Nobody intends to get lost while hiking but here’s how to prepare in case it happens to you

If you’ve never gotten lost while out hiking, consider yourself lucky. It can happen to anyone. Given the temperature extremes and unforgiving landscape, getting lost in the Arizona wilderness can turn into a life or death situation.

It can happen to anyone.

In January 2021, I read about an experience on a hiking forum that could have been disastrous for the pair of hikers. Although they spent an unplanned night in the Superstition Mountains wilderness area, it ended well, all things considered. However, without a few essential items – and two guardian angels – it almost surely would have been a lot worse.

man and woman posing in the desert

Marcy Lehman and Darrell Nabers are no strangers to hiking in Arizona. They’re members of several outdoors groups and hike often. Peralta Trail was a new one for both of them. On a Saturday morning, they started around 10 a.m. in short-sleeved shirts and planned to wrap up their nine-mile loop a few hours later.

Weavers Needle rock formation rises above surrounding landscape
Weavers Needle viewed from Fremont Saddle on Peralta Trail in the Superstition Mountains

Marcy and Darrell’s story

(Below is Marcy’s post on social media.)

“Darrell and I found ourselves, after 11 miles of hiking and two dead cell phones, not where we intended to be. It was late in the afternoon. We didn’t panic. We made the decision, which we were totally unprepared for, to spend the night on the trail.

We hiked back a bit to a campsite we passed and let the two guys there know our predicament. Andrew and Matt welcomed us to stay with them. They were headed to the trail head parking in the morning and invited us to hike out with them.

We had no food, no water and no warm clothing. They gave us a granola bar each, their jackets and a mylar blanket.

woman with t-shirt and baseball cap sitting by fire
Marcy Lehman took this selfie by the fire she and her hiking partner Darrel Nabers started to stay warm on their unexpected “camp out” after getting lost in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains.

After some great conversation and a lot of heartfelt thank-yous, Darrell and I set our focus on what needed to be done to keep us warm for the next 14 hours. I started a fire and he collected firewood.

All through the night we took turns resting and gathering firewood. We are believers in Christ so our conversations that night revolved around God’s provisions, the calm spirit He gave us and leading us to Andrew and Matt.

One of the most overwhelming and priceless things we came away with is the applicability of God’s timing to take a miss-step and use it to bless our lives. We experienced God’s promise from Jeremiah 29:11.


“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you life and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Sunday morning, we had a surprising amount of energy even though we had been up all night. About 7 to 7 ½ miles of hiking was in front of us and an elevation gain that was daunting, to say the least! The trail was hard and at one point I wasn’t sure how I was going to make out because I became so tired.

Darrell told me, “One step at a time, just like always!”

On the way down, we started getting text messages in from family and friends stating Search and Rescue had been called because we were reported as missing!

We finally made it to the parking lot! When Darrell and I got to my car, some familiar faces were there to greet us and told us of the many people who had been worried about us, steps that were already in place to find us and that Darrell’s brother was waiting for him down the road. Some of those people were our friends and some were strangers, but ALL of them were there to help find us.

After all the information about our safe return had been relayed, we headed home feeling extremely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and concern for us.”

How could this happen on such a well-traveled trail?

I had many questions, so I contact Marcy by phone.

“We must have missed our turn because we were talking,” Marcy said. “That’s one of my top suggestions for people doing hikes with others: Stop every 30 minutes or so and check your bearings to make sure you’re in the right place.”

Although the afternoon temperature was a very comfortable 73 degrees (F), she told me it dipped down to 47 at night.

There was a stone fire ring at Matt and Andrew’s campsite. The guys had burned a fire earlier and some small coals remained hot. Marcy and Darrell used dry grass and sticks to rekindle the fire and stay warm through the night.

“We heard coyotes howling in the distance and some large-hoofed animals wandered in closer to us,” Marcy said. “I think it was deer coming to bed down for the night.”

Fortunately, drinkable spring water trickled out of a rock about 50 feet from their campsite. They were able to fill up there bottles for the 7-mile hike back to their cars in the morning.


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Essential hiking items (tailored to your hike)

Although this situation ended well, there are some valuable lessons we can all learn from Marcy’s and Darrell’s experience. Below are some items the two recommend hikers carry at all times, just in case.

  • Navigation – map, compass, GPS, sat phone
  • Headlamp
  • Sun protection
  • First aid kit
  • Knife
  • Fire making items
  • Shelter – lite tarp at least
  • Extra food, water and clothes

We also suggest a basic emergency hiking kit which includes a wire saw, emergency blanket and flashlight. You can buy one on Amazon for about $26. Andrew’s mom bought one for him and he didn’t think he’d need it so he wasn’t going to bring it. He threw it in his pack just before he left the house. We used the wire saw to cut wood for the fire and the flashlight to find it.

Other items to consider:

  • Big garbage bag for barrier between you and the ground
  • Whistle and reflection mirror for signaling

The other revelation is how many people, both known and unknown, came together and spent time and effort networking information that would lead to our safe return. We felt every prayer and Darrell and I will be eternally grateful.

Final thoughts:

We want everyone reading this to know that we are open for conversations as we believe that our experience may somehow help someone else – time to pay it forward!

two young men in hiking attire

Guardian angels of the trail

About Matt and Andrew, Marcy had this to say: “Guardian angels, those guys were. We need to find them and thank them. We were so overwhelmed with search and rescue people when we got back to the parking lot that we didn’t give them a proper thank you.”

The world is full of people who at their core care about one another – that basic instinct has not been lost in the separateness of our society.

~ Marcy Lehman & Darrell Nabers

Share your thoughts

  • Ever been lost or injured on a hike? What did you do?
  • What are some essential items you keep in your pack?
  • Has this story changed how you’ll prepare for your next hike?

Let us know what you think in the comment box below.

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5 Comments

  1. Last Thursday, 12/08/2022, I set out at 9:00 AM to hike Flatiron. At 7:50 PM I returned aided by two guardian angels, Tony and Ben. I got off the primary trail after the gorge and started in to northwest, rather than western direction. I was on a trail of sorts which was difficult and made it to the ridge of the mountain which extended approximately .5 mile from north to south with Flatiron on the south. I traversed along the ridge trying to stay on a rudimentary trail toward the mountain. The mountain appeared to be nearly a vertical rise but as I made my way onto the rock I found rocks allowing me to traverse nearly 1/3 up the mountain. I did not realize that the primary trail to the top was from the east, not west, which where I was. I decided to take a break around noon and have a partial lunch. I made an attempt to go a higher but observed that there were no discernable rocks to hang onto for the next +/- 10 feet and became anxious. I received a text from my two grown children about this time which made me realize all I wanted to do is get off this mountain safely. As I worked my way down I could not find the path which I took to cross the ridge to the north, Time and again I would find some sort of a path heading slightly downward but inevitably, it ended at a steep cliff. I would head over and upward and on occasion would find something and then loose it. I inevitably worked my way around the vertical base of Flatiron on its north side but no trails could be located. The pattern of going down and up searching for a trail. It was mid afternoon and I had not seen anyone since 10:00 am. I am nearly 72 years old and was getting tired but did not want to stop. I had lost my water bottle and had one bottle of water along with snacks to preserve. After an hour or so continuing in the same manner I hear some voices and called out but they could not hear me and continued on. The same thing happened later but no one could hear me. I decided to concentrate on going in the direction where I had heard and saw people. Around 4:30 I saw someone below and called out. They heard me and called ahead to someone ahead who was descending from Flatiron. They responded and I continued until they saw my high vis green shirt. The young men, Tony and Ben, told me that they planned to descend in the canyon which was the primary route for hikers. However, it was around 5:00 and the sun was starting to set. These two young men realized that I would be unable to descend on my own due to my fatigue, lack of water, lacking light and being unfamiliar with the trail. One was always in front of me and the other behind advising me of which boulder to descend upon and hazards. Soon thereafter, they were relying upon lights for navigation as darkness set in. We came across an experienced hiker who hiked and ran the trail often prior to darkness, Nancy. We were approximately 2/3 down the trail when we were having trouble finding the trail and Nancy was coming down on the right advising us of the primary trail. Nancy also had a headlamp so our light situation improved and she stayed with us to the end. We arrived at the ranger station around 7:50 with the park closing at 8:00. I should note that I had cell phone coverage and was in contact with my friend. She and her friend thought I or they should call 911 around 4:00 but I did not want to have them go to this trouble. I am humbled and a little embarrassed but so appreciative that I was able to get down because of these brave young men. I plan to continue to hike but emphasizing planning and safety. Jim

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I am glad you both are Ok and best wishes for future hiking!

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