It is a fact of life that sooner or later you
will get lost on a walk. “Lost” is a relative term and obviously there
is a big difference between taking a minor wrong turn in good weather in a
farmer's field and having not the slightest idea where you are in low cloud
on a mountain top with night or inclement weather approaching.
There is no hard and fast rule about what to
do when “lost” as it depends very much on circumstances and equipment.
There are different sources of advice but I thought it might be useful to
use the word “LOST” itself as an acronym to guide consideration of the
situation in the right direction.
- i.e. Stop - and relax.
Do not keep wandering
on which might make the situation worse and above all do not panic.
Remaining calm is essential to planning the best solution. Don’t agonise
about why you are lost (unless knowing where you went wrong helps
identify a specific known location) and don't fall out with companions. Its
too late! You are where you are!
- look around you.
Can you recognise any
landmarks in relation to the map? Shapes of fields, clumps of trees, roads,
distinctive mountains, river bends etc can all help. It might help if you
turn the map so significant features are in the same relative position as
what you can actually see. You can judge this with a compass.
In what direction should you be heading –
and are you? Check the compass or even the sun if visible as according to
the time of day, you can expect the sun to be towards the east in the
earlier part of the morning, west in the later afternoon and generally
towards the south at other times (in the northern hemisphere!).
If you point a the hour hand of a watch at
the sun, south will be half way between 12 o'clock and the hour hand.
Moss grows on the north side of trees in the
If you have a GPS receiver (or appropriate
mobile phone) it will give you an OS reference for where you are and you can
work out from the map the best direction. However remember that GPS readings
can be unreliable under trees or where cliffs etc can block the signal so
ensure there is an open view of the sky.
You might see advice to follow a stream as it
will flow downhill and guide you to lower level safety. It will certainly
guide you downhill but beware. It might plunge over a cliff. This is only
last resort advice!
Remember that in poor visibility without a
reference point or use of a compass, you will walk in a circle as one leg
will be dominant.
on clear paths.
A path is likely to
lead somewhere. If you go “off piste” without a clear knowledge of where
you are going or a landmark to head for you could become more lost than you
were in the first place.
If darkness is falling and you know you have
no hope of reaching sanctuary in daylight, staying where you are until
morning might be the best option as long as circumstances and equipment will
enable you to stay adequately warm and dry. The prospect of an uncomfortable
night on the fells in itself, is not a reason to call out the Mountain
Rescue. They have problems in the dark too! If you have a mobile phone
signal, let someone know what is happening to avoid them calling the
emergency services. Better still, avoid becoming benighted by allowing
sufficient daylight time for your walk. See Walking
– i.e. retrace your steps to a point where you knew where you were.
route using the map and compass or even return to your starting point the
way you came. The best of these options is probably going to depend on how
far into the walk you are, distance to the end, time of day etc.
All information on this
site is given in good faith and no liability is accepted in respect of any
damage, loss or injury which might result from acting on it.