TAKEN THE WRONG PATH? LET MOTHER NATURE GUIDE YOU TO SAFETY
| Taken the wrong path? Let Mother Nature guide you to safety
As you push deep into the woods to secure the best hunting site or the ultimate fishing spot, two things may occur. You might bag the perfect kill or land your evening’s dinner, or you might find yourself lost in unknown territory, unable to find your way back home. Normally, you’d turn to your GPS device or cellphone to let technology help you out of this predicament, but these devices aren’t 100% failproof.
Although as a population we have communication literally at our fingertips every minute of the day, modern technology can and does fail. Failure comes in many forms: mechanical failure, limited battery life, physical damage caused by human carelessness, or lack of signal due to landscape topography or distance from a tower. No matter what circumstances cause your electronics to fail, having an auxiliary navigation method is an absolute must.
Fortunately, Mother Nature provides various signals and directional indicators that can point you back to safety, but you must know what these signals are and how to use them properly.
Calm Down and Focus
If you become lost in the wilderness, whether or not you have electronic devices to assist you, remain calm. That’s probably easier said than done, but panic can lead to impulsivity, which initiates poor decisions and makes a bad situation worse.
The very idea of being lost in a seemingly endless landscape can immediately get your heart racing and urge you to move. You might start traveling very quickly until you’re basically running through the woods, heading in a direction you think is the way to safety. That’s when problems multiply and chances of an accident increase—twisting your ankle during a trip or fall, getting poked in the eye by low-hanging tree branches, or cutting your leg on a sharp, jagged rock can further hinder a safe escape from the woods. Instead of succumbing to panic once you realize you’re lost, stop moving, assess your situation and decide wisely. Only when you’re thinking clearly can you make good decisions.
“Although … we have communication literally at our fingertips every minute of the day, modern technology can and does fail.”
Survey the Landscape
Start with the simplest solution first, then expand from there. In this situation, seek higher ground for a better, perhaps clearer vantage point from which to assess possible travel routes. Mother Nature offers various terrain levels, and your mission is to reach the highest nearby point and survey the surroundings. This could mean traveling up a hill or an easy-to-traverse rock formation to gain a bird’s-eye view of the land below.
Always remember, however, that if your intended ascent is possibly dangerous or could cause an accident, it must be scrapped in favor of an alternative plan. An injury will further hamper your journey. Avoid steep rocks covered in moist moss, thick foliage and tree branches, rotted leaves and brush that
will sink under your weight. Also, burning excessive calories or working up a sweat that could cause hypothermia isn’t worth the benefits of scouting the nearby wilderness.
If you do make it up safely, look for campfire smoke or noticeable manmade shelters, then note any streams or rivers, which could come in handy later. Also, high above the forest canopy you can observe the sun’s position and changing weather conditions, which give you key information on whether to hunker down or continue.
Eyes on the Water
Rivers and streams are great guides to civilization if you’re lost. Many cabins, lodges and even tucked-away homes are found near various waterways. Although not guaranteed, it’s widely accepted as fact that if you follow nearly any water source, you’ll eventually find people and much-needed help and guidance back home.
Another benefit to following a stream or river is that the shoreline will most likely be easier to traverse than fighting the dense, adjacent forest. Shorelines are often flatter, which will help you travel faster with fewer rest stops. Since water travels downhill, if you find you’re still above the surrounding lands, start venturing downward. Your odds of locating moving water will increase, so keep both your ears and eyes open for any noticeable signals.
Sailors have used stars to guide their ships for generations. You too can learn to use stars to find true north and continue from
there. Identifying the North Star is your goal. Locate the Big Dipper (know what it and other constellations look like prior to venturing into the wilderness). Then, locate the two stars that form the outer edge and draw an imaginary line through them and downward to intersect with the Little Dipper. This line will point very close to the Little Dipper’s handle, and the brightest star at the end of the handle is the North Star. Also known as Polestar or Lodestar, this point represents true north and can be your guide if you lack a compass.
Remember, determining true north is only beneficial if you have knowledge of the surrounding area and what lies in various directions. This information should be gathered prior to any excursion. If not, knowing where north is, or isn’t, has little or no value.
While nature can provide you with clues to help you find your way, it can also lead you astray. Unfortunately, many “truths” about nature and being lost are myths, and these myths can be detrimental to your health and your entire wilderness survival plan. For instance, one extremely popular idea—moss grows only on a tree’s north-facing side— is false.
Moss grows in moist, shady areas under relatively cool conditions. Beneath the forest canopy, these characteristics can be found on the east, west, south and north sides of trees. You have a one-in-four chance of being correct.
Also, be cautious of hypothermia. Even if winter has passed, your body’s core temperature can be susceptible. Excessive travel and exertion cause sweating and eventually saturate your clothing with moisture. Without realizing it, wind and surrounding air temperatures can start sapping body warmth. The widely believed myth that hypothermia occurs only in snowcovered winter environments can be deadly.
Finally, you’re in the wilderness, so finding
“While nature can provide you with clues to help you find your way, it can also lead you astray.”
food and water shouldn’t be too difficult. Think again. Fishing and hunting, even for the most experienced outdoorsperson, doesn’t always yield results. Additionally, quenching your thirst is a no-no unless the water you secure is purified. Even fast-running rivers and streams usually contain dangerous microorganisms that can upset your internal systems. Bottom line: conserve calories whenever possible, because your next meal could be days away, and stay hydrated with water that’s been purified and is safe to drink.
Stay or Go?
There’s great debate among hikers, hunters, campers, survivalists and “regular” folks whether to stay put if lost or to venture out and try to find safety. The decision ultimately depends on each specific situation and cannot be a general rule. Deciding factors such as availability of food, water, stable shelter, distance traveled and environmental conditions all play into deciding the best course of action.
Additionally, if you’re traveling with others, their ability to make the return journey must also be considered. Although you may have the endurance, stamina and mental fortitude to take on the challenge, your companions may not, and their resistance could compound your problems. Ultimately, we’ve circled back to the first rule: stay calm, assess your situation and make the best possible decision for you and your group.
At times, Mother Nature may be harsh and relentless, but if you know where to look and how to decipher the clues, she’ll help lead you out of her backyard and back into your own.