Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lost Hiker

In today's digital age, it seems nearly impossible to get lost anymore. The recent story about Geraldine Largay reminds us, however, that you can still get fatally lost as a hiker.

In July 2013, she went off the path of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. A search crew was dispatched as soon as she missed her expected arrival date, but the search was in vain. Her remains were found only two years later (N44 59.011, W70 24.099)! Based on a report by the Maine Warden Service [PDF], she was just 30 minutes away from the nearest outpost.

The speculation is that Ms. Largay needed to use the bathroom, and stepped off the trail to do so. When she attempted to return, she lost her orientation, and was instantly lost. How dense must the woods be to get disoriented like that? I sometimes walk the small conservation lands near my house, and even in the middle of the area I can still sight a landmark.

Ms. Largay tried to use her cell phone to send a TXT for help, but cell towers are not always available in the wilderness. Serious hikers can now use satellite based devices like PLBs or Satellite Messengers. These look pricey, but if I were planning a hike on the AT, I would invest in one.

I am drawn to thinking what I would do in her situation. She set up a camp, and used a reflective blanket as a marker. She tried to set a fire. She wrote. When I get temporarily lost driving around in my car, the sensation of being lost can quickly become overwhelming. Would I remember to stay calm, and gather my wits?

Many hikers are learning lessons from Ms. Largay's unexpected demise. The main one: be prepared!