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Psychology of Lost in Utah's Escalante


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Aaron Zagrodnick

When the two hikers finally made it back to the campground, they had the shell-shocked look of anxiety followed by exhaustion. “We had a lot of trouble on the walk out from Zebra Slot,” they said. ”There’s no trail for the last mile into and out of Zebra, just sandy washes and cairns pointing different directions. We got way off course. Seriously lost. ”Their voices trailed off, and the couple was silent. I could see there was a lot more to their story, but they weren’t ready to tell it. My husband, John, and I are seasonal volunteers in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante, where the psychology of lost is an important, sometimes life-and-death topic. Escalante is an easy place to lose your way and a ghastly place to be lost. With almost two million acres of rock formations and slot canyons, and few roads, signs, or people, it’s rugged and isolated almost beyond what you can imagine. The Escalante River was the last major river in the continental United States to be charted, and the territory surrounding it was a blank rectangle on the map until the 1870’s. In 1996, the designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument brought a huge chunk of the area into the federal monument system...

Barbara Lee shares this story on the mindset of lost with some thoughts on staying found in Issue 26:

Mind Over Matter: The Psychology of Lost

Zebra Slot in the Escalante Utah

Issue 26 Page 1

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  • 2 weeks later...

Understand. Lost solo hiking with no personal locator beacon in the region myself in adjacent Capitol Reef NP. Blazing 95* heat, down to rationing less than 1/2 L water/finding any moisture was hugely problematic, on no trail or trails nearby, no people, no roads, no GPS(doubt it would have worked anyway). ...Had to backtrack to my last known position 14 miles by retracing my foot steps. Made a bonehead move intentionally wandering off my narrow view topos. I made the mistake of not being able to see the "larger detailed picture." I did stay calm the entire time though. I actually liked the adventure, exploration, and reasoning out  of it all. It helped take my emotions and mind off stressing out.   

One of the reasons I stayed calm is that I practiced getting unlost in less dire circumstances previously.  I too knew it good to study the psychology of the circumstances of getting lost and what to do under different getting unlost scenarios. I was comfortable not knowing precisely where I was at times so when it happened in that CR NP situation  it was not as stressing.  Not everyone   calmly handles not knowing exactly where they are especially in this age.  Even then I could narrow down where I was to a 400 or so  sq mile  area. I knew it best for my situation to turn around.

Let's hear your getting unlost stories. 

Anyone ever get lost in a cave? 

 

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  • 1 month later...
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Aaron Zagrodnick

Luckily never in a cave! I did get somewhat lost on one occasion on what was supposed to be a quick day hike in the Alps...my mistake for trusting a terrible tourist map and maybe their fault to some extent since the map was incorrect. :) Had to resort to following a drainage out to civilization...it was a long day. I've done the hike in the article twice and can definitely see how one could run into trouble - the hike is so short that it's easy to underestimate it and the trail starts off quite distinct, but there are a couple intersections where it could be confusing combined with a sandy wash where you know the goal of the hike is close by but it can be hard to locate...and maybe you left from the trailhead close to to sunset etc. In any event, taking good maps is key!

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