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Hiking Around in Circles? Probably, Study Says

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When they feel disoriented, I answer my crew "What does the map say? What does the compass say?"

One time, my daughter smarted back, "What does the GPS say?"

My reply, "Tracking Satellites..."


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I hike almost exclusively in the Olympics and Cascades of Washington State, where until you get above the tree line you generally stick to the trails.

A few years back a midwestern Scout Troop (I think from Minnesota) wanted to hike the wilderness area of the North Cascade National Park. Oh one thing they wanted to do was make a little easier. They hired a helicopter to drop them off high in the mountains then hike down. Within the park there are privately owned mining claims, where they could land.


Pilot didnt do a good job of navigating and dropped them off in the wrong hanging valley. The Scouts couldnt find a trail out of there. The weather socked in. The helicopter pilot couldnt find them. A couple older Scouts/Leaders went cross country and ended up finally at Stehekin at the head of Lake Chelan on the other side of the Cascades. A rescue of the Scouts was successful.


The one rule I take from this, let me hike in so I know there is a least one way out.


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Perhaps there is more to this than simply an error in directional orientation that causes the confused to move in a circular motion.


Having been one of those who was mighty bewildered as to my location, I can testify that one of the things you first notice is the lack of familiarity in terms of landmarks or trail. If you are hiking into unknown territory on a trail or while utilizing a map and compass, you have a reference point to keep your self orientated. The thing about being lost is that there are no reference points. Everything around you is suddenly completely unfamiliar. The trail is gone and everything looks the same and yet different and everything is totally unfamiliar. This is when panic sets in and a common reaction is to move quickly in a desperate search of something familiar. All it takes to get over this panic is the sight of a known landmark or stretch of trail.


Perhaps the circular motion is an unconscious and internal reckoning to get back to something familiar.


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