View Full Version : What does "lost" mean?

03-27-2006, 04:23 PM
It seems like a lot of people use the term to mean not getting to where they want to be by a certain time. That isnít really what it means to me. I guess in the strictest technical terms it means not being where you think you are. While I agree that can be unnerving I donít know why people worry so much about that. When I go out in the woods to camp for the week or even the weekend I go with the intention of staying out enjoying myself in the woods. If I have a goal to get to a certain spot thatís fine but I can change that on a whim. I remember one night walking in following a river to get where we were going. The river was so high that it had many fingers that normally water wouldnít run in so it was very difficult crossing and we decided to bushwhack nearby the bank to get to the trail when it re-crossed before it crossed again. We had to decide at three AM either to stay put until we knew for sure if we were moving along the path correctly or to continue moving in a fashion that wouldnít have taken us to were we possible didnít to where we wanted to go. My feeling was what difference did it make? We wanted to get out in the woods for two nights. If we were where we thought we where or not what difference did it make? Technically we would be lost but who cares? We werenít in any trouble and we could still get out on time. We would just spend our days in the woods a little ways away from where we originally planned. The goal was still met which was two nights out in the woods having fun.

There are two things I believe causes people inexperienced in the woods to panic or at least have difficulties. The first is they mistake distance and time. They are very comfortable with distance. They think they have a good handle on distance. They donít know the meaning of the term one mile means something a lot different in the woods then it does on the street. I know I can easily cover one mile in less than one minute, on the highway. Easily in 20 minutes on a flat trail with a full pack, but up a real rough slope with a full pack and poorly fitting shoes, an hour, two hours, three? I never calculate anything in my head in the woods with reference to distance except in the loosest of terms. I calculate it in effort and time. Not how many miles, how many hours? That of course is related to elevation gain, temperature, ground conditions, roughness of the terrain and also distance. As all of you know the time to go three miles can vary wildly. I think many new hikers donít calculate it that way and the ďsmall hikeĒ exhausts them and then they donít know how they are going to get out ďin timeĒ. That is the real problem; they canít do it ďin timeĒ. In time may mean somewhere they need to be but more than likely it means they expected to get out before the woods got dark. They didnít plan for any nighttime travel and they may even be afraid of staying in the woods at night. This is because they were using distance as the constraint instead of time. They have even less of a margin if they make a simple small mistake.

The second I believe is blind panic. The ďideaĒ that they donít know where they are, is so foreign, and terrifying, to so many people, that they panic. Many times they panic even when there is no reason to panic. They donít need that hamburger tonight and they can live three days without water. They could get out tomorrow but they donít read the situation correctly. I, like many of you, have seen a lot of the woods and are accustomed to how it looks from the lower elevations to the higher peaks and how it looks and the noises that are in them in the day and night. I know to people less woodsí traveled it sounds odd that I recognize a specific tree or rock but I do as I am sure many of you do. I absolutely know that I saw that tree on the way in just like I absolutely know that this isnít the way we came in. Of course I turn around and look behind me fairly frequently so I will recognize what it is going to look like coming out.

I guess I am writing this to get some other peoples thoughts. I think the term lost is used inappropriately many times. How many times are people actually lost in the dangerous sense? I mean you can be sure of the state your in, correct, or at a minimum the country :D ? What does lost really mean and how relevant is it to most of the things we read on the board that are listed as lost people and starting a SAR operation for?

Just curiosity on my part.


03-27-2006, 04:37 PM
I guess in the strictest technical terms it means not being where you think you are. I think you hit it pretty well. To me, being "lost" is becoming so disoriented that there is no hope (in your mind) of becoming "found" before something tragic happens... the panic issue. In the NE woodlands, as long as you are not critically injured and have protection against hypothermia, its pretty hard to stay lost for very long unless you do panic.

I pride myself on being able to continuously know where I am anywhere in the woods, and I do not carry a GPS receiver. But sometimes it just doesn't matter. It is ok to just know "I'm somewhere in this valley", or ridge, or river, or whatever, knowing there are distinct broad boundaries (backstops and handrails) surrounding me. If I come across any of those boundaries, then I reset the knowledge of my precise location.

03-27-2006, 04:46 PM
Interestingly, I have been disoriented more than a few times on bushwacks and the like - but this is short term - Perhaps anything less than a few hours.

It is work though - to pull out Map and compass and make self realize that Compass is not wrong and that some old logging road didn't get grown over the last 2 years or some lake didn't dry up suddenly this summer.... am somehow thinking incorrectly - then the truth slow dawns upon me - Damn - I AM going the wrong way - Nowwww.... I understand..... now, finally, how foolish of me.

Note: (I think this was from the "Lost!!!" - Survival web site - Called "bending the map", or something similar.)

I think of lost as a longer term situation where one is hopelessly void of any possible reference point or has a diminished capability of understanding the reference point even if they came to it. I also sometimes consider lack of notification to others about plans as an intrinsic factor of being lost, since it plays upon the psyche of the victim "What if no one knows to come looking for me??" Panic, fear and desperation then come to mind as well.

I do think very few get lost, most just get momentarily disoriented.

03-27-2006, 04:47 PM
Daniel Boone said he was never lost, just a bit bewildered for a few days.

03-27-2006, 04:48 PM
I think you are right time constraints or the perception of time constraints is a big factor. Many hikers are limited in the time they can spend and don't have the freedom (or probably the confidence) to follow their whims in the woods. In New England, few trails are that far from a road, so being truly and severely lost is perhaps unlikely, but ending up somewhere other than one's intended destination can be disconcerting at the very least . Especially in winter, equipped or not for a night in the woods. The anxiety of loved ones when a hiker is late is a concern also; it is not always possible to call and Say," I may be lost but I am fine and I will find my way out." It is hard enough to really predict the time of finishing a hike. I recently hiked Mt Moriah alone, in winter. I expected to start at 9 am and actually it was closer to 9:30; I had predicted getting down and back to Wildcat between 2 and 3.(probably too optimistic) I got back at 3:20 and my husband was already worried. I had hiked pretty fast, did not get lost, injured, or eaten by wildlife, but had gone the slightest bit off course , I would probably have panicked a bit knowing how worried he would be. Not much chance of a cell signal unless on the summit. So I guess lost is in the eye of the beholder; perhaps as Daniel Boone noted the proper term is confused!

03-27-2006, 05:23 PM
Daniel Boone said he was never lost, just a bit bewildered for a few days.
See sig. :D

03-27-2006, 05:43 PM
My old coffe cup used to say "You can't be lost if you don't care where you are." Once I leave the care at a trailhead, that pretty much sums it up.

03-27-2006, 05:46 PM
Lost is that show with the dude from party of 5 in it??? :p :p :p

ok seroiusly - I also think the word is - disoriented

I can only speak for the whites, but I think it would be hard to get "lost" if you have a map and compass and know how to use them. But easy to become - disoriented. For the most part you are never more than 10 miles from a major road - probably most times much less - like 5 to 7. it just takes some very very basic backcountry travel skills and you can find your way to a road, trail, etc.. :D :) :cool:

03-27-2006, 06:28 PM
Even though one is rarely beyond walking distance from the nearest trail or road, finding one doesn't necessarily make you any less lost. Not if you have no idea where you are when you reach them and have no idea which way will more expediently bring you back to the car. If you were hiking, you will never be any further from the parking lot than you just walked, but if you happen to drop down off the wrong side of the mountain it could be a loooooooong way back to the car, even if you're going in the correct direction. It's even worse if the first roads you find are little used dirt ones, where you'd be the least likely to encounter anyone to offer guidance and deciding which way to turn to get back is a crap shoot. Then again, most people who hike off trails have the good sense to bring navigational aids with them in order to avoid such situations. Plus, most people out hiking are in the most popular regions, not the middle-of-nowhere obscure peaks, so it stands to reason that this is where the most people get lost.

03-27-2006, 06:42 PM
"Lost" means not knowing where you (or something or someone) is. Just because you "lost" your favorite slippers doesn't mean you are in any danger.

From an S&R perspective, plenty of "lost" people know quite well where they are, it is their spouse at home that considers them "lost" and reports them.

There are plenty of times on bushwhacks and even on trails where I didn't know quite where I was and thus was lost, but I wasn't in any danger.

03-27-2006, 06:51 PM
Lost to me doesn't mean that I don't know where I am. It means that I don't know how to get to where I need to be.


Mad Townie
03-28-2006, 08:25 AM
I don't know any Mainers who ever got lost, but I know a few who've been "turned around" some! :D

To me, lost is when there is a good chance you will die from lack of food or "exposure" in non-winter conditions even if you have a compass. Doesn't happen much in this part of the world, since we can walk in a straight-ish line to a road fairly quickly. I may not know exactly where I am in GPS terms, but I always know within 4 or 5 miles. That's not lost. Is there anyplace in the Whites where walking for a day or two won't get you to civilization?

I do like the definitions that involve panic, though. I could accept those as defining "lost".

03-28-2006, 08:29 AM
This is much like the 'hike vs. climb' debate. It's all in the eyes of the beholder. One person's 'lost' is another person's 'adventure'.

03-28-2006, 01:33 PM
This is much like the 'hike vs. climb' debate. It's all in the eyes of the beholder. One person's 'lost' is another person's 'adventure'.

I have to respectfully disagree. We send out SAR for what we call "lost" but not for what we call adventure and I am not sure most "lost" cases deserve this. To me this gets to the root of what SAR should be doing. Someone who is lost (most times) is not in any immediete danger and this is not an emergency. Especially if they have cell phone communications and can be guided under their own steam to a road where they can call a cab or get other transport. Aside from some legal questions about what the state/federal government should provide to its citizens (or what they should expect). I think this goes directly to what I am trying to get at. Most of these "lost" cases are not emergencies and full SAR support probably does more damage than good. It teaches people that for the most mundane reason others will come rushing to your aid even if you are just tired, worried, wet, late, etc when there is really no reason you could not take care of the problem yourself. Either before you started out by making better choices or during, to just resign yourself that you are going to be a little late and should have brought a tarp, light, whatever. It makes people know that self reliance is not required. I think that is the wrong message. We want people more self reliant out in the woods, not less. I'm not saying I want deaths or to not help people in genuine trouble but, these simplest of cases shouldn't qualify for emergency response. If that doesn't happen I suspect either a fee system or permit system or some such foolishness will eventually be instituted. I like most people go to the woods to get away from that type of stuff.

Just my $.02.

TJ aka Teej
03-28-2006, 02:25 PM
Someone who is lost (most times) is not in any immediete danger and this is not an emergency.

That's why some hikers can see 'adventure' in discovering they are lost.

03-28-2006, 06:48 PM
To me this gets to the root of what SAR should be doing. ...Aside from some legal questions about what the state/federal government should provide to its citizens (or what they should expect).
The Coast Guard is going thru a similar debate about recuing boaters not in distress, say engine conks out in good weater. Should they be required to hire a commercial tug?

Note however one of the scariest stories I read was in Hawaii, a guy with bad blisters requested rescue and the helicopter arrived but decided he was in no immediate danger. They did agree to fly out his 60?# backpack so he could hike out 10? miles with less stress on feet. The guy has never been seen since. That's the sort of stuff that causes lawsuits.