before you start a trip, call and update someone, even if you simply leave a voice mail.
Remember an acronym favored by the Emergency Response Institute of Olympia, Wash.: S-T-O-P. Stop, Think, Observe and Plan.
Contributors: Rick Hood, director of Navigation Northwest (www.hoodcs.com), a search-and-rescue education service; Bob and Mike Burns, authors of Wilderness Navigation: Finding Your Way Using Map, Compass, Altimeter and GPS (The Mountaineers).
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: 11/21/2013
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