Saturday, September 14, 2013

Lost in the woods

Getting lost in the dark forest is the stuff of legend or fairy tale. What can you do to prevent being lost in a forest? There are a few sensible precautions. Before you go into the forest, it is best to collect some information about the area. A topographical map, or a look at Google Maps or Google Earth can give some understanding of the hills and valleys you will encounter. Carry a compass or a  Global Positioning System GPS. Hand-held GPS devices now come with maps. Sometimes, forest cover will block signals from satellites.

Some people come with some internal direction finding ability and never or very seldom get lost. The opposite is true for some. If you fall into the latter category, it would be best to go into the woods with some one with a good sense of direction. Foresters never get lost in the woods, or that is at least what foresters like to tell people. Forest engineers who go deep in the forest to locate access routes are usually very proud of their direction finding ability. Forest engineers definitely never get lost, although most forest engineers will admit that there were a few times when they were not quite sure where they were in the forest. If there is any distinction between not knowing quite where you are in a forest and being lost, it probably about how you handle things when you get off track or slightly lost.

Expect the unexpected! You seldom get off track in the forest if the terrain is steep and well defined. If you are in a steep mountain valley the topography contains you within terrain that is expected and you would be aware if you went over the ridge into another valley. On a rounded gentle hilltop or plateau surrounded by several valleys it is easy to drop into the wrong valley as you go downhill. Following the stream downhill is common advice, but you have to make sure that it is the right stream. Getting of track often occurs on easy gentle terrain where you least expect it.

Getting off track happens gradually, and you usually pick up a few preliminary signs that something is amiss. The terrain is different than expected, or the hill is the distance is the wrong hill or the right hill but in a seemingly unexpected direction. If you get some of these signals pull out the compass or GPS and check. Stay calm and trust the compass and make the necessary direction change and head for where you need to go. This is simple, but in the forest, with obscured views to distant landmarks it can be easy to convince yourself that you are still on track. Force yourself to o keep calm and have the discipline to trust the instruments and make the necessary correction. If not you can get totally confused and totally lost.

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