LOST: If not properly equipped, hiking can be dangerous

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

As summer approaches, the trails of local forests are bound to see more traffic. But a few safety precautions can be as important to a hiking trip as the temperature.

If the first half of the year is any indication, there’s reason to get the word out. Already in 2006, there have been three incidents of lost hikers. In February, an experienced 29-year-old hiker from Columbus was lost in the forest over night before being found by authorities.

In mid-April, seven local people — three adults, three teens and a 9-year-old child — were lost for hours before being rescued by firefighters and a horseback rescue team.

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Two weeks later, the scene was repeated when a 5-year-old boy from Ironton, two South Point boys, aged 9 and 10, and a mother and daughter from Proctorville were lost near Lake Vesuvius.

Although there were no injuries of note, some of these incidents possibly could have been preventing by taking a few precautions.

Get your gear

Before leaving the house, hikers should have a few essentials on hand, or more accurately, on foot.

“The thing that kills me are their shoes,” Ironton district ranger Gloria Chrismer said with a laugh. “They come out to make an 8 mile hike, and they’ve got little kids wearing flip-flops. Children’s feet are delicate, and we need to take care of them.”

More adequate would be tennis shoes, or maybe even hiking boots for the really tough trails.

The next item is pretty obvious, but it’s so essential that it bears mentioning: water. Keeping hydrated is always important, but Chrismer said it’s especially key this time of year.

“We have had some rough heat, and our folks out there working, it’s even rough on them, even when they’re out there for two or three hours at a time,” Chrismer said. “You have to keep hydrated, that’s extremely important.”

Chrismer also said that a high-energy snack can provide a good boost in the middle of a hiking excursion. It can also help to sustain you in the off chance that you are lost.

There’s one other crucial piece of gear for dealing with just that problem: A trail map. Most state forests sell or give these away, but can be your best friend when you don’t know which way to turn.

Oh, and bring a cell phone and a whistle. You’ll see why in a little bit.

Before you put boot to trail

If you’re planning on going hiking, one of the most important steps can be to tell someone. Don’t be like those weekend warriors bragging around the water cooler about their upcoming Brazilian hike, tell someone who cares about you, like a friend of family member, she said. They should also know when you plan to return home so they’ll know when to start worrying.

Chrismer also suggests leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, so to speak, for forest officials to find in the form of a note to be left on the car windshield.

“They should write down how many were in their party, where they were going to go hiking, when they went in, and when they were going to be back, and that would help tremendously,” Chrismer said.

This has a side benefit of allowing forest officials to locate your party in case of an emergency. If someone needs to reach you and knows what sort of car you drive, it will be that much easier to reach you if a note’s on the car.

Then comes one of the most important choices: Choosing the right trail for you and your party. They come in varying difficulties and lengths, all information that should be available from your local ranger.

With info and equipment secured, the only decision left is when to leave. This is where one of the recent groups to get lost slipped up.

“By all means, they don’t need to come out at 4 in the afternoon and decide to go on an 8-mile hike,” Chrismer said. “The last people that got lost just thought they could make it around the lake in two or three hours … and you can’t do that.”

What’s the lesson? Leave early.

Into the woods

Once you’ve left on your hike, the best thing you can do to keep yourself from getting lost is to pay attention. The more you focus on your surroundings, the easier it will be to navigate your way out of the forest should you need to turn around.

“Take notice of your surroundings,” Chrismer said. “If there’s a distinctive tree or a rock, look at it, talk about it to whom you’re with. Those things will be good reminders when you’re coming back.”

It can also be helpful to occasionally turn around and look at your surroundings. Seeing the view from that perspective can ring a bell when you’re taking the trip back to your car.

Also, if you’re getting tired, know when it’s time to turn around.


It may be a fun TV show, but it’s no treat when it happens to you. The first and most important thing, is to keep a level head.

“When people start thinking they’re lost, they get bumfuzzled,” Chrismer said. “They get nervous and they get scared.”

OK, remember the cell phone that you packed? I bet you’re glad you thought of that.

Chrismer suggests going to the highest point you can find to try and get service, as reception in the forest can be hard to come by. If you manage to get a few bars of service, call 911 and, by all means, stay put.

If you didn’t pack a cell phone, or you just can’t get reception, it’s time to blow the whistle on yourself. You can whistle louder than you can yell. Try blowing in it every 15 minutes or so.

Most importantly, wait for rescuers, don’t go looking for them.

It may sound dangerous, but Chrismer still emphasizes the fun (and low expense) of hiking as a hobby. And she said it’s really no more dangerous than any other outdoor adventure.

“I would think it’s pretty safe, as long as you use some common sense,” Chrismer said. “If you know your limitations, I would say it’s a pretty safe sport to indulge in.”