The Upside to Getting Lost on your Walk

10/08/15

Becoming topographically befuddled while out hiking shouldn’t be cause for alarm. In fact, Damian Hall encourages every hill-walker to become temporarily misplaced every now and then.

My mate Bevo and I have been lost on Dartmoor, Snowdonia, the Yorkshire Dales, and in our home patch, the Brecon Beacons. Naturally I've always blamed him. Come to think of it though, I tend to get a little, um, topographically embarrassed whenever I’ve been hiking with my wife too. My wife likes getting lost less than I do. She thinks I do it on purpose (for once she might be right). We don’t go walking together as much as we used to.

Whether it's wilful or not, I enjoy getting lost. It's more of an adventure than following a path, a prescribed route. Mind you, I have the same problem with following recipes in cookbooks. Again, probably not a foible of mine favoured by my wife.

I also enjoy the challenge of using the map and compass (and if that’s not working, the cheat box – a GPS) to unpick the lock, to relocate myself via a quick (well, it’s not always quick) landscape jigsaw.

“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes,” wrote Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Of course, mistakes make us wiser and better informed for next time around.

Usually, a brief foray into the realms of topographical embarrassment just adds some time and distance to your day’s walk. And there's always the chance of serendipity, an unexpected view discovered, a secret woodland uncovered, a new batch of stinging nettles to have robust discussions with.

What does “lost” mean anyway? If you’re sure of which valley you’re in, but aren’t certain which trail you’re on precisely – or even, ahem, exactly where the trail is – are you really lost? You know approximately where you are. If the weather is fair, you have food and spare clothing, and no one is expecting to have met you an hour ago, is there anything to worry about?

I don't understand why my wife gets nervous about being lost (admittedly she had cause that time in the Australian Outback). In many places in Britain, if things really turn against you you’re not usually far from a road – a road leads to houses, cars and people who can help you.

All that said, in my remote environments it can lead to problems. My most foolish and potentially dangerous experience of wilfully getting lost (apart from Australia that time) was in New Zealand. I climbed a mountain (okay, primarily to look for a Lord of the Rings film location). It was an exhilarating climb, but after a while I was in thick white clouds on a rocky plateau, every direction looked identical and I had no idea which way I'd come. Idiotically I didn’t have a compass.

My girlfriend, in a camper van way down in the valley (yeah, but which valley?) somewhere knew roughly where I had gone and if I wasn’t back by the evening I'd instructed her to call Search and Rescue. But that was a long time to wait and I was getting wet and cold.

After going round in circles for a while, I sat down and tried not to panic or cry. I had a cup of tea from my flask and a chocolate bar… (which helped fuel my brain cell...) Then it clicked! On the way up, a strong wind had been blowing on my left. Assuming it hadn’t changed, it would blow to my right if I was going the right way.

And it worked! Phew. Engaging more fully with the natural world had saved me from an uncomfortable time and taught me a very important lesson. The next day I bought a compass. But the experience had also taught me there’s little need to panic. Often there’s a simple solution.

Although I do still get lost, with my compass I'm better at getting unlost. And I'm getting much better at that. I’d encourage everyone, in the nicest possible way, to get lost.

Damian Hall

@damo_hall

Damian Hall is an outdoor journalist who’s completed many of the world’s famous and not-so-famous long-distance walks, including Everest Base Camp trek for his honeymoon. The tea-loving hillbilly is author of the official Pennine Way guide and his newest book, Long Distance Walking in Britain, is out soon. There’s plenty more self-aggrandising hogwash on Twitter and at www.damianhall.info.




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