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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.
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.
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.

Leave early, have a realistic turn around time, increase your level of difficulty gradually, but get off the trail, go get lost.

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Comment Preferences

  •  As I started out walking yesterday I realized (21+ / 0-)

    I'd forgotten my bag containing 2 ways to make a fire plus headlamp. I made sure I was out by dark, no moon.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 05:20:52 AM PST

  •  Great post. (16+ / 0-)

    As a kid, I took a nap while trying to fish a creek in a cedar swamp one time and woke up as the sun was going down. I panicked and did exactly the wrong thing which resulted in  me stumbling around in the dark for hours walking in circles. Lesson learned - heh!

    Here in the flatlands, I routinely carry a compass. In addition, I always have a light raincoat, water bottle, and matches when I am in the boonies. I get comfortably lost from time to time and I haven't needed to spend the night yet (although I've been close).

    Peace, Love, and Canoes!!!

    by OldJackPine on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 05:27:45 AM PST

    •  You have to be your best resource (5+ / 0-)

      From my experiences:
      Know your physical and mental limits. You'll need water within a couple of days; food in a couple of weeks (and body fat alone, well don't count on it saving you, it burns best in a carbohydrate flame)(generally having water is more important than food); body core temperature has to stay in upper 90'sF (Stay dry! Take fire!). No carbs means you'll chill more easily.
      Have some understanding of and experience with the terrain and climate.
      Let someone know where you are going, and when you expect to be out.
      If you think you're lost, make a plan and follow it (takes mental toughness).
      If you think electronics will save you after you've done something stupid or just had an accident, just leave that s#*t at home. It might help, but more often I see it giving an air of invincibility to people who are simply in over their heads.

      Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

      by RudiB on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 07:17:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I get very thirsty after 12 hours without water (5+ / 0-)

        a couple of days is a long long time.

        All technology has it's uses, or we wouldn't have it, all technology has it's limitations. The compass and map and matches and flashlight are all technological aids, but we take them for granted, indeed we consider those who don't bring them to be ill prepared.

        All the knowledge and experience in the world does one no good with a broken leg. Beacons are made for just that sort of possibility.

        This fellow suggests religion and making peace with people you've had disagreements with. I'd preffer the ignominity of buying lots of pizza and beer for the SAR folks.

        “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

        by ban nock on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 08:55:48 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Do you go downhill if lost? (15+ / 0-)

    I was always taught, like in the Boy Scouts, that if you were lost you should head downhill, find a stream and keep following it down until you run into civilization.
    I was surprised to find when I posted this once that it was controversial----others think you should stay where you are.
    I can't see this---I want to be proactive. Yet here in OR we've had more than one case of people staying in their cars and starving to death. In one the guy was less than 2 miles away from a house.
    The Kim story was the most notable, got the most airplay anyway. A really sad story, the family mistakenly took an unpaved logging road in a freak snowstorm and wound up 7 miles off a public road. They had no food other than a few baby snacks. James Kim stayed there for 8 days before deciding to  go for help---by that time he would have been starving, in poor health, with no physical reserves. the snow that had gotten them
    Its hard to believe that, in an area so remote they have to run mailboats up the ROgue River to get to this area, they had such faith that they would be found and rescued.
    I would have started searching trying find where I was, try t find a clearing on a hill where my cell phone would work.
    And I'd start right away!.
     Whats further perplexing about this case is that the snow that got them lost was all rained off in a few days and they we'ren't stuck--they could have driven out with a little care and they had almost a full tank of gas.
    If Kim had started looking around being proactive in the search, other than trying the cell phone repeatedly, he might well be alive.

    Ive never really been lost in the woods but I have been a mite bewildered. I feel comfortable in th bush--I got in, I'll get out.

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 05:37:04 AM PST

    •  age old conundrum. Staying put only helps if (10+ / 0-)

      someone is looking for you, and looking in the right place, as the Coast Guard pilot noted most searches are recovery efforts.

      Conserving batteries a good idea.

      I can find my way out of anywhere, my only worry is getting hurt. A broken leg or ankle would slow me down too much.

      I've had problems above treeline in dense fog. Louisiana swamps seemed to be the same in all directions too.

      “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

      by ban nock on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 05:57:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, there is that aspect (11+ / 0-)

        I hadn't thought of Louisiana, I'd 'spect I'd be in a boat. I spent time there working offshore, all along the coast:out of Venice, Morgan City, Lake Charles etc. I am also a big I mean HUGE Zydeco fan.
        But I spent considerable time trying to find out where the fck we were on lrrp patrols. This would be a group effort, everybody (all 5 of us) taking a guess. Geez to think how easy that would be on with cell phones and GPS---Our state of the art technology then was PRC 25s and 20 year old maps.
        and those maps were sometimes, lets say: speculative. One of our jobs was to correct them if we could. We'd go on patrols knowing the maps could be wrong.
        Best way to find out where we were was fire an artillery spotting round and take a bearing on it. But sometimes we were outside Artillery range. And once we couldn't see or hear the round, we were that far off the map page.
        Did I say this was right in the middle of the Ho Chi Minh Trail? Needs to be said. We may not have known where we were but sometimes they did.

        Nowadays I never go anywhere I can't get to in a taxi.

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 06:12:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I used to go walking around far off the road in (9+ / 0-)

          Laos. Same sorts of forest as the highlands in Vietnam, often along the border actually, but far up north closer to Dien Bien Phu. I used to use old topos from the war to see where I'd been after I went. I'd guess from the terrain and the creeks. One inch equaled two or so miles. Then I bought a cheap GPS and recorded coordinates at villages but didn't record a track due to battery usage. My reckoning was pretty much on the money. We'd still get lost by as much as 10 miles or so. Lots of forest, lots of creeks and rivers.

          “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

          by ban nock on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 06:28:57 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Children under 12 have a pretty record (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ban nock, high uintas

        of survival because they tmd to stay put. And because someone is looking for them right away. Adults often wander away (or in circles) without a plan and make it difficult for SAR,

        Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

        by RudiB on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 07:26:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Getting down (4+ / 0-)

      is usually the best course if you're in trouble at altitude. For example, I've seen HAPE (high altitude pulmanory edema) clear up with as little as 1500' descent.

      Mountaineers have the same saying as pilots: I'd rather be down here wishing I was up there than being up there wishing I was down here.

      Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

      by RudiB on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 07:47:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  as those living in Oregon at the time followed (0+ / 0-)

      this sad story, the Kims were following an Internet map of some sort that turned out NOT to be very good. It didn't indicate that the highest part of the road was basically gravel logging roads and not used by ANYBODY at the time of year the Kims started up it!

      The Wiki article states that the Kims ran the car out of gas, running the engine to keep warm the first couple of days. The wife and children were found walking out (by a helicopter pilot). If there had been gas in the car, why would she have chosen to walk out?

      "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

      by chimene on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 08:40:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice diary..... (14+ / 0-)

       ...we stick fairly close to home, as we have 80 acres of our own to walk, most of it woods. Daylight walking mostly, and really enjoying our surroundings...

      It is VERY surprising how quickly things turn toward unrecognizable as dark approaches!

    Peace! HH99

    Compost for a greener piles?

    by Hoghead99 on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 05:45:30 AM PST

  •  helpful advice.... (7+ / 0-)

    especially the locator device.  I think a lot of parents (or children) of hikers might consider buying one for their offspring.

    You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

    by murrayewv on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 05:59:01 AM PST

    •  They need to be registered with NOAA to be (7+ / 0-)

      activated. It only takes a couple minutes online, reactivated every 2 years. Mine is permanently in my day pack.

      “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

      by ban nock on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 06:23:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've watched (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RudiB, high uintas, ban nock

        a few episodes of some of the survivor shows on TV. I liked the one where the guy was truly by himself, Survivor Man I believe. He is very methodical and CAREFUL when in the bush. However, I found the one with the British ex-commando guy to be laughable. The few times I watched he was always jumping off things and just doing stupid dangerous shit. And he had a film crew with him. Makes for good TV I guess...  

        "If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist." Walter Reuther

        by fugwb on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 06:48:38 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I must dissent (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock, Texknight, murrayewv

      The false sense of security that these devices bring is pretty damned dangerous. Instead, if they like to go the mountains for example, consider enroll ing them in an appropriate hazard evaluation and rescue course. Invest in their minds before investing in gadgets.

      Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

      by RudiB on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 07:54:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Here is a story (3+ / 0-)

        where having one of those would have saved lives.

        These two women made a choice to go for a short hike in the Uintas. BTW, they were eventually found by my niece and her cadaver dogs.

        And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County Down by the Green River where Paradise lay. Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away. John Prine

        by high uintas on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 08:02:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  RudiB, I've read several of these comments (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        high uintas

        and I can't envision how this "learn the damn craft" mantra will result in persons accepting anything short of instant gratification:  
        Me > Eddie Bauer > Wilderness > posting selfies to Instagram my awesome new togs.

        My experience is more offshore, than wilderness.  EPIRB devices, survival suits, and self-inflating rafts probably account for a degree of over-confidence in both recreational and commercial boating.  
        Still no reason not to suggest the purchase to anyone leaving the dock in cold water, or sight of land in any weather.

        It's just Small Craft Warnings... and we've all this stuff.  The race is ON damnit.

        Swordfish will be biting before the storm, and the ex-boat price is up $2 over last week.
        Besides, we have all this stuff.

        What of the person who isn't a Any Ship/Any Sea Master-Mariner, who encounters a freak hazard?  
        Strikes some debris such as I saw years ago.  2 pairs of dual wheels and the rear axle they were attached to, floating in the ocean.  800 pounds of iron, barely breaking the surface.

        Do you need a minimum 100 Ton USCG license, to warrant a float-free self-activating emergency locator beacon?  "Oh, I'll have time to radio, and give me location."
        Not when you're thrown down the companionway in the collision.

        To hiking:
        If I was a Ranger, I'd want to see a minimum kit standard for those accessing, or going beyond the park trail system.
        Water, carb bars, raingear, space blanket, epi-pen, and locator device.

  •  the rise in popularity of backcountry (9+ / 0-)

    is creating a problem for SAR teams. I work at a ski resort, and it is almost like clockwork that somebody heads over the backside and into the wilderness looking for powder after a storm. There is seldom any preparation at all. These folks assume there must be a road at the base of any mountain, but the back side of this resort leads to dozens of square miles of wilderness, all of it steep and confusing to dead reckoning. It's twelve miles and three mountain climbs to get to the next paved road in one direction, not much less in the other. Streams don't exactly go in straight lines, either, and can take days to follow to civilization. Then there's the hazard of getting wet, and all the blowdowns from Hurricane Irene... It is extremely difficult to cover ground in alpine ski boots when it is deep snow and uphill in all directions, especially with 9 hours of daylight for most of the winter. We have several serious incidents every year and the problem is becoming more common industry wide. And this is without the avalanche hazards the West has.

    The biggest single mistake included in the lack of planning is reliance on a cell phone. Those things are useless in a canyon or ravine, they burn out their batteries when searching for service, and more than once they've died out while SAR was trying to get a fix on the phone location.

    A minimum amount of preparation for any backcountry skiing, even in the East, includes;
    1. having and being able to read a topo map and/or GPS unit
    2. strong physical and technical fitness
    3. fire making tools
    4. some sort of emergency shelter (like a tarp or blanket)
    5. food & water
    6. climbing skins
    7. repair tools
    8. minimum two companions
    You get that last thing by following a guide or otherwise hooking up with someone with deep local knowledge, and doing it repeatedly. Thinking that a spontaneous adventure into the frozen mountainous wilderness might be fun is astonishingly foolhardy, and becoming as common as texting and driving, another incredibly stupid and unnecessary danger people seldom think through.

    Please note; I am talking about people who do this unprepared. The diarist's dad had some knowledge of the area and experience. His mistake was going solo ( a crime I'll admit to having committed once or twice myself). I have a deep love for skiing the backcountry, and it can be an incredible experience. But I have also seen up close what happens when nature's warning signs are ignored or minimized, and I would do anything to have that day to do over again.

    Last full month in which the average daily temperature did not exceed twentieth-century norms: 2/1985 - Harper's Index, 2/2013

    by kamarvt on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 07:26:17 AM PST

    •  Excellent post (6+ / 0-)

      Folks should be aware that ideal backcountry ski slopes ar also ideal for avalanches (25 to 50 degrees). An avalanche beacon without a good (big) shovel just tells you where the dead bodies can be recovered.

      So, don't ski alone. Everyone should have a beacon and shovel and know how to use them. For the "fun" of it, have friends bury you in about 3 feet of snow and experience how impossible it is to get out. By the way, don't stay under too long. There's a 50 percent chance of brain damage after as little as 30 minutes.

      Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

      by RudiB on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 07:40:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Lesson learned (4+ / 0-)

    If your survival gear is not on your person it often does little good.
     I was at approx N52 Lat in Ontario on a 4 wheeler crossing a lake in March which is still winter there. Temps were below freezing and I had everything a person would need to last for weeks. My pack had food, water, fire and cold weather gear. I had an axe, fishing gear and a rifle.
      There was only one problem, everything was in a cooler strapped to the back of the ATV. When I went through the crushed ice along a pressure ridge my dog and I were both in the water and all that great gear was still strapped the the machine. We got out and got to shore and after much work got a lighter dried out enough to spark off a fire and dry out.
     During the 20 K back to the cabin I had a lot of time to think. If What you need to survive is not attached in some way to your person you may not have it when you need it.
     There was a good ending in that the cooler stapped to the back of the ATV was what kept it from sinking so I was able to get it after ice out.
     I could see all my gear but could not get to it bobbing in ice water. It may not always be comfortable carrying your gear on your person but it is a small price to pay when you need it  

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