BREAKING NEWS…Landscape photographer missing in woods for 48 hours. In other breaking news, black bear spotted in area with ripped Lowepro backpack.
This being the landscape forum- I thought it was an appropriate place to post this.
Have any of you ever got turned around in the woods (e.g. lost)?
It happened to me for the first time about a week ago – and was quite a frightening experience.
Was hiking in Cook’s Forest (also called Black Forest) in Western Pennsylvania.
The dirt trail (if you call it that) was covered in leaves – although I was able to make out the slight hiking depressions on the path – which helped keep me on track. Trees were not marked and sign-posts were few and far between.
A few miles into the trail, I diverted away (a few hundred yards) to photograph some interesting trees.
When I went back to find the trail, it wasn’t there any more (the sun was going down and the slight depressions were no longer visible). This was a somewhat remote (and high-difficulty-rated) trail, so I didn’t expect to find any people.
I tried finding some visible landmarks (a few large rock-outcroppings I had noticed on the way in), but the more I hiked in any given direction, the more things either started to look the same or looked new - “hey, I never noticed that mud puddle before,” I thought to myself.
After about 30 minutes of scrambling in all directions (I was sort of worked up by then, and didn’t care that I had scratches up and down my legs from downed branches, dense brush, etc.). First rule is, keep your wits about you!
Cell coverage was not available, so I left my phone in the car by the trail head. I didn’t think to take my small GPS tracker. And I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. I also didn’t have my flashlight or any fire starter.
Cook’s Forest is relatively small, so in all likelihood, I probably would have found my way out. Worst case, it would have been a cold, dark, scary night in the woods alone.
I pride myself on being directionally sufficient, but in this case, I epically failed. I did nothing to prepare for this type of eventuality. Just because it’s a short day hike doesn’t mean you can’t get lost.
The moral of my story is this. It is easier to get yourself turned around in the woods than you think – and had this happened in the desert or in a much larger forest, it could have been a lot worse. Lesson learned!
Dan, a very relevant tale as hiking season is upon us. My wife and I spent decades in the forests and tundra of far northern Canada and were in constant amazement at the number of people that would venture out without so much as a compass let alone a topo map. We have been on wilderness canoe trips and actually have had people paddle up to our campsite and ask us where they were!! Not once but several times. Glad you came out with just a few scratches (bet you're glad it's not bug season yet )
Cold weather photography makes a VR lens your best friend. Think violent shivering. :-)
I am normally better prepared, but in this case - I took for granted the fact that this would be just a simple day hike. But I suppose these are the very occasions where these sort of things occur (when one’s guard is down).
I was exploring an unmarked trail along a stream in the Smokies last week. There was enough of a trail to not get lost, but after an hour and a half of hiking I was not completely sure where I was or the best return. I did have my cell phone - and coverage. But the map app was pretty useless in finding an alternate trail. The bigger issue was I did not have extra water. So I turned around and retraced my steps.
The happy outcome was I did find several nice waterfalls.
Quite a scary story. I live in Utah and every year there are many stories of people getting lost in the wilderness. Either backcountry skiers who spend freezing cold nights hoping to be rescued (or not), or summertime hikers who venture off into some of our deepest wilderness never to return. It's really quite awful.
In all of my time out in the Utah wilds I've never gotten lost. And I'm pretty good about carrying a GPS. But I have gotten myself "stuck" a time or two. Once I got myself rimrocked and thought for sure someone was going to have to rescue me, but after calming down and pulling myself together I managed to find my way down. Another time I had not told anyone where I was going backpacking and weather stranded me for a couple of nights. I was with my partner which helped.
Always be prepared! You never know what will happen out there.
Glad you're safe Dan. Did you get any good pictures?
Ive gotten twisted around in the woods a few times ,But i hunt ,and my woodsmanship is good .I always carry a gps with me .If in doubt were you are at ,always remain calm and sit down to get your bearings .The worst thing to do is get worried .and thats a good way to get hurt also and more lost .or confused i call it .
The best thing to do is .when you walk into a woods ,always look back to see where you came from ,and the surroundings.It dont look the same when you come out if you never looked back . Moss grows on the north side of a tree .That way you can tell in which way you are going or use the sun .
I can be dropped in the middle of a 100.000 acre forest and get out .Im naturally a woods person anyhow .I grew up in the woods as a child .Id wonder for weekends at a time ,with friends .course we were all teen agers back then .
So in all stay calm and collect .
If in doubt follow a creek down stream .you will eventually find civilization .
Dan, Scary story. And yes, it can happen more easily that one could think at first. More so with a change of light. It happened to me in the desert, on horseback. I got lost for two full days. No fun at all. Since then I don't even go to the convenience store by myself and someone always know where I am going. To learn to get your bearings requires training and time we usually don't have. But at least get a booklet on survival techniques.
The trunk of my personal car has a box containing a canvas backpack with a kit of necessities (GPS, machete, knife, flashlight, whistle, flare gun, rope, compass, two cigarette lighters, a set of some 20 red 1-yard ribbons, pants, shirt, rain poncho, a thermal blanket, small emergency medicine kit, tuna easy-to-open cans, water bottles, leather work gloves, felt wide-brim hat, and more), just in case...
Yes, the experience was life changing. From the major things, like spending more time with my kids, to the apparently small things, like ALWAYS using a felt hat, not an "airy" one, unless you don't mind being dehydrated -to dead.
To retell a legendary statement attributed to Daniel Boone when asked if he ever got lost.
"I can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days."
I have hunkered down in the woods overnight a couple of times in the past while waiting for enough light to continue. Once in western Ontario and once in a secluded swampy forest area of Indiana. Many times each year locals as well as tourists are the subjects of searches in Alaska. Many are not found for several years if at all.
One of the keys to a successful return to civilization seems to be preparedness. If you plan for the possibility of being out overnight, you will be pleasantly surprised when you do not.
I see that many advocate using a GPS, that's fine as long as the thing works. While I have witnessed errors in a compass due to local magnetic disturbance, I never need to concern myself that the compass will have a dead battery. So it's a map and compass for me.
I also advocate proper attire. Many a day hiker has been found the next day suffering hypothermia after the weather took a turn for the worse.
A good reminder, Dan. Put me down in the GPS camp. I always carry a handheld Garmin when I'm shooting in the field. Not only does it allow me to find my way back, if necessary, but I use the tracklog to geotag my photos. While there 's a better than even chance that I'll be able to find my way back to my vehicle on my own, it's an almost certainty that five years after the fact, I won't remember the exact location a photo was taken just by looking at it. Mr. Garmin offers a navigational backstop and allows me to write the precise shooting location into the EXIF header of the image file for future reference. All it asks in return are some fresh AA batteries now and then.
In all my years in the field (ever since I was old enough to wear cowboy boots ) fortunately I have only gotten seriously lost once. It was way back in the 1980's when I was on a hunting trip in Colorado. I walked out of our camp one morning on a very cold day making note of my surroundings and taking visual markers along the way and counting ridges. By mid day it started snowing rather heavily and before I knew it I was in a sea of white and all my visual markers were gone, buried under the snow. On my way back to camp I really got turned around and by sunset I was seriously lost and I started to panic. I went what you went through tearing through the timber aimlessly without thinking. I finally sat down and took stock of the situation and that helped me a tremendous amount to get a grip on myself. I was armed, I had water and some food, and I had matches. I knew I could easily survive the night if I had to. So I started walking again in the general direction from where I came, with the plan that I would continue walking until midnight and then bed down if I had to. Soon I saw a faint flicker of light in the distance. When I looked through my binoculars I was elated to see a camp fire. I knew I was no longer lost at that moment. As I got closer to the camp fire I realized I had found our camp. Even better! When I got there I was very happy to see my buddies and they were getting ready to start looking for me. Instead we had some of the best tasting beer ever.
Ever since that time I RARELY go out in the field alone. It is just too risky. I also have a similar survival pack like Ramon. I take it with me every time I go on a road trip.
Ernesto Santos esartprints.comErnesto Santos Photography Get my new e-Book "Churches of Texas"
Ernesto, thanks for passing on your getting lost story. Although your situation could have been much more dire than mine given the location and conditions, your feelings of panic sort of mirrored mine.
It wasn't so much a sense of all-out panic and terror, but more of a feeling in the deepest pit of your stomach that you've got yourself into a pickle. It's hard to think straight when you're only goal is to find any marker/landmark (any one at all) that will re-orient you. Stopping and taking stock of your situation is a valid approach.
When you saw the faint light of your campground, it must have been like finding heaven on earth. Great story!
Some smartphones have a built-in compass, which is quite helpful and is easier than carrying an extra piece of hardware. In addition, there are some "hiking" or "trails" apps for the smartphones that create a map of your movements, so that you can backtrack using the app if you need to. Of course, this only works if you plan to walk back out via the same path you took to get into the woods. Keeping the smartphone charged is more challenging, but there are some hardware solutions (battery packs; battery boosters) to that as well. Overall, the challenge is being able to travel light enough to go somewhere that great images might be had, and still get back out safely. A lot of tradeoffs there.
Great post Dan and accompanying great stories. I've never had a serious scare but that empty feeling is hard to forget. Although I always keep an emergency bag in the vehicle, having the right mindset is probably the most important emergency kit. One thing I have never forgotten from my boy scout days is the buddy system. If I can't take someone with me, I always let someone know where I am. That gives me a sense of security and helps me remain calm. When we were in Capitol Reef (Cathedral Valley) last year we ran into a guy traveling by himself in a remote area with a very neat satellite gadget that allowed him to use his iPhone to send various pre-set messages which included GPS coordinates. Quite a handy item when in distress. If there is any interest in this item, I will go through my emails and will give you the name.
I doubt there's anything more frightening than becoming geographically embarrassed in an area where there is a good chance you are NOT on top of the food chain. I'm glad it all turned out ok for you Dan......Scotty.
Dan, So glad to hear you made it out unscathed--being "lost" in unfamiliar territory can be an unsettling affair. I feel that way sometimes in our urban jungles...lol!
I also grew up in the woods as a child and would spend the better part of entire days treking either with my sister or alone and had developed a deep understanding of the environment and a natural guidance system that always kept us out of harm's way and back at home in time for supper. Didn't think to carry a map or compass and GPS did not exist then.
As others have already stated, if you keep your wits about you, chances are everything will turn out fine. Make mental notes of the sun's (moon's) positioning, shadows, direction of the pervailing wind on your face, moss patterns, how sounds are perceived, etc.
Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience. It's always best to be as prepared as possible when venturing into the unknown.
On my first trip to Mexico I hiked down a canyon to watch the sunset with someone else. I was watching and photographing the beautiful purple sunset when my companion said we should start back up the trail.
He left and I kept taking pictures figuring it would still be light for awhile. I was wrong, twilight in the tropics is much shorter as the sun is closer to 90 degrees to the horizon.
As the light faded I started back up the trail, soon it was so dark I couldn't see the trail. I stopped and after I accepted that I could spend the night there I found I could follow the trail by feeling it with my feet.
The only light I could see on my journey back to the house and a cold beer (or 2 or 3) was from rotting vegitation. I had heard about that phenomenon but had never seen it before. This light is useless for navigating.
I was very happy when I finally got to the top of the canyon. I met the rescue party coming to look for me as I was walking across the pasture on my way back to the house.
The Mexicans said there were jaguars in the jungle and it was lucky one didn't eat me. It was also good that I didn't stumble into a nasty thorn tree.
We were in Mexico to explore caves but I didn't take a light on my hike down the canyon, this was in ancient times before LED lights, we used carbide headlamps in caves.
In retrospect it was a fun time, I expanded my comfort zone.
Having survived to become older I now carry an LED headlamp. I carry my GPS too cause it's fun to play with.
"It's not an adventure until something goes wrong." --Yvon Chouinard