I recently read a New York Times article about the increased number of people, especially novices, spending time in nature.* The piece opens with a story about a hiker in a German national park who realizes he left his smartphone somewhere back on the trail. He and his two friends return to the forest near dark to retrieve the phone, get lost, and would have died of hypothermia had a search party not found them. The article does not offer any more details of the mishap than that, but just the short description sent my mind reeling in a half dozen different directions.

  1. For the most part, I am glad people are interacting with nature more often, and I assume it has to do with the pandemic. With the chances of contracting the virus much higher indoors than out, people who once relaxed in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are now going to parks and nature reserves instead. I hope they continue to go on short day hikes once the danger of the pandemic has passed.
  1. As much as I want others to spend time in nature, I also want it to myself. I can’t have it both ways. Fortunately there are places to go to avoid the crowds. The best escape is to get on the water or, as is the case this time of the year in Wisconsin, out onto the ice. 
  1. People get lost in the woods all of the time, but getting lost because of a cell phone is a unique twist. Smartphones might be the single piece of technology that actually has a place in the backcountry. With a GPS function, phones should prevent people from getting lost, but in this case, someone got lost because of his phone. I assume his companions also carried their smartphones, so I am curious how the three hikers got so turned around that they needed rescuing.
  1. Still I empathize with lost hikers. Making small mistakes and having them turn into bigger problems is a situation I am familiar with. Some of my best blogs are about errors in judgment while outdoors, and one of the benefits of time in nature is the direct correlation between misguided actions and their consequences.
  1. The forgotten cell phone reminded me of a time I misplaced my compass in the backcountry. On an outing between Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley, I ventured off trail and miscalculated the location of an unmarked mountain pass. I had to stop to reorient my map. When I resumed hiking, I left my compass perched on a rock. Fortunately the purpose of the side trip was to see Cathedral Peak, and the Peak itself was such an ever-present reference point that I did not need the compass to navigate. When I looped back around to reconnect with the main trail, the compass was where I’d left it.
  1. The NY Times article noted that increased park use coincides with an overall reduction in park staffing. As a result, the education and policing of people who misuse the parks are lacking. In addition to getting lost, park users are disturbing wildlife, bothering other park visitors, trampling vegetation, and even bringing drones into the parks. May every drone in a national park smash into a tree or be taken down by a ticked off bird of prey. 

*McClanahan, P. December 10, 2020. The Newest Challenge for Europe’s Parks: A Surge of New Nature Lovers. New York Times. Found at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/10/travel/european-parks-pandemic.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=Travel

Steven Simpson