Things I learned about and from the AT – Getting lost

Categories:Appalachian Trail | Camping Advice


Getting lost is not always a bad thing. There are some times where getting lost can be very dangerous and not recommended however some times getting lost can be good.  There are two types of getting lost while on the trail. The first type is that of getting turned around or unable to find the correct trail. The second is getting lost in your head.

How is getting lost on the trail good? Even if you just hike the wrong way down the trail or end up somewhere your not supposed to be keeps you on your toes. So many times while hiking long distances you just point yourself in a direction and go. Face down eyes to the trail just in front of you pounding out the miles. Getting lost reminds you that you are indeed on an adventure and that everything does not always go as planned. The trail has its own agenda for you and will do whatever it can to ruin or destroy the plans you had made. This creates a love hate relationship with the trail. You love the trail but you hate the fact you know it will change your plans.

These types of changes, distractions, or sidetracks do not have to be bad. Many of them if looked at as positive events they can be an amazing part of your story. If you choose to look at them in a negative way then they will drag you down.  If we were to take a poll and ask people who have hiked on any of the long distance trails if they have ever gone the wrong way you will find a high percentage have.  More often than not they are lost inside their head when they miss a blaze or get turned around after stopping for a break. Other cases of getting lost can be the cause of fatigue or dehydration.  Often times after getting lost or turned around  can be laughed off. Other times serious emergencies happen and people get pulled off the mountains.

There were several times while on the AT I had to reassess the situation and my bearings before heading off on the trail again because the trail looked identical to the trail I had been hiking on causing deja vu moments. “I just crossed this bridge…. no I think its another one… just keep going eventually you will find a blaze….” One thing I will say is if you ever feel you have missed a blaze on a trail or think you have gone off trail look behind you. More times than not I  would miss a blaze in front of me and turn around and there was one right behind me. Another fun tip about trail hiking is that you should always turn the direction you turned into the camp to continue on the trail. For example if you turned left to get to the campsite or shelter turn left onto the trail when you are ready to leave. Unless you are headed back in the direction you came.

The deja vu moments for myself were typically caused by day dreaming or getting lost inside my head. On long distance hikes you begin to hike the trails of your mind while hiking the trail. As you put one foot in front of the other the monotony of  doing the same task eight hours each day causes you to begin to think about anything and everything.  You think about your past your future and everything in-between. There are some points where you slip away from it all and then return. Its very similar to driving the same route often enough that you blink and you have some how missed a whole section of the road and you are now many miles away from where you started. In the beginning you will be very worried of where you are placing your feet so you are constantly thinking about where to place your feet but eventually you will get lost and then hit a root or rock and you will be instantly brought back to the trail. Getting lost in your mind is a great thing. Helps you clear out the clutter. That is in my opinion one of the greatest things about hiking is to get away from it all and clear out your head.

What do you do if you find yourself getting lost on the trail? What is your best or funniest getting lost story?

Adam Nutting relishes being an avid backpacker, hiker, and all-around adventure junkie. While he currently spends his time hiking in the backcountry of southern Arizona, he grew up in Missouri, where he was naturally inclined to spend as much time as he could outdoors. Adam’s passion for the outdoors grew as he climbed the ranks of the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

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