Category Archives: Wilderness Skills

So You’re Lost In The Wilderness….Now What?

This has happened to us all before, to some degree, on a hike or even a simple walk into the wilderness.

We had allowed ourselves to get distracted, and we somehow lost the trail we were on, or lost our direction on how to get back to the safety of our vehicle.

As a member of search and rescue, I take interest in learning about and discussing lost person behavior. This knowledge had helped our teams locate lost people more quickly.

It also motivates me to learn about the best steps to take, what things would be the best to do when you get caught in this situation.

While the concept of being lost on the trail or being separated from our hiking companions is terrifying, the actions we take over the course of the first few minutes can rapidly increase or decrease our chances of getting out safely.

First, let’s back up to before you got lost in the first place, and was planning on this particular trip.

Did you….

1. Plan out your trip ahead of time, and check on the weather and any hazards on this particular trail and area?

2. Bring your ten essentials?

3. Communicate ahead of time to someone responsible of the trail and the route you were taking, and approximate time of your expected return?

(Please review the link below if you are new to hike planning, or want to learn more about it)

Once you have become lost, here are the steps, as recommended by the Forest Service, that you need to take to make yourself more likely to be found…

Stop


As soon as you realize you may be lost: stop, stay calm, stay put. Panic is your greatest enemy.

Think

Try to retrace in your mind how you got to where you are. What landmarks do you remember, and should be able to easily see? Do not move at all until you have a specific reason to take a step.

Observe

Get out your map and compass, and determine the directions based on where you are standing. Do not walk aimlessly.

If you are on a trail, stay on it. Most trails are marked with signs, where intersections meet and where you may find points of interest. This information could be helpful for somebody to come and find you.

Plan

Based on your clear thinking and observations, think of some possible plans. Think them through, then act on one of them once you are convinced this is the best action to take.

If you are not very, very confident in the route, if it’s nightfall, or if you are injured or you are near exhaustion, stay in place.

Self Rescue

If you are feeling up for a self rescue, here are some guidelines to follow.

  1. Stop and take a breather when your body is telling you to. Don’t expend your energy too early.
  2. Remember to take rest, food, and water breaks, even though your mind maybe racing a mile a minute.
  3. Drink plenty of water, not just on your breaks, but also while you are hiking to find your way back. Dehydration will increase your stress and frustration, while depleting your energy rapidly.
  4. Take the time to deal with small issues while they are still small. If you ignore your body and gear and just keep pushing, the pain, illness, or risk of injury will only get worse and make recovery more difficult.
  5. Avoid hiking, if possible, on highly exposed areas on hot days. If you are on a trail such as this, find a shady spot and stay there until the temperature cools down. Adjust you’re hiking pace to what you can comfortably maintain and rest when you feel necessary.

Hope you find this information useful (or, better yet, never will need it!)

Be safe out there!

Leave No Trace Principles…Are you Bringing These Along On Your Adventures?

As we all know, the 10 essentials of hiking is very important. These essentials will not only make our adventures more enjoyable, but are usually necessary to get us back out of the wilderness safely.

I recently took an online Leave No Trace awareness course, and had become certified. This had helped both educate and remind me how important these principles are.

I always feel that I do a good job of protecting the wilderness when I am out there, but also realize there is a lot more to learn about these very important concepts.

The 7 current Leave No Trace Principles are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly (Pack It In, Pack It Out)
  4. Leave What You Find.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts.
  6. Respect Wildlife.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

I had actually made a couple of changes recently to decrease my own impact on the wilderness.

First thing I did was disband my Facebook hiking group.

I enjoyed being a group leader and always enjoy the company of hiking partners, but I also found that I allowed this hiking group to get too big. I was bringing too many people out at once, and realized I was sometimes disrupting or even possibly creating damage to the wilderness areas by doing this.

Now, I simply send out texts to smaller groups when I plan a hike, backpack, or a photo shoot and want company.

The second change that I made, was I stopped sharing photos to the large hiking groups on Facebook and Instagram.

This scenic barn rests in the meadow near Cle Elum.

If you are curious about this, you can read about my main reasons for quitting social media here:

While I initially enjoyed sharing the photos and hikes that I had done, I had realized that instantly sharing these locations to tens of thousands of strangers was not doing the ecosystem any good.

I had included a link below, if you are interested in the Leave No Trace course, and would also like to obtain certification (it’s free).

See you on the trails, and I welcome any feedback in the comments below.

Thank you for reading, and see you next Tuesday!

Now May Be The Time For Adventure Planning

Now that we are all spending time at home, it may be the time to plan some adventures, for when we are able to go out and visit these destinations again.

I thought I would share a hike planning tutorial I had created, and had recently updated.

I’m hoping it may have some ideas you may be looking for, while we have some downtime on our schedules!

What type of adventures are you planning? Is the link above helpful? Please let me know in the comments!

Have a great day,

Mirek

Why Snowshoeing is a Perfect Wintertime Adventure

We all love our spring, summer, and fall hikes, but winter weather doesn’t always need to keep us indoors.

While it’s raining, foggy, and dreary in the lowlands, we can still experience some great weather when we head up to hike in higher elevations.

The combination of fresh powder, great weather effects, and the groomed access to amazing vistas make this a prime hobby for photographers as well.

What gear do I need?

Well, obviously, snowshoes! But If you already hike in the other seasons, you probably own the majority of the gear you will need, more on that later.

Most recreation retailers will rent out snowshoes, I recommend trying this first before investing in snowshoes. Snowshoeing is much different than hiking in the other seasons, and it may actually not be for everyone. Giving it a try with a minimal investment may be a good idea.

I had gained experience with different features of snowshoes, and the following features are ones that I prefer not to do without.

Solid traction – some shoes, such as MSR’s Lightning models, have better teeth on the bottom for traction, compared to just a tubular frame found on other models. I had learned that these gripping teeth are a must for me, since sometimes I will encounter solid ice.

Elevation bars – these are incredibly beneficial when encountering hills, which you will. These bars help raise your heels a couple of inches while walking uphill, taking any strain off your ankles, and actually making the process of climbing much easier. These bars are simply folded down when not in use.

Also, be prepared that walking in snowshoes will be much more work (although worth it!)

Great weather effects out at Lake Lena, in the Olympic Mountains.

Dressing in Layers

It’s obvious that we need to dress warmer, but since hiking in snowshoes is much more work, you will warm up very quickly.

So I recommend to start with a great base layer, I use a medium weight merino wool shirt and pants. These will keep you a bit warmer while it wicks away any sweat, and will prevent you from getting too hot.

Now, this is where gear from the other hiking seasons come into play, as I had mentioned above.

Over your base layer, this is where your favorite hiking shirt and pants from the other seasons will work perfect, the lighter the better. This will be your middle layer.

For your next layer, which will be your outer layer, a warm coat or sweater (wool, NOT cotton), will serve you will for this. For your lower body, a good breathable pair of rain pants will keep you dry, without retaining too much heat.

The outer layer is meant to keep you warm for most of your trip, but can easily be removed when you begin to feel warm.

The sun was reflecting through the trees, during this great snowshoe hike at Hurricane Ridge, in January 2016.

Your regular hiking boots, as long as they are waterproof, should work great for snowshoeing. They should attach just fine to your snowshoes with the bindings that are included with them.

And don’t forget your wool hat and gloves! While the generation of body heat while winter hiking may lead you to believe you will be fine without these, you will really appreciate them at the trail parking lot and during snack breaks.

Additional Considerations

While your 10 essentials are the things that will be with you year round, there some additional considerations while snowshoeing.

Navigation may not be as obvious, due to the trails all mostly snow covered, with footprints being the only indicator of where to go. Just remember that not all footprints will lead you in the right direction, so ensure you have planned your route well, and have a great, waterproof map. I carry a GPS on every adventure, especially on winter routes.

I also recommend start with short hikes (less than 1.5 miles to the destination) with minimal elevation gain until you have gone a few times and understand your pacing and energy level with wearing snowshoes.

In addition to your usual food requirements, keep in mind that a stove and a warm meal and/or beverage may hit the spot while out in the tundra.

Lastly, take into consideration that the days in the winter months are much shorter….and plan accordingly. The best night hikes are the ones that are planned that way.

The stars were just coming out during this night hike at High Rock Fire Lookout, in November 2015.

NOTE: While not all winter hikes require snowshoes, keep in mind that you should not venture out in the winter months without the gear I had mentioned, and I never head out on winter hikes without at least micro spikes in my pack.

Have fun out there, and enjoy! I hope the guidelines above will help you prepare, if you plan to take on this great new adventure!

Can You Guess Which Word is the Opposite of “Lost”?

This answer may affect your outlook on the fears of being lost in the wilderness.

Aware.

Yes, constantly being aware of your suroundings is the opposite of being lost.

Sounds obvious enough, but I had never given this any thought when I first started hiking.

Think about it….distractions on the trail, even on a well planned adventure, very easily cause us to lose our bearings.

When I first became a member of Search & Rescue, the first run of callouts that we had received for lost persons in the wilderness were mushroom hunters.

What?

I thought we would only be looking for lost hikers, and lost backpackers, that somehow miscalculated their routes and became lost. I thought that’s really the only type of lost persons in the wilderness that SAR went out to look for.

Nope.

So why were all these mushroom hunters getting lost?

It makes sense now. They get distracted.

They tend to lose awareness, since they are following these amazing patches of mushrooms for hours, until darkness falls and they suddenly realize they are no longer aware of where they are.

Even though we all may plan our adventures well, constant distraction can lead us to lose our bearings, which only gets worse as the minutes tick by.

So I add this concept of awareness to my evergrowing list of 10+ essentials, and I now actually consider this a wilderness skill.

There are amazing vistas, photo ops, caves, and interesting side trails that constantly distract us. They may lead us away from our planned route, and in some cases, allow us to lose track of where we are.

So next time you head out on an adventure, you may also want to consider adding awareness to your wilderness skills, if you don’t do this already.

Do this by periodically quizzing yourself of your current location on your map, especially when chasing that photo op or exploring an interesting side trail.

Happy Trails!

Why You Should Explore the Wilderness with a GPS

While out exploring and photographing the wilderness, you will find that navigation is a very important skill to have. Basic map reading and compass navigation is a necessary base skill, but having and using a GPS can be a great benefit as well.

A GPS can help tremendously for efficiently and safely naviagating an amazing wilderness, such as this.

As a member of Search & Rescue, I have learned that most people do not get lost on the way to their destination.

They get lost by spontaneously exploring side trails, and looking for photography spots and/or points of interest off the main trail, and are unable to find their way back. It is very easy to get distracted while exploring, and this is the point we lose awareness of our location and get into trouble.

Remember: the opposite of “lost” is “aware”……keep a firm grip on your awareness of your location, and you can significantly decrease your chances of getting lost.

A GPS is an efficient and effective way to plot points, so if you do intentionally (or unintentionally) head off the main trail, you can find your way back.

As I explain the features of a GPS, I will refer to my model pictured above, the Garmin 64s. Your GPS and functions should be similar, whichever model of GPS you use.

Also, I have a PNW map installed, which will show the terrain detail and points of interest, such as lakes and mountain peaks. Some GPS models have these installed, or you can purchase these through your GPS manufacturer’s website.

Here the important features you should know how to use on your GPS;

  1. Marking locations – This feature is enabled when you press the MARK button. This is a great tool for marking the trailhead, or a specific spot when you leave a trail, so that it can insure a safe return. But this feature can also be used to return to a great camping spot you found, or a great photography composition that you want to visit again. Mark and name locations as you go on your hikes.
  2. Saving tracks – Saving your tracks will allow you to store your hikes on your GPS, and will also summarize with the elevation and distance for each one. This is enabled on a Garmin GPS by using the TRACK MANAGER menu item. As you may have read in my Hike Planning blog, at my computer, I use this exported data into Google Earth to view my route on a 3D map of the earth.
  3. “Go To” feature – This feature allows you to have a guided return to your trailhead at the end of your hike, or the point where you left the trail, when you have explored and ready to get back on track. On a Garmin GPS, you would select the spot you had marked on the Map screen, then select GO TO, and you will be guided back to it.

In addition to a map and compass, a GPS can be a tool to have on your adventures. While helping to navigate and explore the area, it is a great way to store your hike and points you had saved, to help

Consider adding one of these to your hiking gear!