Not All Women Who Wander Are Lost

backpacking events hiking orienteering self reliance solo hiking

**UPDATE: get your tickets for Part 2: Maps here!

It's a beautiful fall day. The weather is perfect. Just cool enough to wear a sweater, but not hot enough that you will sweat while keeping up a brisk pace. You are annoyed. Your boyfriend was supposed to go hiking with you, but he decided to take some overtime at work instead. You have been planning the perfect hike for weeks and everything is ready. You decide that life is too short to be waiting on a man, and set off to go hiking without him.

Everything starts off great. You have chosen a fairly popular hike, not the one that your boyfriend wanted to do. The one benefit of going alone is not having to compromise. It's getting late in the season and you don't see a soul on the way. It's a hike that you have done before, but you remember it having better markers last time you were here. At times you have to guess at were the path goes and some of it appears to be little more than deer trails through the bush. Eventually it pitters out altogether. You keep thinking you will rejoin the trail if you just keep walking, but you've been hiking for at least 30 min and you haven't found it. You turn around to go back, but an hour later, after climbing an unusually large hill, you finally admit to yourself that you don't know where you are.

You pull out your phone, but you are out of service and your battery is down to 2% from searching.

You regret not asking your boyfriend if you could borrow his GPS, but you were too angry with him when you left to even answer his message. It hits you that you didn't let anyone know your change in plans, or that you were going solo.

A knot of anxiety starts to build in the pit of your stomach. You do a quick calculation and realize that you have 3 hours to get back to the car before darkness. You try not to think about the animals that might be lurking in the dense bush. The forest scene from snow white comes to mind and you laugh at yourself for being so juvenile. You may have neglected some of your usual safety precautions, but you’re far from helpless. You take a deep breath and slide your pack off.

orienteering woman

Your map and compass are at the very bottom of your bag. It takes awhile to get to them and for a few frantic moments you think you may have forgotten them as well, but soon you have everything laid out in front of you.

Last Known Position

You aren't sure where you went off the path, but you know where you started. You parked your car off highway 7 just past the turnoff to 212, you mark it on the map.

Narrow Down The Search

You know that you have not crossed the highway or any other roads, you draw a thick line over the roads surrounding your starting point. Your search area just shrunk substantially; things are already looking up. You smile a little to yourself, but just for a moment, a rustling in the bush snaps you back to reality. You peer into the dense undergrowth searching for movement and are shocked and surprised to see a ravenous squirrel run up a nearby tree. You chuckle. It's clearly going to be a long afternoon.

orienteering woman

Look at Your Surroundings

You take a careful inventory of your surroundings. There is a small lake off your left hand side. You just completed climbing the highest hill that you have encountered all day. From it you can just barely make out a gravel road.

You attempt to locate this spot on the map; using the map legend for reference. Bodies of water are rare in this area and there are only two in your search zone.
You search along side the water on the map, looking for the tight group of contour lines that would indicate a sharp change in elevation. There are a couple options.

Time to orient the map. You pick up your compass, the familiar weight of it comforting in your hand, set it to north and place it on the map; carefully lining up the meridians of longitude. You carefully turn it until the red north arrow slides perfectly into place in it's matching home at the top of the compass. You turn your feet as well so that you too are facing due north. You find the first lake on the map and turn towards the direction indicated. No lake. You realign yourself and turn towards the second lake. All you see is trees.

orienteering woman

Bile rises in your throat and your head begins to fog. You were wrong. You knew better than to venture out on your own. You will not make it out. You catch yourself spiraling and close your eyes, you inhale deeply and let the sounds of the forest calm you. You feel the wind brush against your face and hear the soft call of birds. You take a few more breaths before opening your eyes and rolling back your shoulders. Now, in a proper state of mind, you realize your error. Your compass is pointing to magnetic north and your map is drawn in true degrees. All is not lost. Math to the rescue. Against all odds it turns out that your grade 5 teacher was right. You do some quick calculations using your map legend and your head computer and check again. One of the lakes is exactly where the map indicates. You take note that the gravel road also lines up as expected. You can be reasonably sure that you have found your current location. Success! You mark it with a triumphant, unnecessarily large star.

Calculate Your Bearing and Distance

You draw a line on the map connecting large star to your parked car. Using the bar scale at the bottom of the you roughly calculate the distance as 12 km. If you keep a fairly brisk pace you should make it back to your car safely before darkness sets in.

You place the edge of your compass against the line, insuring as you do that it is facing the direction you wish to travel. It would be a shame after all that math to walk further into the bush. You turn the compass rose so that its north matches north on the map (remembering to account for magnetic difference this time). You lay the compass in your flattened right hand and hold it out far enough in front of you so that the metal of your knife and watch won't affect its reading. You slowly turn your body until the trusty red north arrow lands gently in its matching bed.

Using the notch at the top of your compass casing you pick a distinctive landmark not too far in the distance. You stow your compass and map, take one more deep breath then your first step back towards home. You reach your landmark, take your compass out again and shoot another bearing. You repeat these steps over and over and begin to wonder if you will ever make it to your car. Every so often you take your map out and use your surroundings to confirm that you are still on the right track. The sun begins to set in a flurry of beautiful colors, but all you can think about is the deepening chill in the air. What seems like an eternity later, you crest a hill to see your car! You run the rest of the way in sheer glee.

The tingling sensations that the full blast heater creates on your body feels better than the most expensive spa. You crank the radio and sing along all the way home.

successful orienteering woman

Photos by Amanda Legris (@m_13_artistry on Instagram). Story written by Adelle Bittner.

So, after reading this story, how did you feel? What would you have done in a situation where you get lost? Would you have some of the necessary skills to rely on? If you shook your head, don't worry - join us on Saturday, October 27th for Not All Women Who Wander Are Lost! This is a hands on course for women wanting to learn how to navigate using a compass. If you're already an expert, it will be a great opportunity to hone your skills. We are so excited to have you join us! This women-lead course will not only be practical, but fun too (hint: there will be prizes and competing teams)! Get your tickets here: [Link]

Part 2: Maps tickets here!

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