I took one second to stop and take a photo of a lone sheep while on a group hike through the pastures of England’s Sussex Downs, and the next thing I knew, I, myself, was a lost lamb. The group had somehow turned a corner and disappeared from sight.
I totally panicked. I finally did return to our hotel on my own, but I was pretty shaken and irritated, actually. There are a number of things that the group — and I as an individual — could have done to prevent this from happening.
So here’s what you should do — and I what will surely do the next time — to avoid getting lost during a group hike, and what to do if you do get lost.
1. Instruct each group member to have a working mobile phone during the hike, along with the number of the group leader. This way, if you or another hiker gets lost, a simple phone call can save you a lot of time and panic. If you can’t find the rest of the pack, just call and say you’re lost. Even if the group has gone too far to backtrack, you can at least receive instructions on what to do next.
2. Give each member of the hiking party a local emergency number to call if the leader cannot be reached.
3. Have what is known as a sweeper — someone who agrees to stay behind and make sure that no one walks too slowly and falls too far behind the main group.
4. Operate on the buddy system. Encourage walkers to look out for each other. At some point, ask walkers to make sure their designated buddy is feeling OK and, more importantly, is still with the group.
5. Before even leaving on the hike, the leader should give everyone a map marked off with the trail you’re taking. The starting and ending points should be highlighted. The group leader should be well enough informed so that if someone calls, claiming to be lost along the way, the leader (using the mobile phone everyone should have) can assist the individual to either find the group again or find the way back to the starting point.
6. Every 30 minutes or so, the group leader should stop and check that everyone has kept up with the group and is OK. (This is the part that got me really angry with my hiking group in the Sussex Downs. The group was so competitive that no one stopped to look to see if anyone had lagged behind until it was too late.)
6. If you do get lost, stay where you are unless you’re in dangerous surroundings. The group or the group’s search party will first look for you where they saw you last. But if you leave the area, they won’t find you there.
Getting lost on a group walk is a lot easier than you think. I, of course, found out the hard way. But follow the above advice, and you don’t have to.
Walks in East Sussex
Fitness Walks in the U.K.