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.