Wilder­ness Nav­i­ga­tion


Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Michael D’angona

| 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.

Go Stargaz­ing

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.

Avoid Myths

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.

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