You are more likely to become lost on the descent. You are walking faster and looking for foot placements and you are tired paying less attention to the track ahead.
In the forest zone, the main track can be confused with many side tracks that villagers use in search of firewood and other forest products. Tracks proliferate everywhere in the agricultural zone. A freshly broken branch, placed by a guide, across the entrance to a track is a sign that you should not take that track.
White outs – loss of all visibility in heavy cloud. These are most likely to occur on the mountain peak above the forest zone. If you lose the track, stop immediately and wait for a break in the clouds. Some mountains have cairns of stones along the track to guide the way in heavy cloud.
Rule 1: If you think that you are lost – STOP!
Stay calm and collect your wits. Take off your pack, sit down, relax, have a drink, a smoke, pray/meditate. Only when you are relaxed and can think clearly, start to plan your next move.
Stay together if you are lost as a group. Do your best to persuade others from moving off on their own before you have taken stock of the situation. Frequently people will become agitated and feel the need to get going or do something without assessing the situation clearly.
Rule 2: Assess the situation
Ask these questions of yourself and the group:
• Is everybody okay, no injuries?
• Can you hear the rest of the group in the distance?
• How long do you think you have been off the track?
• Can you safely retrace your steps to find the track again?
• Are you in the forest or on the open mountain slope (the latter being more life-threatening if bad weather sets in)?
• Do you have visibility or are you clouded in?
• Is it raining? Is it likely to rain later?
• How many hours of daylight are left?
• Are you equipped to survive a night on the mountain/forest? This could now be the time to put your survival gear to the test.
Rule 3: Whistle
• Use your whistle – listen. (SOS = three short, three long, three short). Keep blowing and listening for a reply.
• A whistle will travel further than your voice and takes little effort. Sounds travel further at night.
• By now, the main group will, hopefully, have realized that you are missing and will be listening for your signal.
Rule 4: Retrace your footsteps
Retracing your track is always the best option. Attempting to bush-whack through the forest to find the track is risky. Someone will eventually come looking for you. The searchers will start by following your original track at the last known point. The further you diverge from your original track, the harder it will be for them to find you.
Descending a mountain, other than via the main track, is fraught with danger. Logically, you would try to follow a ridge down the mountain but, invariably, you will be stopped by a ravine/cliff face below and become entrapped where you are unable to either go up or down. Trying to bash your way through the forest is a bad option for both yourself and those who will be searching for you.
The best option is to stay put, save energy, make yourself comfortable and protect yourself from cold and rain. Keep blowing the whistle.
Rule 5: Make the best of a night on the mountain
Nightfall is approaching and you are above the forest line. Always try to get into the forest below so you can find some shelter and perhaps get a fire going. A fire is a great morale booster; it gives everyone something to do and keeps you warm.
But Murphy’s law will strike and the rain will start pouring down. If you are in the forest, try to construct a shelter of sorts with whatever you can find. Tree ferns leaves are good and easy to pull apart from the stalk. This is where your pocket knife becomes useful. Conserve and collect water.
A night in the forest on a mountain is no big deal if you are well prepared. It won’t be comfortable but it won’t kill you. Put on all the clothes you have, crawl into your rucksack, huddle together, conserve heat, reassure the distraught and treat it like an adventure. It will be one experience you won’t forget.
In the morning, make a fire. The smoke will be noticeable from afar.