Getting lost is easy, and everyone does it at some time or another. It is part of the initiation. The big thing is to have the guts to admit being lost and immediately attempt to retrace the way back to the original route.
- Sudden deteriorating weather conditions are probably the most common cause of missing the way, particularly in alpine regions. If visibility worsens, take immediate bearings of dominant features in the direction of travel. Re-check with the map. If fog envelops the party, have a member of the group walk ahead, but remain in sight. The person setting the compass course can then line the lead hiker on correct course, calling directions if the person strays to the right or to the left.
- Trails which give access onto alpine ridges are in some cases not developed enough to be obvious once the trees are left behind. Hikers should look back at the trail on the way in, otherwise they may spend the night on top. Never try shortcuts off a mountain (particularly Mount Juneau, A. B. Mountain in Skagway, Mount Ripinsky in Haines) especially in poor weather or gathering darkness. It is, in the long run, safer and quicker to return by the trail or route of access.
- A subalpine ridge with a nebulous trail sometimes presents a route-finding challenge. If the drop becomes steeper than expected, consider the possibility that the party has wandered onto the steep side of the ridge and not the ridge end. (This is when a compass becomes useful.) To avoid getting “cliff hung” climb back onto the ridge. Have the strength of mind to admit the mistake and stop descending.
- Often in spring snows the trail tread is lost; it can disappear totally in deep woods unless care is taken to watch for tree blazes and markers stay alert and keep looking back to remember the return route.
- If weather has deteriorated, and the party feels irrevocably lost, find a sheltered place; set up a tarp or tend and build a fire. Wait for the weather to improve before moving again. Be alert to signs of hypothermia in yourself and other party members. Signal distress by grouping signals into threes: three closely grouped fires on a wilderness beach would prompt a passing boat to investigate, or repetitious of three gunshots or three blasts on a whistle.