Woody Kennedy remembers finding the scoutmaster's abandoned campsite: "I was in one of the groups searching the base of the ridge and the terrain had narrowed to a small ravine with a little creek. While I was waiting for the others to regroup, I saw a glint of color in the snow across the way; looking through my binoculars I saw it was a green blanket.
"Everything was neatly laid out, and his sleeping bag was partly turned back, but it hadn't been slept in. We found a can of food that he had tried to open but couldn't; and then I remembered how he never wore gloves." Kennedy decided the scoutmaster panicked at not being able to use his hands and ran off through the snow into the night.
Kennedy was in a group of Potomac Appalachian Trail Club members called to look for the scoutmaster, Robert Grinsley, missing after a winter hike along North Mountain in the George Washington National Forest, about 30 miles west of Winchester, Va.
It had been a weekend of snow and high wind; during the return trip on Sunday, Grimsley could not keep the pace, so he told the boys to go on, that he would catch up.
He had not arrived at the cabin Monday, and the scouts called the warden.
After scouring both sides of the mountain, they found him only 200 yards from the campsite. His feet were lying in a small stream and the snow had drifted over his head. As Kennedy describes it, "His hands were balls of ice; it looked like that last 200 feet he had been crawling on his hands and knees. He might have been trying for the lights of a farmhouse in the distance."
In recent years such tragic examples of lost hikers, campers, hunters and winter skiers have spurred the formation of new volunteer search and rescue groups that use refined techniques. And a new body of knowledge about how lost people behave is being collected.
The only national group that keeps accurate statistics of lost outdoorsmen is the National Park Service, and its responsibility covers only a small part of the country. In 1978, the most recent year for which figures are available, the service was involved in searches for 1,388 people who were lost in the National Park System.
The lack of statistics about lost people has been particularly frustrating for searchers who are attempting to establish behavior profiles -- how far a lost person travels, if he does downhill or up, if he actually runs in circles, the differences between a hunter, a hiker or a berrypicker.
To find a lost person, a searcher begins by establishing a base point on a map called the "point last seen." Then he estimates behavior from there.
Evidence indicates, for example, that most people continue walking a couple of miles even after they know they are lost; it seems to be human nature to keep on trucking. It also seems that a substantial majority of lost people -- about 75 percent -- go downhill from the point last seen.
Records indicate that weather is the most serious contributing factor in searches involving lost people in the East.
As weather fronts come sailing across the country from the Midwest, they bang into the ridges of the Appalachians; a clear day with temperatures in the 50s may suddenly produce a drop in temperature with fog and, perhaps, freezing rain and snow. Landmarks and trails may become obscured, and unprepared outdoorsmen may get bogged down in snow or slush. Some rangers have been on so many searches launched as a result of a sudden snowstorm catching a hiker who made the mistake of thinking he was climatically in the sunny South that they can predict where lost people will end up.
Shenandoah National Park sees about two million visitors each year, and just as it must cope with traffic and crime, it has developed a meticulous approach to finding lost people. A case that occurred early this year is typical.
Right after sundown, a park visitor from New Jersey entered the Big Meadows Ranger Station to report that a companion with whom he had been fishing on the Rapidan, about a mile below Camp Hoover, had gotten lost. In reply to the ranger's questions, he noted that the man had wet arms and legs, but otherwise was dressed warmly. However, he didn't have a flashlight, map, compass, first aid kit or matches.
Considering that the temperature was in the 30s, that it was dark, and the the man had no support equipment, ranger John Chew decided to mount a search. t
Chew phoned John Rittenour at park headquarters and they decided on the initial search tactics. As Chew organized the field teams, Rittenour looked at the map. Although most lost people go downhill, Rittenour reasoned that since the man was in good health and his car was at the top of the mountain, he would be motivated to return to it. So he confined his resources to above the point last seen. To confine the subject, and make certain he did not leave the prime search area, teams were dispatched to major trails. Chew and Rittenour's estimate proved correct and, in a few hours, the man arrived in the predicted area, somewhat cold and tired, but in good shape.
Rittenour, who teaches a course in search management for the Park Service, theorizes that people get lost in the park because of their inclination toward streets and sidewalks: "The old frontiersmen were aware of the character of the woods around them, and constantly looked behind to know how it would be if they got turned around. But people are so locked into fire roads and trails that once they step off, or the fog comes in -- since they don't have compasses or know how to use them --- they get lost."
Having served five years at Mt. Rainier before coming to Shenandoah, he sees a different set of attitudes here: "In the state of Washington, there is a tremendous training program, incorporated even in the grade school curriculum, that familiarizes people with problems in the outdoors. Whereas, a tremendous number here seem to just buy their gear from the catalogue and head for the park."
While hikers may get lost because of their obsession for the trail, hunters tend to get lost because they become engrossed in the pursuit, lose a sense of where they are and may blunder into deep snow, swamps or underbrush. Weather, too, may play a role. Meterological changes often provoke the movement of game; and the hunter may be caught by changing weather patterns.
Drive south from Washington along a route which stays east of the Blue Ridge -- such as Interstate 95 -- and by the time you have crossed the Occoquan into Prince William County, you are in one of our easiest areas to get lost. Small, undulating hills, with no discernible ridge lines, second growth timber of hardwood and scrub pine, and small streams that meander aimlessly through a cut-up terrain, creates a land that confuses even the locals. It was in this area on the Quantico Marine Base, that a deer hunter got lost last December.
Ralph Holloway, game warden at Quantico for eight years, began the search when the man did not return after sundown. It wasn't until about 4 a.m. that the hunter heard sirens in the distance, and, finally, loudspeakers calling his name. In the darkness, he had been only 300 yards from a forest road which searchers were moving up and down making noise in hopes he would hear. He fired his rifle and, shortly, wardens were coming in to get him.
Not so fortunate was a young man lost in the Frederick City Watershed, on the flank of the Catoctins, a few winters back. He had planned to walk up the mountain to meet with some friends, but he made a wrong right turn.
After a while, he realized his mistake and tried to backtrack; but by that time his friends had gotten to the rendezvous point, waited for a while, decided that he had given up the idea, and left. Not finding his friends, he started down off the mountain. Now however, it was snowing heavily, and he was dressed only in low work shoes, jeans, sweat shirt and windbreaker.
That night snowmobilers ran the roads trying to intercept him. As the Maryland Natural Resources Police came in at sunrise, they found traces of his trail wandering around the network of roads and places where he had stumbled off the road and sat down in the snow.
Then, close to where he had started, the bottom of the mountain, they found him, dead of exposure, lying in a roadway. He had been very close to help.
Search and rescue personnel closely watch the fads in outdoor activities because they often indicate where the next problems will occur. The area they're now watching most closely is cross-country skiing.
Jim Donovan, a National Park Ranger formerly at Great Falls, Va., and now at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, says skiers behave similarly to hikers. "They are completely oriented to the trail, but once off the trail they are totally disoriented. What amazes me is how so unprepared so many are. They tend not to carry maps, have no compasses and have no idea of dead reckoning."
Cross-country skiers do have one advantage over other people who might get lost in the outdoors: they lay down a pair of tracks in the snow everywhere they go, so they can usually find their way home. But if their tracks intermingle with those of other skiers, or a sudden storm covers them, they are in the same fix as Hansel and Gretl whose breadcrumb trail got eaten by the birds. WHAT TO DO WHEN LOST
1. Be prepared. Leave your destiniation and estimated tme of return with friends or local authorities. Carry a compass and know how to use it. Even for short outings, take a day pack or belt pack with quick energy food, gear to protect you from weather changes and a simple survival kit.
2. Don't panic. Rational thought is your best friend. Sit down and carefully consider the options: Can you backtrack or move to a high place to find landmarks? Or, is it better to stay put and wait for help?
3.Survive. If it is stormy or your clothing is inadequate, start a fire and build a shelter. Protect your body from exposure to wetnesses and cold.
4. think about staying put. If you decide to walk out, be certain you'll make it. In most areas of the middle Appalachians, going downhill will eventually lead to a road, trail or stream. But you will also encounter some of the nation's worst underbrush and some rugged ridges. If you get hurt, you will be in worse trouble.