Friday, July 9, 2010

Rules For Being Lost

You're lost — at least you suspect that you are. How can you know for sure if you're lost? Take a look around; if nothing looks familiar and you haven't a clue where you are … sure enough, you're lost.

Being lost is a lot like being misplaced. Kind of like the missing sock that falls between the washer and drier, leaving you with one unmatched sock and a nagging question about where the other one could possibly be. The difference is that the sock's survival doesn't depend on it being found anytime soon — it'll still be there a month from now, dusty, but otherwise none the worse for wear.

You're different. When you go missing, time is of the essence. Depending on what the weather is doing and the kind of equipment and experience you have, your life could be over pretty quickly. Granted, you'll still be there a month from now, but unlike the sock, you will definitely be worse for wear.

So there you are; you've studied the terrain and are bewildered. Nothing looks familiar; you have no idea where you are. What do you do now?

There are rules to being lost, if you want to be a survivor.
  • Rule #1 — Stop right where you are (unless you're hanging from a cliff or in some other precarious situation — in which case you can move to a safe location and then stop).  Don't keep going — you don't know where you're going anyway, and if you keep moving you're only burning calories and water. 
  • Rule #2 — Sit down. The very act of sitting down will help you obey Rule #1. The psychological shock of having to admit to yourself that you are lost can cause feelings of panic. Sit down, take some deep breaths, calm your mind and slow your heart down. 
  • Rule #3 — Stay put. Decide right then and there that you will make an emergency camp right where you are, and then work on strategies for getting out of the situation. By doing this, you emotionally accept this spot as your base of operations, and that gives you some psychological strength and helps ward off panic. 
  • Rule #4 — Take inventory of everything you have with you. Then take inventory of what nature provides in the way of shelter materials, water, fire (tinder, kindling, fuel wood), and signaling opportunities. If, as you take inventory of the surrounding resources, you note that you would be better situated if you moved camp, do so. But don't be tempted to abandon the idea of making camp so you can continue trying to hike around and hopefully find yourself. Stick to the concept of an emergency camp, and don't go very far from your original stopping point just to position camp more favorably. 
  • Rule #5 — Find a clearing near camp. This might be where you position your camp, if being in the clearing is acceptable from a weather standpoint. But in any case, use the clearing as a location to establish visible signals that can be seen from overhead and/or from a distance on the ground. Searchers will be attracted to big, bright, colorful, reflective, or highly contrasting visible signals if they are placed in a clearing. Use anything you have on hand to make these visible signals. 
The reality is that, when folks get lost and searchers go looking for them, the rescue team always, ALWAYS, finds the camp or the signals before they find an individual who is wandering around still trying to find his way out. The reason is because the camp and the clearing outfitted with visible signals are not moving. And they're bigger and more noticeable than a person. If you stick with the camp and employ some highly visible signal devices, your chances of being rescued are WAY better than if you just keep wandering around lost. 

If you stop when you first realize that you're lost, you'll probably be within a mile or so of the trail you want to be on. If searchers have an idea about where you intended to be, they will begin their search along the prevailing trails and spread out from there. If you stubbornly insist on pressing on, in an attempt to "find yourself," you very likely will wander right out of the search area and continue to be lost.

Not only that, but the longer you keep trying in vain to get "unlost," the more frustrated and frightened you become. You wear yourself out, use up your energy and food and water, you throw yourself into panic mode, you risk injury, and make the whole situation worse. 

Stop. Sit down. Stay put. Take inventory. Use a nearby clearing to erect some visible signals. Then relax in your emergency camp and take care of the usual survival business of staying dry, maintaining a proper body core temperature, saying hydrated, and conserving your energy. 

NOTE: Before your trip into the outback, leave information with friends or loved-ones about your intended location and activities. File a flight plan, and then when you become lost, the process of finding you quickly will be much easier. 

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