How to be a happy wanderer

Susan
Susan Flanagan
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Nothing spoils a good hike like getting lost in the woods

— Telegram image

Hockey is almost over, and that means hiking season is upon us once again.

So far this year, we have tackled La Manche Village Path down Hungry Hill to Bauline East and out through Tors Cove. The children love the suspension bridge and the beach at Doctor’s Cove.

On Good Friday, after warming up our leg muscles at the Grotto near St. Michael’s Church in Flatrock, we crossed the road and started in the Stiles Cove Trail to Big River Falls. After heavy rain and snow runoff, the river was raging. This is one of our favourite sections of the East Coast Trail north of St. John’s.

The East Coast Trail Association has done a marvellous job with the bridges and chicken wire boardwalks, but the best thing is the steps carved right into the rock. If summer visitors only have time to do one long trail, this is where we bring them. It’s still a bit mucky, though, so wear rubber boots or waterproof hikers.

We have done our favourite Klondyke hike at the end of Doran’s Lane in Outer Cove, Signal Hill’s North Head Trail and Ladies’ Lookout to Quidi Vidi. And although there’s still some snow and ice in the woods, this weekend we may venture out to Witless Bay to hike the Beaches Path to Mobile. We like doing this one when there is still the potential for icebergs because there are so many great beach views.

Usually on our hikes my husband or I drop a slew of children and a couple of adults at the start of the trail and then drive the van to the end and run in to meet the group so that we have a vehicle waiting when we finish. This usually works perfectly and we meet up as planned, but we still make sure everyone is equipped to fend for themselves if the plan fails.

That means a bottle of water, a granola bar, a whistle and a jacket for everyone. Even little guys can carry a juice box and granola bar, and they love whistles. You may think I’m a worrier since the trails are well marked and someone in the group always has a map, but I’m actually the opposite. I don’t worry because I know everyone is prepared and knows the rules if they get separated from the group. They stay where they are, and take note of any key features in their landscape, where the sun is in the sky and which way it’s going.

When No. 1 had to complete a 90-kilometre hike more quickly than expected to obtain his Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, my husband and I were out of the province but felt confident sending him off with No. 2 to hike, cook and camp alone in the wilds of the Southern Shore.

It was just a month or so after Igor had struck and fallen trees littered the trail. The boys drove to La Manche and set out to hike as far as they could before making camp. They were cold and wet, but when they stopped for the evening, they cooked hot food, changed into dry clothes and were warm in the tent. I knew they had a good mentor in Alastair Allan, their Duke of Edinburgh co-ordinator, who had trained them in first aid and the use of a global positioning system (GPS).

Alastair had also hooked up No. 1 with a tracking device on his backpack that emailed us their co-ordinates several times a day. That’s how we were able to find them later the next day when my husband switched places with No. 2 to continue on for the final three days. I breathed a sigh of relief when I laid eyes on my boys. Of course I knew they’d be fine — all they had to do was keep the ocean to their left and keep heading south. But there’s always that what if? in the back of your mind.

It was 15 years ago this May when 25 Grade 8 students from St. Pius X school headed out on an afternoon hike on the Salmonier Line. The 13- and 14-year-olds had already spent their first night at the Brother Brennan Centre where they were studying bogs, trees and animal habitats. It was their second day and they had just finished a lecture on compass navigation when the guide from the centre announced it was time for a short hike in the woods.

“I remember the last girl in the classroom still had her compass around her neck,” said Doug Mason, the teacher accompanying the group.

“She asked the guide if she should bring it. He said, ‘No, don’t bother. We’re not going far.’”

Famous last words. They weren’t out for very long when Mason realized something wasn’t right.

“As this little hike went on, there were no signs, no markers, no disturbed moss or lichen. No one had walked here before,” said Mason.

Jesyka Ingolfsson was one of the students on the hike.

“We walked all (afternoon) laughing and joking around and singing the whole time, always thinking we would be back on the right path just up over this hill or just through those trees. We didn’t realize we were really — actually for real — lost until we started to see that it would be dark soon and we were tired and it was getting cold and we had nothing.”

“I assumed (the guide) had told someone (we were going out on a hike) and that he had brought (supplies),” said Mason, who had taken other groups to the centre previously and had always found the guides experienced.

“As it turned out, he had brought nothing.”

But although their guide had no compass, map, food, water, whistle, radio or warm clothing, he did have something important — six matches which he left with Mason when he struck out on his own to find a way back to the centre.

“It was a warm day, probably 15 degrees, but it went down to 2 at night,” recalled Mason, who found a clearing high up and had the teens stick close together once night fell. Thanks the matches, they were able to build a fire to stay warm.

“We had some really experienced outdoors people,” said Mason, who said he worried about two swimmers in the group who had very little body fat.

“One student named Matthew Corbett really knew his stuff. He had done a survival course and built us a lean-to.”

Finally, between midnight and 1 a.m. a member of the Central Avalon Ground Search and Rescue Team located the group.

“This guy had a whistle and called the other search and rescue people,” said Mason, adding that although they were less than two kilometres from the Brother Brennan Centre, the rescue team decided not to try and walk the group out until morning. The students were tired and hungry and trying to get them out in the dark might have resulted in serious injury.

“I remember the search and rescue guys had brought Aero bars which we split between all of us,” Ingolfsson said.

“It was the most amazing two blocks of chocolate bar I ever had.”

At first light, the search and rescue team walked the children back to the centre where their anxious parents had come to gather and wait for news.

“I realize now how smart it is to plan a course when you go in the woods, or at the very least have a quick glance at a map of the area, taking special note of any features of the land,” said Ingolfsson, who is currently expecting her third child.

“And of course, let someone know when you go in the woods, for any reason, how long you may be gone. No one can find you if they don’t know you’re lost.”

Words of wisdom.

Remember Aaron Ralston, who after a hiking misadventure had to cut off his own hand in Utah a few years back? He didn’t tell anyone where he was going.

So, before you head out on your next hike, especially if you’re hiking with children, remember Ingolfsson’s words.

No one can find you if they don’t know you’re lost.

Susan Flanagan can be reached

at susan@48degrees.ca

Titanic feedback

John M.Earle in Lewisporte writes: “Just want you to know I enjoyed your ‘Lessons from Titanic’ article in yesterday’s Telegram. Since I am a retired wireless operator (later called radio operators) I can certainly relate to what was going on at Cape Race 100 years ago.

I wonder if the call-sign of Cape Race was VCE back then as it was all during my career? I did meet today’s Mr. Dave Myrick when we were both in our 20s and just starting our careers. I think he was working on the MV Springdale at the time, purser/radio op. It was only a few years ago that I got to visit Cape Race, it was a gorgeous October day, a rare occurrence in that area for that time of year.

“Reference the wireless operator on Titanic telling the other ships that were calling him to ‘shut up.’ Similar procedure done in ‘my day’ was done with Q signals. Phillips would have told the callers in Morse code QRL (busy) VCE PSE QRT (stop sending). I still remember many of the Q signals. PSE is (the abbreviation) for please, of course. Q signals were a way to conduct short conversations using the Morse code. Phillips could also have asked the Titanic to QRX, which meant standby. I doubt very much if Phillips spelled out SHUT UP, even back then.

“Just thought you would like getting this ‘bit of history,’ and please keep up your good work. I enjoy them all, perhaps because we had six children in family so I know a bit about the ‘good’ times too. Ha ha. All the best to you and yours.”

•••

Gary Hebbard writes: “I enjoyed your piece in Tuesday’s paper but thought I should point out a couple of errors. I’ve been a Titanic student since I was a boy and have an extensive library on the subject. I don’t claim to be an expert, by any means, but I have seen so many errors printed in the recent spate of articles marking the anniversary. Just thought you’d like to know the points I picked out. Nothing personal, just observations based on my own knowledge.

“1. Marconi sent his first messages across the English Channel in 1899, not 1898.

“2. Cape Race did not send messages to the Carpathia to ‘hightail’ it to the wreck site. The Titanic and Carpathia communicated directly with each other. Also, no Marconi operator would ever have given instructions to hightail it anywhere as they had no authority to do so. Their responsibility was purely to send messages accurately. Only a ship’s master could then decide a course of action.

“3. The two submersibles carried by the Keldysh are NOT remotely controlled from the surface. They are autonomous, controlled completely by an onboard pilot. Each does carry a small robotic device that can access tight spots on a wreck. These devices (nicknamed Jake & Elwood) are tethered to the submersible by a cord which transmits the controller’s orders, directing it on its mission. It is possible that the Keldysh carries remote control ROVs but I have never heard that to be the case.

“No big deal on this, just thought I’d send you the info. If you’re interested, a complete log of all the wireless traffic concerning the Titanic sinking can be viewed at www.hf.ro/#trd. Very interesting.”

•••

Jennifer Prokhorov writes: “Too bad it’s wrong. You could find out where brains could take you. Read logic and practice thinking rather than wishing.”

•••

Desiree writes: “Excellent article Susan, I often wonder where all this technology is going to go. I notice all the time when watching movies what a difference it makes; you are thinking the whole time, why don’t they call on the cell or simply text or just take a snap and sent it along ;oD

“Meanwhile I am surprised to see how many places were involved with the Titanic. Recently I saw a program on the building of the ship in Ireland and now it seems most of the celebrations are taking place in Halifax. What I do not understand is why the survivors went to Halifax instead of St. John’s? Was it because they were afraid of encountering more icebergs?”

Organizations: Church in Flatrock, The East Coast Trail Association, Pius X school Salmonier Line

Geographic location: Hungry Hill, Bauline East, Tors Cove Michael Big River Falls Outer Cove Signal Hill Witless Bay Cape Race Halifax Utah Lewisporte English Channel Ireland

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