The topic of the Stewards of the Land column in August was Staying Found. It covered how not to get lost, but not much about what to do if you are lost. Here is more advice on how to deal with being lost.
Even the best navigators may momentarily be unsure of their location. The second you are unsure of where you are, you should STOP. STOP is an acronym for the following:
STOP: Dont panic. Dont take another step until you ...
THINK: Figure out what happened. To do this, you might need to ...
OBSERVE: Landmarks, weather, physical condition of others and time of day in order to ...
PLAN: Make a plan to either stay put or retrace your steps based on your observations.
Are you really lost? You used landmarks and the map and compass. You whistled, and no one responded. You are not sure which way to go, and you fear that any direction might take you farther away from where you are supposed to be. Once you realize you are really lost, you must prepare to spend some time outside.
First, put on extra clothing or sun protection. Next, consider the weather. If it is hot, seek shade and water. If it is cold or raining, seek shelter and build a fire. It is always cold at night in Colorado, so you will want to prepare an area for a shelter and fire.
THE RULE OF THREES: When prioritizing your needs, consider these. This may ease your mind.
3 minutes: The approximate time a human can survive without oxygen.
3 hours: The approximate time a human can survive severe weather without shelter.
3 days: The approximate time a human can survive without drinking water.
3 weeks: The approximate time a human can survive without food.
More people than you think have survived the night in an emergency shelter. Here are some notes on shelter building:
Choose a spot with plenty of natural shelter and build on to that (such as a rock overhang or dense grove of trees).
Make sure you are far enough from a roaring stream this sound may drown out the noise of animals or rescue crews.
Build on ground that will not collect water in the rain.
Make the shelter just large enough to fit everyone huddled together this will retain body heat.
Have the door facing east toward the sunrise unless the wind blows from the east.
Position the door so you can build a fire outside it.
An adequate shelter should fend off the wind and rain.
Insulate the ground with dry conifer needles, live boughs or snow.
DO NOT sleep directly on rock it will absorb your body heat.
Use cord to lash branches together to support the shelter.
Use a knife to cut boughs for an outside layer.
Resist the urge to use rain gear on the outside of the shelter it will serve you better if worn on your body.
Fire building is a very important art. A survival fire should be both big for warmth and smoky to alert rescuers. Use a teepee or log cabin formation to allow in oxygen. Make sure the wood and kindling are very dry. Good kindling includes dry needles, lichens (especially old mans beard) and tree sap.
Create smoke once the fire is roaring (but under control you are lost; you dont need to start a forest fire). On a sunny day, white smoke shows up best in contrast to the sky. Adding wet leaves or green branches produces white smoke. On a cloudy day, black smoke is best. Add oil, rubber or nylon.
Much more information about backcountry survival is available. Go ahead and learn more. Online resources are easily found. Some are noted on our website at: www.sjma.org/whoweare/news/LearningontheLand/LotL%200511.PDF.
A lack of preparedness in the backcountry leads to unnecessary challenges, such as hypothermia, dehydration or getting even more lost. Help yourself, help your loved ones and ease strain on local rescue authorities. Be prepared in the backcountry, and everyone will have a more enjoyable time.
Now, head for the hills ... or head for the desert. It is that season again.
MK Thompson is an education assistant for San Juan Mountains Association.