Lost, Turned Around, Etc.

4:23 p.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Something Patman said made me wonder how each of us perceive or define being "Lost."  

Personally, I only consider being lost to mean that I do not know where I am, both specifically and on a large scale, and do not know where to go or what to do to determine my relation to a know point.  Even If I don't know exactly where I am on a map, but know what certain landmarks are, or what watershed I am in, I don't think that is even close to lost. Nor do I consider knowing the exact location on a map, but not which trail branch to take as such, either. 

I think my nomenclature would be something like:

Lost = no clue where I am, or how to find out.

Misplaced = completely flummoxed by what I see and my relation to the terrain and map. I know where I am on the big scale, but really confused about the rest!

Turned Around = Realizing I made mistake, or am only momentarily uncertain, but I know exactly how to achieve correct orientation or location again.  

So, how would you define "lost," "turned-around," or other gradations of "less than not-lost?"  :)

6:51 p.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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I know generally where I am, enough such that I might eventually become oriented.

I am situated, and know generally which direction known landmarks lay.

Line of position (LOP):
I am oriented, and a compass bearing to one known landmark has reduced my possible location on the map down to a point located somewhere this side of the sighted landmark, along the vector of the compass heading.

Fixed or triangulated:
I have determined my exact position, by sighting LOPs off two or more known landmarks, my location being the intersection point of these LOPs. 

I am situated, but cannot better determine my location, due to lack the tools, knowledge or environmental conditions that prevent me from becoming oriented.

I am not situated.  I do not know where I am, and lack the tools, knowledge or environmental conditions that will allow me to become situated.

I am oriented, and traveling a predetermined route.

Not on the intended line of travel. 

The moment I go off-course.

I am off course, having took a misstep at some point (e.g. walked down a false leg off a switchback, wandered off a duck line, wrong fork in a trail, or similar tracking error).  I definitely can return to my last known on-course location, provided I don't take another misstep.

I am off course.  I do not know how (or wish) to get back to my last known on-course location.  A systematic exploration of my surrounding is undertaken, to become resituated, or reoriented, perhaps gain an LOP or fix, all to ultimately determine a route to my objective.


9:35 a.m. on June 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I never get lost because people are always telling me where to go.

10:07 a.m. on June 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Well, Ed, If you're going to get all technical about it...


10:31 a.m. on June 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I'm always sure that I know where I am, though often mistaken. But always have an extra days of food after getting out of that mistaken place that I knew where I was.

1:41 p.m. on June 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Yeah I use the term loosely…I’m not near as specific as you guys. I sometimes have a penchant for self denigration as well and will use an extreme description when it’s probably unwarranted.

Lets see….looking at your list I would say I am sometimes misplaced and frequently turned around!

Lol….you witnessed such when I led us up Grassy Ridge unintentionally (even though that’s where were trying to go). I do stuff like that a lot when I get distracted. I don’t think I mentioned this in the report from Frozen Head but on that trip I got distracted taking pictures of some cool rocks and absentmindedly walked off the trail: I did almost a full figure eight loop around some truck sized boulders, then realized I was way off the trail, bushwhacked to trail blaze I could see in the distance only to find out I had back tracked in the direction I just come…. Classically turned around!

3:58 p.m. on June 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I get 'misplaced' sometimes, but it's when that niggling moment of panic rears its head that I start thinking that maybe I'm actually 'lost'. Once I beat it back down, I usually discover I'm just 'misplaced'.

So I'm only lost if I panic.

6:36 p.m. on June 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Usually I find that, while in the backcountry, getting undressed, either to swim, change clothes or sunbathe invariably brings someone by.  Maybe the glare attracts people like fish to a spinner.  Its like I have some tragic greek curse, if I get undressed in the backcountry I invariably get stumbled upon by some wayward hiker. 

My plan, if I ever find myself in terra incognita, is to immediately undress.  Luckily I haven' been that lost yet. 

7:16 p.m. on June 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Haha! So true. 

I could have been in the backcountry for days without seeing soul, but the minute I decide to go for a swim in the buff, a Mennonite Women's club is sure to hike up ;P


12:03 a.m. on June 28, 2012 (EDT)
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I've never been lost, but I once got turned around for a couple of days.  :-)

7:21 a.m. on June 28, 2012 (EDT)
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My wife claims I am usually lost in a fog. 


2:56 p.m. on June 29, 2012 (EDT)
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lost  is being lucky when your not lost anymore.

lost is a follower

lost are those who think they have it all figured out

lost is 90% of poeple between the age 18-25

when the game is over and the other team won

lastly a saying my granpa said about a struggle with another over a woman:

Sometimes when you lose you win,  and sometimes when you win you lose. Im sure this one hits home with many of you, it sure does with me.

7:33 p.m. on June 29, 2012 (EDT)
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disorientated yes,

lost - where is the sun ?

10:21 p.m. on June 29, 2012 (EDT)
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the late comedian mitch hedburg said that if you get lost in the woods you should build a house because you would no longer be lost, you'd be home.

9:00 p.m. on June 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Well, maybe a little off topic, but here is an interesting story

1:40 a.m. on July 1, 2012 (EDT)
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If you get lost in the desert you can always eat the sand which is there.

12:08 p.m. on July 1, 2012 (EDT)
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I get lost in thought quite often. When that happens, I sit down, cerebrally, make a cognitive fire, and hope someone on an astral plane passing over sees the smoke.

10:51 p.m. on July 2, 2012 (EDT)
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"I've never been lost, but I was mighty turned around for three days once." Daniel Boone

8:39 a.m. on July 3, 2012 (EDT)
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That quote has always brought a smile to my face :)  Whether it is an accurate attribution or not I do not know, but it is a good one.

8:42 p.m. on July 3, 2012 (EDT)
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No thanks I will pass on getting lost. I won't go into a wilderness area

if it does not have a long (miles) linear line feature like a road

river, train tracks, hydro cut to get back to with a compass and

topo, the linear line feature is my safety net.


12:53 p.m. on July 6, 2012 (EDT)
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Dwayne Oakes said:

I won't go into a wilderness area if it does not have a long (miles) linear line feature like a road river, train tracks, hydro cut

No disrespect, but to me a wilderness is an area that lacks such man-made intrusions.

2:01 p.m. on July 6, 2012 (EDT)
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Yep we all have our take on what a wilderness area is. Mine is, any

area you enter where you your self can become part of the

food chain (bears) etc.  Just curious if you did get lost and I

hope nobody ever does. How would get out with just a compass

and topo assuming your GPS failed and you are in a dense

forest area with no landmarks or way points ?

Take care,

Dwayne Oakes


11:06 p.m. on July 6, 2012 (EDT)
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Dwayne Oakes said:

Just curious if you did get lost.. ..How would get out with just a compass

and topo assuming your GPS failed and you are in a dense

forest area with no landmarks or way points ?...

Personally I don’t use a GPS device, so I orient myself the good old fashion way.

Without belaboring the topic too much, there are a few tricks one can resort to determine the general direction of North.  My favorite is using a compass!  As for getting better oriented, I would try to locate a stream junction, lake, an identifiable mountain peak or other land features to help determine my location.  If you are in a forest you may have to ascend a higher to a more exposed area to obtain visuals.  At that point it is map and compass 101.

Duane, you should get a book and learn how to use a map and compass.  It is really pretty basic stuff – eleven year old boy scouts learn it - and the skill will open up a whole world of beauty currently beyond your viewfinder.


8:31 a.m. on July 7, 2012 (EDT)
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You guys are more brave than me. I am sticking to using my

compass and topo and a long linear line feature to get back to

as my safety net.

Take care,

Dwayne Oakes

8:30 p.m. on July 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Can't remember the title, but a novel I read described a man from the backwoods walking through a city and stopping every so often to look behind him. The character watching him realizes that this is a woods habit, to prevent getting lost. Things can look very different from the other direction. Until I read this, I'd never thought about it, it's such an instinct. I grew up in an extremely remote area, where the forest is at the door. I don't remember if I was ever told to look back when walking, or if I learned it by watching my dad, but it's how I go, off trail, glancing behind every so often and at every turn, paying attention. Then, if I turn around, the way back looks familiar. If it doesn't, I know right away that I've gone off track.

2:39 p.m. on July 9, 2012 (EDT)
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Adding to Islandess's post..

I would think that turning around and taking a pic occasionally might not be a bad idea, especially places that don't have geographical land marks like Florida. 

6:22 p.m. on July 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Did you guys read the antique National Parks Service note that was posted on Trailspace's Facebook page?

One thing it said was to always head downhill if you think you're lost, and I remember being taught that as a child. Presumably, one valley leads downwards to the next and soon you'll find a stream. Streams join other streams and eventually you have a river. And where there are rivers, there are people.

9:47 p.m. on July 10, 2012 (EDT)
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peter1955 said:

..One thing it said was to always head downhill if you think you're lost...


There is no one-size-fits-all response to being lost.  Some may remember the Oregon family in a car that got stranded in the snow a few year ago.  The father wandered off to get help.  He headed down hill – to his death. 

What you do when you realize you are lost depends on many factors.

  • Are you in immediate danger?
  • Weather considerations.
  • The need for shelter, warmth, and water.
  • Availability of water.
  • Your fitness to travel.
  • Your knowledge of the general area.
  • The geographical  characteristics of the area.
  • Capability to travel as a group, versus the risk of splitting the group.
  • Actual or theoretical proximity of safe harbor.
  • Do others know of your general whereabouts?
  • Each of these considerations can be broken out into a discussion that is well beyond the scope of a forum post.

The default reaction to finding yourself lost is STAY PUT!  Give SAR the chance to find you.  People foil their opportunity to be found by SAR when they wander off, and end up outside the assumed area of their whereabouts.  Of course one or more of the above considerations may compel you to attempt a self rescue, for example one could be lost in Death Valley, low on water, and will not be considered due back for another week.  Water and heat may require you get rescued in a couple of days, so staying put will kill you even before you are considered missing.  But most situations are not dire.  Lacking a definitive plan (you KNOW there is a river below, that you can reach it, and that help IS to be found down there) it is usually best to hole up and wait for someone to find you.

But should you decide to attempt a self rescue, traveling the water course is not always the best strategy.  Traveling the water course line in glaciated country side (e.g. Sierras and Rockies) can be stymied by hanging valleys, when a side canyon merges with a deeper main canyon, and the point of this junction has the side canyon dropping off a cliff into the main canyon.  Considerable energy and time can be expended playing this guessing game, not to mention a moving target is more difficult to find.  In fact in this example I would be inclined to seek a higher up nearby overview, and plot a course out based of what I can see, rather than willy nilly stomping off down hill with no idea what lays ahead or what my alternatives may offer.  Slot canyons, badlands and impassable flora likewise can stymie one’s efforts to head down stream.  And then there is the notion salvation may actually be over the hill, while destitution is down hill.  Second guessing while lost often makes you more lost.

In short, when you are truly lost, you are in a real fix!  Many variables will determine the most logical plan of action.  No matter what your eventual plan may be, conspicuously mark your presence; erect ducks, construct "stick scuptures," and jettison gear to leave tell tales for others to discover.  If you can safely build a fire, do so and make it a Smokey one.  Make sure you can get out of bad weather regardless if you stay put or attempt a self rescue.  Make sure you are sheltered before it gets dark.  A common mistake is traveling too late into the day, ending up with insufficient time to devise shelter and warmth before darkness makes such efforts impossible.


10:56 a.m. on July 11, 2012 (EDT)
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Of course, you're right, Ed, and I'm not disagreeing with you. If you KNOW someone will be looking for you in a day or two, it's always best to stay put. Of course, the opposite is also true - if you KNOW no one will be coming to find you, you might have no choice but to get yourself out.

And every situation is different, but I thought it kind of interesting that the US Parks Service would include that advice. From a personal perspective, I grew up in an area with a fairly high population density near the Canadian Shield. The terrain was old weathered granite with fairly gentle slopes, and it wasn't a dry area by any means. As I said, that's what I was told as an adventurous child, and there that advice would have worked pretty well.

The Canadian Rockies have different topology and geology than the US Rockies or the Sierras, and the problems you might encounter are also a bit different. For example, there are very few 'canyons' in the Canadian Rockies that are formed by water erosion. There are exceptions like the karst formations found at Maligne Canyon and Johnston Canyon, but most rivers flow along the valleys at the base of the upthrust segments rather than cutting new paths through the limestone. Most hanging valleys are found only at elevation, so the only people who would have to find a way around them would be people who already have the skills to get find a bypass route.

A lot of information here, and because 'being lost' can be such a complex problem, it's no wonder people sometimes panic. The advice on the Parks letter to sit down and think is probably the best suggestion of all.

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