There’s nothing more refreshing than spending a weekend camping and hiking in the Sierra. Each year thousands of visitors come into the Sierra to try camping and hiking in the Sierra for the first time. The Sierra represents a unique set of skill challenges even for veteran hikers and campers. Steep cliffs, wild cold and fast rivers, valleys of granite formations and millions of acres of wilderness area read for exploration.
Even after taking the proper precautions, hikers can easily lose your way in the forest or on the Sierra granite slabs where the trails often disappear or off trail excursions lead to challenging terrain. Getting lost in an unfamiliar place is a terrifying experience, but you must remain calm. Here’s what to do if you get lost during a camping or hiking trip, so you can stay safe until help arrives.
Consider Your Surroundings
The first thing you should do is take a seat and calm yourself down. If you panic, you’re more likely to make bad decisions that could put you in more danger. You are headed in the wrong direction or there wouldn’t be a problem, so any farther progress only makes the situation worse. Find a nice place to sit, put your rear end on that spot, and relax! DO NOT keep plunging blindly on! Mountain rescue workers will tell you that keeping going when you are lost makes you almost impossible to find and decreases your chances of surviving. You will sometimes see other recommendations, for example finding a stream and following it downstream. This can lead you deeper into the woods, or lead you to impassable terrain. Resist the temptation. Just stop.
Once you’ve calmed down, take a look at your surroundings and pull out your map. What do you see? If you look carefully at the ground, can you spot a path? What kind of trees do you see? Can you hear a river nearby? These clues can help you determine where you are. If you can’t figure it out based on the surroundings, take a minute to assess your current situation. What’s the weather like? Do you need immediate shelter from rain? What kind of supplies do you have on hand? How can you use them to your advantage? If you gave your information to a trusted individual before you left on your camping trip, consider how long it will take them to realize something is wrong. Did you tell them you would be back a couple of hours from now, or after several days? These questions will give you a better idea as to when you can expect help to arrive and what measures you need to take to keep yourself safe.
Don’t Leave the Area
Another thing you should do if you get lost during a camping or hiking trip is pick a location and stay there. If you leave, you may wind up traveling deeper into the forest and getting more lost. Remaining where you are will make it easier for the search and rescue team to pinpoint your location and rescue you. There are several types of search and rescue teams, many of which follow different protocols and consist of different team members. If you’re lost in the woods, a ground search and rescue team will get sent to search for you. This team consists mainly of law enforcement officers and volunteers. If you hear police sirens or notice the bright beam of a flashlight shining through the thicket, help is probably on the way.
Find Ways To Signal
You want to make your current position known to potential rescuers. A prepared backpack camper or hiker has three items; a whistle, a flashlight and a map/compass. Use your tools, blow the whistle in sets of three as loud as possible. Many lost hikers are found with in 500 feet of the trail. If it is getting dark a flashlight will help rescuers see you in the evening. Flash it on and off in sets of three. In the Sierra region fires are not allowed in many wilderness areas so fire should be a last resort.
If it’s starting to get dark and you still have not been found, settle in for the night. Put on your extra clothes and rain gear, find what cover you can, maybe build a fire. Save your strength to keep you warm. Eat your extra food, and get ready for the night.
When daylight comes, continue to stay where you are – which is not very far from where you were last seen. This is where a search for you will start. The farther from that place you go, the longer it will take to find you. Continue to blow your three whistle blasts every few minutes.