Knowing how to locate a lost trail is a valuable skill for the hiker. How many ways can you lose the trail?
Quite a few! Unsigned or poorly signed junctions, paths crowded or covered by brush, buried by rock-falls or mudslides, covered by fallen trees or a recent dusting of snow… If you suspect you’ve lost the trail, stop immediately.
Ask yourself: “If I was the trail where would I go?”
Sure, it’s a weird question, but if you know where you’ve come from and where you’re going, you can often figure out how the path should take you there. Often a trail has a logic all its own and sometimes the hiker can dial into it. A trail traveling a blufftop high above the surf will rarely all of a sudden plunge down the cliffs to the sea. Chances are a path contouring gently around a mountain will not suddenly veer straight up a steep slope.
• Return to the last point you’re certain was on the trail. You’ll likely find you missed a turn or switchback.
• Look for way-marks. Find the last sign, blaze, disk or mileage marker.
• Look for help. If you’re hiking with a companion and one of you goes looking for the trail, stay in voice or whistle contact.
• Don’t get more lost. Before you wander off in search of the trail, fix your current location in your mind so you don’t get more lost. Memorize distinctive features—a twisted tree or unusual rock formation, for example.
• Dial for help. If you can’t get back on track by yourself, call 911.