So, you’re lost. You’re not quite sure where you got turned around, but if you just keep going, you’ll probably figure it out, right?
Maybe if you follow this stream downhill … didn’t Bear Grylls say something about water leading to civilization?
The shadows start to grow around you and the trees that seemed so welcoming now hold hidden menace. Night is falling and you’re getting nervous. You’re starting to realize how unprepared you are with no headlamp to illuminate the growing dark and no jacket to hold off the chill.
The cold is starting to bite at your short-clad legs. You can see some lights in the distance; maybe if you just keep going it’ll work out alright.
It’s always there — the temptation to just keep going. It’s a natural tendency, to want to rely on yourself and to avoid the embarrassment of “getting lost,” but there’s a dark side to this self-reliance.
There comes a time to acknowledge that you are indeed lost. Sacrifice your ego and call for help (if possible), stop moving and find a safe place to hunker down.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe and be found as quickly as possible.
- Let ’em know before you go. Let someone reliable know where you are going and when to expect you back. It’s common sense, but too few people actually do it. We can’t send out a rescue team unless we know approximately when and where you disappeared.
- Keep your lines of communication open. Bring your cell phone and conserve your battery until you need it by turning it off or using airplane mode. A sketchy cell connection may someday be enough to save your life. If you have a GPS enabled phone, the sheriff may be able to get a ping on your rough location for the rescue team. This is useful to us only if you stay put.
- Find a safe spot that provides shelter from the wind and elements to spend the night. Getting cold? You can jog around your improvised campsite, do push-ups or other exercises. But above all, stay put!
- Don’t be lured by the lights. Our range of mountains is surrounded by a network of roads and desert cities. The lights twinkling in the distance can seem so tantalizingly near, so achievable. But what you can’t see at night are the dangers that lie ahead of you in the dark, the rough terrain and impassable cliffs that are concealed under the cover of night. Many a lost hiker has been lured by the siren song of the desert lights, only to be trapped in the dangerous jungle of steep ravines with no safe route back up or down.
- Stay put! You are far more likely to fall and injure yourself while moving in the dark or in unfamiliar territory. Moving will probably only make a bad situation worse. If you could depend on your sense of direction you wouldn’t be lost in the first place. Moving wears you out and wastes your resources.
- Don’t lead us on a wild goose chase! (Did I mention you should stay put?) Moving puts not only you at risk but also the rescue personnel that are trying to find you. If you’ve managed to put a call through about your location or believe that you have been reported missing from a specific trailhead or area, it’s particularly important that you don’t go wandering off in another direction and widen the search area.
- Be prepared to patiently wait. It can take a while for emergency services to activate the search team. We are all volunteers with our own jobs and lives. We must stop whatever we are doing, or climb out of our beds, gather our gear and drive to the trailhead. Also remember, the people looking for you won’t be moving as fast as you; we are carrying heavy packs with extra supplies (for you!) and must often stop to call out and check out side canyons and gullies for your tracks before moving on.
- Help us out! Can you see or hear a helicopter looking for you? It’s amazingly hard for the air crew to see people on the ground, especially if you stand still. In a recent interview, one of the aviation guys remarked, “If you stand next to a rock, you look like a rock.” If you want to be found, go to a nearby clearing, ridge line or rock outcropping and make yourself visible — wave or move around to catch their attention. (They can’t hear you over the rotor blades, so save your voice!) Don’t expect them to immediately land and pick you up. Often they will instead call in your location for our ground crew to reach you. If you’ve been sighted, don’t move — even if the helicopter flies away, stay put!
So go out, have fun, try not to get lost. But if you do happen to get in trouble, did I mention you should stay put?