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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Danger Signs: Trail Confusion

Don't want to get lost? Heed this advice on four trail situations that routinely cause problems.

by: Steve Howe

Photo by Catherine Brooks
Photo by Catherine Brooks

Read backcountry rescue reports as much as we do, and you'll realize that most lost-hiker incidents begin with simple inattention–and worsen with a wrong turn. Don't want us to read about you? Heed this advice on four trail situations that routinely cause problems.

  • Peak trouble Multiple trail intersections on a summit can make choosing the correct descent route difficult, especially in poor visibility. When you reach the top, take a compass bearing before you snap hero shots to mark the descent route you want to follow. Drop a pole or water bottle at the head of that path. Do not depend on directional signs or arrows.
  • Cairn clutter Manmade rock piles are only hints, and not always good ones. Cairns are often built by people who are lost or nearly so. Always compare a cairned route to your map.
  • Sign language Crossed logs or an 'X' made of stones are universal symbols for "Do Not Continue." Another clue you've gone astray: You started on a popular, well-worn trail, but your current path is barely there.
  • Scatter shot Dividing a group significantly increases the risk of someone getting lost. Stay together from start to finish, and discuss and memorize key landmarks along the route.


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Chris Barber
Jul 13, 2010

If you do get lost, here are some ways to get un-lost or hopefully found. http://www.seriousrunning.com/blog/trail-running/lost-while-trail-running/

Jim Bansch
Apr 30, 2010

It is real easy for newbys driving by a trail head to stop and take a hike and making some bad decisions, awareness of how easy it is to get lost out doors on a trail is slim untill you subscribe to backpacker mag and read all the members comments !!!

SFC Moore
Jan 06, 2010

Another tip:
Learn to read a map!

thomas
Oct 16, 2009

boy that sign brings back some fine memories of Harriman state park

darrell
Aug 29, 2009

Remember if you pack it in be sure to pack it out. So much debris found on trails by litter bugs!

Orion
May 30, 2008

Like my favorite bumper sticker says:

Support your local Search and Rescue: Get Lost!!

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