It was a beautiful, blue sky, fall day. And, as luck would have it, the Crescent Trail Association was leading a hike. Rich and I wandered through the woods on the trail with 20 others in search of fall’s beauty.
The club was offering a shuttle back to our car, but we wanted to walk, so we headed back down the trail. This time we walked in silence, just the two of us. The temperature had dropped and big snowflakes began to fall. It fell in blankets that stuck to our hair and soaked into our clothing.
Rich and I made mistakes that many people make when heading out for a hike. We didn’t prepare for a change in weather. We were wearing blue jeans and we didn’t have gloves or hats. We had gone on a guided hike and didn’t have a map or compass with us. In fact, we had nothing with us.
We plodded through the deepening snow. The trail and the blazes became hard to see. Then it happened. We passed a landmark along the trail for the second time! We had gone in a circle and didn’t even realize it. We’d read about people getting lost and going in circles. But we were two intelligent human beings. How could it happen to us?
So, we were lost and getting progressively wetter and colder. We knew major roads formed boundaries for the land we were on. We guessed at the direction and headed to the road noise. When we reached the road we discovered we were back at the farthest road, not the road with our car. Without a compass we had guessed wrong. We had embarrassed ourselves enough for one day, so we decided to follow the roads and walk about 3 miles back to our car in the dark, arriving exhausted, cold, and soaked to the skin.
In hindsight, we were fortunate. We knew the roads surrounding the woods and the area was small. Making a similar mistake in unknown territory farther from roads could have been fatal. And we learned a valuable lesson. We now go out prepared, even if it’s a short, guided hike. We put together a survival kit in a zip lock bag that is kept in our daypack and taken on every hike. We make sure we always have a map of the trails with us, and we each carry a bottle of water. We no longer wear cotton (except on short summer hikes) and we put clothes in our daypack for one level of wet or cold below what it is when we head out.
We’ve fine-tuned our route finding abilities over the years as we’ve explored the hundreds of trails throughout Western and Central New York. I can happily report that in the ten years since this incident we haven’t been lost once.
pocket knife with scissors
small emergency space blanket
iodine tablets (to purify water)
small roll of toilet paper