On my way to the mountains last Saturday morning I saw the alerts on the overhead smart signs: CHILD ABDUCTION. STAY TUNED TO LOCAL MEDIA. I wondered what I could do, hence the last post.
This morning, I wondered what else I could do and thought about how back country observation skills can help us not only choose better routes, be safer, spot refuge, and stay oriented to where we are, they can also make us better observers in other contexts and settings.
Here are some observation factors we can all practice and exercise in the back country that could also be used to help us spot facts that could timely help find a missing person, remember possible sites of interest for later search, and many other signs and relationships. This 20 example list is just a start:
1. Noting names or numbers of reference points for location and orientation, as in numbers of features on a ridge between to obvious high points. Or, the number of creek passages across a trail we’re on. Keeping numbers on time. And so on.
2. Seeing and remembering cover, refuges or hiding places that may serve to protect us if weather turns dramatically worse. Or, that may contain animals. Or, that may contain a person or persons!
3. Noting tracks. Variances in tracks, sizes of tracks, type of tracks (human, animal or vehicle).
4. Noticing changes in flora or grasses. Tamped down flora, broken stalks or branches. Obvious new or old pathways through grass, game trails, and permissive approaches to hiding places in the forest. Thick or thin forest.
5. Noticing litter, gear, garments, jewelry, and other personal items dropped or discarded. Noting their positions with relation to land forms and features such as precipices, water or thick forest.
6. Noticing spent cartridges, evidence of ax or knife usage and the age of these.
7. Learning to use the sense of smell combined with awareness of wind direction and patterns, and combined with stillness and listening.
8. Learning to listen carefully and identify remote noises: engines, engine types or sizes; stress on engines (uphill travel?) etc., thunder, blasting, aircraft, and so on.
9. Learning to be still and notice movements out of the ordinary in a scene or from a vista.
10. Learning to note and remember vehicles seen in parking areas, license plate origins, stickers, decals and even LP numbers in case they may become useful.
11. Learning the signs of wildlife predators, such as those shown on this excellent piece on mountain lions.
12. Learning to spot foolish behaviors in other back country travelers, especially if they’re leading kids into the back country.
13. Learning to observe, notice and check into things that are out of place, rather than ignoring them.
14. Periodically silencing one’s own movement and noise to listen up to everything around us.
15. Noticing slopes, their degrees, and their loads. Soil around rocks and boulders routinely erodes or softens enough that rocks break loose. Being aware of what’s above and being prepared to get out of the way is key. Same with snow loads, and the avalanche conditions as one would learn in avalanche safety courses to avoid death or disability by avalanche.
16. Noting weather changes and the timing of these.
17. Watching for remote lights in the dark, or reflections in the day or night.
18. Noting smoke, cinders by smell or sight, or recent burning by smell or sight.
19. Noticing land features in which it would be easy to get lost or lose personal items.
20. Listening for and distinguishing human sounds and voices from animal sounds in the forest. Some animals make sounds that resemble human voices sometimes, which can be kind of unnerving. Here is a site for learning animal sounds. It’s fascinating even if you never go out.
That’s all I have for now. By our observation skills we may one day save a life or protect someone from harm, including our loved ones or ourselves.
We never know what good our observations may do.