What if you get lost? (2/2)

Guidebook Hiking in Finland
Jouni Laaksonen 20.5.2019

I started on this subject last week. That post dealt with hiking along marked trails, and using GPS. This post goes off the beaten tracks.


Outside marked trails

During my early hiking years we got lost about once per a week long backpacking tour. Every time we were so surprised: How can we be lost? But also every time the same remedy worked.

One memorable situation of getting lost is told here. But here’s my most hilarious story of getting lost:

Guidebook Hiking in Finland

Muorravaarakanjoki river valley.

It was September in the middle of 1990’s and we were hiking in Urho Kekkonen National Park, in Lapland. There are no marked trails in the more distant corners of this huge national park, and that’s where we were right now.

We had a map on scale 1:100 000. This is usually sufficient in Finnish Lapland, but naturally 1:50 000 shows more details.

This is not the same map, but a newer version of 1:100 000 map of that area. Our map back then didn’t show all of these streams…

Guidebook Hiking in Finland

The map contains data from the National Land Survey of Finland Topographic Database 05/2019.

We started the third day of our hike from Jyrkkävaara wilderness hut. Our plan was to walk along the purple line:
1. First we’d walk along an unmarked path running along river Muorravaarakanjoki until we meet river Harrijoki.
2. Then we’d follow river Harrijoki until the first stream that joins river Harrijoki from south. In our map the first stream coming from south was the one where I drew the purple line.
3. Then we’d cross the fell of Sara-Pieran Muurivaara, either the way I drew the purple line, or between Laukkunoska and Sara-Pieran Muurivaara. Both options would take us to a stream that flows to river Kaarreoja.
4. We’d follow river Kaarreoja downriver to Anterinmukka wilderness hut and enjoy a sauna there.

Completing step 1 was easy, but we totally messed up on step 2.

We turned to follow the first stream, which was totally wrong stream. The stream came too early, but we hadn’t checked the time we left river Muorravaarakanjoki, and we didn’t really pay attention. The stream started the right direction and we were happy. We got to the end of the stream too quickly, but somehow we managed to explain this to ourselves. Also the direction of downhill was to south-west, as it should have been to south-east. Well, maybe our compasses are not working…

Human mind is great in explaining strange things to fit into the situation you have fixed your mind to.

When we arrived to the bottom of the valley, at point X on the map, we were certain that we had found river Kaarreoja. So, the river will flow to left and we’ll just follow it to Anterinmukka.

We were totally dumbfounded when we discovered that the river flowed to right! I’d pay big money to be able to see our faces there and then.

Guidebook Hiking in Finland

This is the river we bumped to. We thought it would flow just the opposite direction!

We had not been very bright that morning, nope. However, from this on we acted sensibly.

We sat down, ate and drank, and perused the map. With compass we turned the map so that the map north pointed to the true north. After a long time we understood there’s no other explanation than that we are beside river Muorravaarakanjoki, once again. It’s the only river running north hereabouts.

We knew that not every small stream is marked on our 1:100 000 map, and now we understood we had followed a wrong stream. We were not proud on our performance: How on earth could we not notice we had not walked over ten kilometers but maybe four? Why didn’t we believe our compasses when they told us we were walking south-west and not south-east?

When we were once again certain where we were, we decided to walk to Muorravaarakka wilderness hut. From there we continued to Anterinmukka, and the rest of our week-long hike went according to our plans.

Naturally we also had a tent with us, so if we had got so lost we couldn’t get to a hut, that wouldn’t have been a problem. We’d have slept in our tent, and eventually we would have found out where we are.


The remedy

If you get lost, the most important thing is: Don’t panic.

(If you have a GPS, use it. See my post last week.)

Sit down. Eat and drink. Look at your map, compass and wristwatch. Can you straight away make the northward turned map fit the terrain around you?

If not, when was the last time you knew your whereabouts? How long has it been since that? If it was 40 minutes ago, and your walking speed is 3 km/h, you are about two kilometers from there. How did you navigate, following a path, or stream, or following a compass bearing? What was the terrain like, uphill or downhill, all the time forest or some bogs also, was the uphill slanted this way or that?

Slowly you start to understand what probably has happened. If you have walked a bit to the left all the time, you could be here…

If you are still completely in the dark, you can check your map and find out a long object. In my example above there’s the border between Finland and Russia about 10 to 15 kilometers east from River Muorravaarakanjoki, and the road from Ivalo to Raja-Jooseppi is 15 km to north, and the big river Suomujoki runs from west to east even before that.

Or there might be a long narrow lake, or reindeer fence that you could use: You don’t know where exactly you are, but you know it approximately. Say, with a precision of a couple of kilometers. You can take a compass bearing that inevitably takes you to this long landmark. Probably you’ll find out where you are even before you hit that landmark, but at the latest there.


More difficult scenarios

If there’s a snowstorm that reduces visibility to some meters, or it’s getting dark, all naturally gets harder. Luckily you always carry a tent with you, don’t you, so you can sleep the night and continue in the morning with full strength and better visibility.

If you get lost and bend your knee so badly you can’t move forward, you need other kind of tactics. You erect a shelter and keep yourself warm. Also you make yourself visible by a large bright-colored cloth (for example your red tent) or a big fire, and wait for help. You did tell someone where you are heading to, and what your timetable is? Or, if you can telephone for help (112), you naturally do that. However, there are large areas with no roaming in Lapland.

A very good idea is not to hike alone. If there are more people in your group, others can give first aid, and someone can walk uphill to the nearest fell to try and find mobile phone coverage there.



Today I don’t often get lost. I’m not a very good orienteer if I have to run, but in hiking kind of orienteering I’m confident.

And that’s the important thing. By gaining a lot of experience I have gained confidence. Sometimes I do get lost, but when I do, I know there’s no reason to be worried. I know I can place myself on the map sooner or later.

At the same time one must never be arrogant, or over-confident. The nature is much mightier than us humans, and bad weather, big river, high mountain and so on have to be respected.

2 thoughts on “What if you get lost? (2/2)

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