Such situations can be avoided with the addition of an extra headlamp, or a small penlight, and remember to toss in some spare batteries.
Darkness affects balance, since our equilibrium is dependent upon a number of sensory receptors for orientation. It is impossible to walk upright in complete darkness, since the absence of light inhibits human sensory reception. I discovered this phenomenon years ago, when I was deep in a cavern, and the lights went out. I could barely take a step without falling over. It was a very helpless feeling, and fortunately, the lights were soon restored.
In a forest setting, there are a number of issues to contend with as darkness sets in. These include navigation and direction, if traveling off trail, and obstacles such as roots, rocks, tree limbs and ledges. If you find yourself in such a situation, the wisest choice is to stay put. Seek or build some cover, start a fire, and wait until morning.
Fire is a good companion. It can be very comforting, entertaining and time consuming. Staying active in stoking a fire can help keep your mind busy, so you don’t dwell on the situation. It can also provide a huge psychological boost, and a sense of protection.
I wrote this week’s column after reviewing the most recent NYSDEC Incident Report, a summary of incidents Forest Rangers responded to from August to October of 2011. The majority of these incidents involved travelers who were reported to be either ‘Lost or Overdue’. Several incidents required First Aid and/or medical assistance. Tragically, at least one involved the retrieval of a body.
Overall, the incidents illustrated a glaring lack of preparation on the part of the travelers, including a lack of proper clothing, food, water, flashlights, a map and/ or a compass. Rangers repeatedly discovered that the most common equipment carried by those in need of assistance was a cell phone. Unfortunately, cell phones provide a false sense of security, especially in the Adirondaqcks where service is often spotty.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org