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What is the term for that phenomenon when someone in wilderness start experiencing a strange situation? When,

  • They aren't certain that they have lost the route
  • They may or may not be walking on a trail
  • They keep on reaching the same place after a certain walking time.

I don't know what it is called, or even anyone of us has experienced it. But, I have had a taste of what happens.

In less than a couple of years ago, I was on a solo trek, a region that wasn't known too well (I must admit) to me. See the images from the GPS track that I was logging.

Image #1 below: Its my location at 3:27 pm, had walked for about 8.74 km, heading in the right direction enter image description here

Image #2 below: Its my location at 3:37 pm, had walked for about 9.25 km, heading in the right direction enter image description here

Image #3 below: Its my location at 3:43 pm, had walked for about 9.55 km enter image description here

Image #4 below: Its my location at 3:54 pm, had walked for about 9.96 km, headed the wrong way! enter image description here

Image #5 below: Its my location at 4:34 pm, had walked for about 11.54 km, headed the wrong way, but sooner would realise that! enter image description here

Image #6 below: Its my location at 4:52 pm, had walked for about 12.29 km, finally in the right direction enter image description here

Few points to note:

  • Had been walking for last 2 days back then, resting in the night
  • Season when it has been already raining for over 3 months, so forest is thick and green
  • Was alone, wasn't fully aware of the region, but had sense of direction (barring this duration when I was lost)
  • Was not hacking my way in the forest, trail was faint, but was there!
  • Visibility was clear, to about 100 m, no fog or blizzard although it was raining. Trail is in tall forest, and the plateau is flat, highest in the region, so there is no hump/hill or other feature as a landmark
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    From Daniel Boone “I've never been lost, but I was mighty turned around for three days once.” – Don Branson Jun 12 '18 at 15:46
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    @DonBranson: Haha, apt! – WedaPashi Jun 12 '18 at 15:48
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    Sounds a lot like Pooh and Piglet hunting Woozles :) – Digital Trauma Jun 12 '18 at 18:50
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    happend to me on a mountain bike trail one time, albeit maybe not as extreme as yours i ended up doing it 3 times and couldnt find my way back to parking. I ended up going off the trail in one direction until i hit a nearby neighborhood then road back to the trail head. I realize you couldn't do this in the middle of the woods though lol – Nate W Jun 12 '18 at 21:32
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    @WedaPashi this is my new favourite thing you have ever done. – Aravona Jun 13 '18 at 14:51
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I believe this is called walking in circles :)

What happens is that is that without a compass or GPS, you tend to head to one side instead of going straight. Eventually you will complete the circle and head back around the other way.

If you have ever turned the tracking mode on a GPS and then left it in your pack, while navigating without it in a dense forest without reference points, the effect will become apparent. It's all but impossible to walk in a straight line without a point of reference or a navigation device.

"All those signals have very small errors," Souman says. In general, that leads people in a random, meandering path, Souman says. But occasionally, the errors in a particular direction build up, leading us to walk in circles.

...

When people can see where they're going, however, it's a different story. Souman and his colleagues also tracked volunteers as they walked without blindfolds in two unfamiliar environments: a forest in Germany, and, thanks to a junket arranged by Kopfball, in the Sahara desert in Tunisia. In the forest, people again walked in circles--but only on cloudy days. When the sun was visible, they could walk in a more or less straight line for several hours.

Why We Walk in Circles

Also, human trails will go straight, but animal trails will wander, that might have something to do with it.

On the other hand, I have seen plenty of people who were so worried of getting lost that they never went anywhere in the first place. This is a good reminder that getting lost isn't the end of the world.

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    If poorly prepared in a hostile environment, getting lost can be indirectly dangerous. Getting lost itself isn't the danger, but it can turn a 30 minute stroll into a poorly prepared 8 hour excursion with all the associated dangers such as exposure or dehydration. – gerrit Jun 12 '18 at 17:55
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    @gerrit My point is, if you avoid all risk of getting lost, then you are going to miss lots of adventure and sights. – Charlie Brumbaugh Jun 12 '18 at 18:25
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    That's true for getting lost, and true for all the other manageable risks in the great outdoors as well. And yet I don't go (solo) hiking in polar bear territory which unfortunately means I will miss some awesome locations. – gerrit Jun 12 '18 at 18:32

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