This week I purposely got myself lost.
Getting lost when out walking through Scotland’s hills and mountains is something many people try their best not to experience.
Many of you will have no doubt heard stories of walkers getting lost while they have been trekking through the wilds and as such have wisely sought out the skills that are necessary to prevent it from happening to you.
Like many of you reading this blog, I have been making my way through the UK’s beautiful countryside for many years and I like to think, that during that time, I have attained a high level of knowledge and skills that would allow me to get out of any tricky situation that may come my way especially when it comes to navigation.
A warning story
Earlier this year I read an account online of a trio of walkers who had strayed from their intended route due to a sudden spell of bad weather and they quickly found themselves lost on some very exposed land and without many clues to guide them back to safety.
The trio were well equipped and the leader had a mobile phone on which they were luckily able to call the local mountain rescue team and ask for advice on what they should do and, thanks to a very skilled mountain rescue coordinator, they were able to reorientate themselves and make their back down to safety. After reading this story I thought that it might be a good idea to test myself by getting lost to see if I needed to improve upon any of my skills.
Now getting lost on purpose is obviously not something you should do with supervision so with the assistance and support from some of the Walk Fife team I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere with my map, compass and my trusty backpack (with a radio safely stowed away just in case) and tasked with getting from the drop-off point to a meeting point 14 miles away.
So what do you do if you get lost?
The first and most important thing to do if you find that you have become lost is not to panic. A panicked mind is not a rational mind and panicking can drastically decrease your chances of finding your way back to safety. Many years ago I was taught a great acronym for use when lost.
STOP: Instead off carrying on walking and hoping that you will find your way again and, potentially getting yourself more lost or in danger, just stop.
THINK: Once stopped, calm yourself down and think rationally about the situation in which you have found yourself. In my experience, sitting down and having a cuppa and a bite to eat is a good way of calming and grounding yourself.
OBSERVE: Study your surroundings and try to identify the features that you are seeing in front of you on your map. Avoiding picking out small features and instead look for large features like hill top radio masts, buildings or peaks. Observing and identifying features in the landscape will allow you to orientate your map to your surroundings and, when paired with your compass, will give you an approximate position.
PLAN: After orientating your map you then need to plan your route back to safety. Ask yourself if you can you retrace your steps and if not can you identify a route that can get you back on track or to safety. Rational thinking is key here as it can be tempting to take what you may perceive to be a short cut but, through panic, you may be opting for a route that is beyond your abilities or could be troublesome due to weather conditions. Take your time and carefully plan your route forward.
Did I find my way?
Well yes I did and it was thanks to using the S.T.O.P. method. I have to admit though that I did have a false start at first because I accidentally misidentified a crossing point for one that was slightly further West of my position but I soon spotted my error as I moved forward and I once again S.T.O.P. ed and reoriented myself and corrected myself and found my way to the meeting point after 14 miles of glorious summer walking.
Week 28 lessons
Before undertaking this micro-challenge, I was very confident in my navigational abilities but I realised that after my false start that perhaps I should brush up some aspects that I have seldom had to use in anger. For the rest of this year I will be refreshing the many map and compass navigation skills that I have learned and used over the years to make sure that, should I ever find myself in a real-life lost situation, I am well equipped to get myself and others to safely home.
Week 29 will be a pleasant mix of walking with family and friends as I amble around the UK in search of some mini walking adventures.
If you have any questions about this challenge or anything Walk Fife related, then please drop me a email at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message me through my twitter account @SDMakin.
Catch up with you again next week.