Lost At Baxter’s Hollow
A 59 year old woman from Middleton, WI spent last Saturday night curled up under a rock after getting off trail and lost at Baxter’s Hollow Natural Area. You can read more about her ordeal from our local newspaper, click here. For some it may seem quite un-imaginable that someone could get lost in the Baraboo Hills. Others won’t be the least bit surprised. Local hunters will tell you how easy it is to lose your sense of direction out there. With temperatures dropping and folks out enjoying the colors it’s probably a good time to talk about getting lost in the Baraboo range and some things you can do to avoid it or if you do get lost, make it a bit less of an ordeal.
A little respect is in order. We’ve grown so accustom to our wilderness being managed that we tend to forget it’s still wilderness. Pretty maps and nice wide trails give us a false sense of comfort. Google maps & Sat photos make the wilds of the world look small and easily manageable. In addition we’re all cellphone’d and GPS’d up. Who can get lost? Not to mention the fact that you are in Wisconsin, and not the wilds of Alaska. Not surprisingly all this stuff can come together to wrap us up in a false sense of security. We don’t have to fear nature, simply respect it.
It’s bigger than it looks. The Baraboo Range covers 144,000 acres of land in Sauk & Columbia Counties, with over 55,000 acres of forest. Every couple years it seems, someone get’s lost in the Baraboo hills. Once you get out there and off trail things start looking pretty wild. The bluffs are filled with thick forest, rocks, bramble and gorges that make foot travel a sometimes exhausting ordeal. In addition cellphones often do not work. While the Bluffs may seem tiny when compared to the “real” mountains, they are still tall enough to get snow before the valley below and more importantly to this subject, block cell phone reception. If you get lost you may have no way to call for help. You may be on your own. Now what?
Stay on the trail - Ok. This seems obvious until you see some of the trails. You can walk around a corner and they’ll just disappear. Portions of the Ice Age Trail and certainly the trail at Baxter’s Hollow are almost indistinguishable from the surrounding woods. It would’nt take much to get off on a deer trail. Sometimes what looks like trail is just a trick of the eyes and when you turn back, you simply can’t figure out what you were following in the first place. It can be scary.
Take a short hike, seriously – Before leaving to enjoy a day hike, have a little ritual of seriousness. It may seem silly but don’t just go hiking. Go trekking. It’s a mind game really, but you prepare for a trek, you don’t for hike.
Take some stuff - “I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.”
Dress Well – Cellphone – Map - Compass – Snacks – Water – Fire Starter – Knife – Mirror – Whistle - Flashlight
- Dress for the weather – Autumn in Wisconsin is often cold and wet with a bit of mid-day heat just to fool you. Never dress as if you’ll only be out for a couple hours, even if that’s the plan. Wear Layers, stay dry. Avoid cotton & sneakers if at all possible. Cotton will keep you wet and cold. Wicking materials are always best. That goes for socks as well. You don’t need to go to a specialist shop and spend a ton, you just need to shop around for the right stuff. Warm, dry boots are a must. Take a warm hat. No one said you can’t peal off layers or put your hat in a pocket. Simply be prepared, just in case.
- Take a Cellphone - Do not depend on a cellphone as your only lifeline. Cellphones often don’t work in the Baraboo Range. However, they should work eventually if you can get to a higher, open area.
- Take a Map – The professionals often say that if you get lost to stay put and yes, staying in place is always a better option … IF someone knows you’re there and will come to get you. Otherwise you may have no choice but to walk out. Once you’ve decided to walk out, it’s a good idea to know where you are going. If you are inside the park, take a park map. I often like to go to Google and simply print out a satellite image or topo-map then just stuff them in my pocket. Why not? It’s good information if you need it. I also like to just review my maps to know where the main roads are in relationship to where I’ll be.
- Take small hand compass – I can tell you right now that a GPS won’t do it. They lose signal constantly in the Baraboo range. Unless you know how to read directions in the wild, you should have a small hand compass anytime you head out into the forest. Take 5 minutes online to know how to use your new compass!! Your compass will help you orient yourself to your map and then walk straight to get out. There is no wilderness in the Baraboo Bluffs that can’t be walked out of fairly quickly. There are roads everywhere, you just have to know where they are. For example, walking east out of Baxter’s Hollow will eventually get you to Highway 12 which is busy 24/7.
- Take Food & Water – Just a few little snacks and a water bottle can go along way if you are lost. This time of year you’re going to get cold. You will need a bit of energy slog through the woods and to stay warm.
- Take a Fire Starter – Ok, the Nature Conservancy and the DNR are not going to be happy if you start a fire in the woods. But if you are lost and cold you may need to. Fire will warm you up, cheer you up, and dry you out. If you can start a fire you won’t spend the night huddled and freezing under a rock ledge. A lighter is great but can fail. Matches may not always work. I carry a cheap magnesium fire starter on my key chain. On your next camping trip, practice making a fire without a lighter or matches.. Can you do it?
- Carry A Knife – Ok. I hate carrying knives but I do when I’m hiking. I can think of all sorts of reasons for having a knife. If you get lost, you’ll wish you had one if for no other reason than lighting a fire with your magnesium fire starter!
- Mirror & Whistle - This is a simple signal kit. When people are out looking for you, they will need your help to find you. A whistle is much more penetrating than your voice. A mirror’s reflection can be seen from the air. Even a make up mirror will do.
- Little Flashlight – This is obvious. See in the dark. Signal help.
Now I know there are all sorts of other survival techniques and gear out there. But on the other hand we are not playing commando every time we go for a hike either. The point is that we should at least consider what happens if we got lost. A little knowledge and a few supplies can make all the difference.