Like any hurt animal my dad headed downhill. Reconstructing what had happened the next day my little brother was able to piece it together pretty accurately from the tracks.
The tipped over ATV, 200 yards later the dropped chain saw, (didn't want to leave an expensive tool), tracks continuing down the path of least resistance, in the exact wrong direction.
My dad walked out of the woods that night, took a long time but he made it. The stroke had made it harder for him to think straight, but he walked out. 76 years old.
Okinawa didn't kill him, cancer didn't get him, the massive stroke didn't get him, and that night in the woods hypothermia didn't get him.
Restricted from owning toys for most of his life, after my mom passed, my dad bought all the stuff his Sierra Club / Audubon Society joining wife had denied him. Used to drive the ATV around the old long abandoned logging roads past that house he lived in way out the end of a dirt road. Almost did him in.
Anyone intent on getting lost needs to bring some tools along to get the job done right, and I guess the most useful tool is attitude. I'd guess my dad still had some of that leftover.
If you are going to be wandering around the woods you should at least be mentally prepared to spend the night. Yup, even in winter in the snow. That's the deal for me, no calling the search and rescue guys to come find my sorry ass until first light. If you aren't prepared to spend the night, stick to the well marked trail.
Besides an attitude the only "tools" I bring with me that are out of the ordinary are a small space blanket down the bottom of my pack, two ways to make a fire and a locator beacon, more on that last one later. The rest of my "tools" are ordinary stuff that I'd always have anyway, a warm jacket and a rain coat, a half gallon of water in an old soda bottle (reduce reuse recycle). A cell phone. I also bring a map or GPS, rarely a compass, only if the terrain is flat.
At some time after rolling his ATV and getting shaken up my dad must have come to his senses and realized he was at the bottom of that long valley to the east of his land. He'd of remembered it from many hikes we took when I was a kid, and recognized it from then, even though it now looks different because of the beaver ponds, and it has no trails. One sure way out of that valley is to follow the creek to it's headwaters in a jumble of steep hills and then head up and left, eventually you'll come to the road, can't miss it. You follow the valley until you run up against the tangle of cliffy little hills then up and left, a child could find their way out, with some practice, even with a light snow on the ground and an October moon to light the way. Make a sensible plan and follow it.
My dad was knocking on my brother's door at 9:45 asking for a ride the rest of the way home.
've been getting lost since I was a kid, I'm practiced at it. As I get older it's getting pretty much impossible.
My folks got that place when I was ten. As long as I was back by dinner I was free to get as lost as I wanted. Thick trees, gently rolling, small, hilly, brushy. I carried nothing with me. Wandering around those woods didn't do me any harm.
Now scientists tell us that what we used to call a "sense of direction" is actually a piece of our brain just like other animals have. Maybe that thing we have that helps us to remember where we are has atrophied from lack of use. As with other types of thinking a little exercise probably helps to strengthen one's "dead reckoning" abilities.
I take my kids hiking, off trail, sometimes I ask them to point to where the truck is, or where our house at home is. They mostly get it right, never off by much.
What's the locator beacon? I use this one.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding their use. Too many gadgets in the woods. iphones, GPS, PLB, it's getting so you need a photovoltaic array just to recharge. I use them all. Every gadget has an off button. Technology isn't a substitute for woodscraft, it's an addition to.
The Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) changes the commitment. I've certainly spent plenty of days alone in the woods, and I've never gotten so hurt I couldn't walk out, but I've known of plenty of people that have, often by crawling. I'd take the humility of a rescue first.
When I read reports of missing hikers these days, often the authorities mention the lack of a beacon. I've heard the horror stories of people using them because they are thirsty or tired, but I think the advantages far outweigh their misuse. Most people have a Spot brand as it allows a preset message to be sent to email stating that you are fine. I opted for the McMurdo because the signal is much stronger and doesn't go to a private satellite but rather the same system that locates downed aircraft. I've heard the antenna on mine is hard to re coil and store, that's ok, I only intend for it to be a one use item, not a toy.
I cut the center out of a block of styrofoam put the PLB inside and wrapped it in duct tape. Chances are great I'll never use it.
Below is a cut and paste from the comment section of a skiing blog that was anti PLB. The commenter worked as a Search and Rescue pilot for the Air Force out of Portland, so he was constantly going on calls for the mountains as well as the ocean.Wild Snow
I think from a SAR (Search And Rescue) point of view, having specific location information trumps the more numerous false activation’s that might be common with the advent of PLB’s. Most of our missions were body location/recovery, often because the victims died of exposure by the time they were located. I remember the very first cell phone rescue we had, a guy that had fallen high on Mt Jefferson. He was rescued within about two hours, unheard of at that time.This post has kind of veered from being one about walking in the woods without getting lost to a sales pitch for Mcmurdo Fast Find. When my unit finally reaches it's age limit next year I'll probably switch to the ACR brand one. Still sends signals to NOAA and doesn't work at two way communication at all but smaller, lighter, battery can be replaced in the USA.
The amount of time and resources spent, as well as the exposure of rescue personnel is greatly multiplied when there is no accurate position information. ...... the bottom line is resources are spread much thinner and the exposure is greater when location is questionable.
False PLB transmissions are relatively easily verified. Aircraft have had ELT’s for decades and we deal with false signals daily, it’s really not that big of a problem.
Even the best intentioned and experienced climbers, back country enthusiasts, and boaters get into trouble on rare occasion. Taking personal responsibility is great, but having one of these devices at the ready is going to not only possibly save your life, but reduce the risk, exposure and cost to SAR personnel.
Leave early, have a realistic turn around time, increase your level of difficulty gradually, but get off the trail, go get lost.