Aug 8, 2006 at 3:04 pm #1219230
@bjamesdLocale: South Coast of BC
In your collective years of wilderness travel, in what emergencies have you been involved? Not stories you’ve heard, not things that have happened to people you know. What’s happened to you or the party you were with?
I’ve spent two unplanned nights in the bush but they weren’t too interesting. I’ve gone into in a freezing river once and had some amazing weather happen to me in faraway places, but happily I always had the proximity and fitness to get myself out without having to “dig in.”
Who’s faced life-threatening situations in the backcountry? What combination of factors brought them on, and how did you respond? What gear and more importantly what skills were critical to your survival — and what was extranneous?Aug 8, 2006 at 3:34 pm #1360712
1st one I can recall is developing acute altitude sickness at 11,000 ft in the mountains, and was weak as a kitten for two days …. my 12 year old son having to strike camp and take care of dear ol’ dad. If I’d been solo I’d have been in real trouble … as it was, I was really glad that I had taught my son some backcountry savy. Proving that there is no substitute for knowledge.
The Second one I can remember is a greenhorn mistake of laying my bag out to loft up and have a sudden cold front move through the area. The temperature dropped to about 20 degrees when 40 was predicted. The bad part was that dew point was about about 32 and my precious down bag would only loft halfway due to being wetted from the dew. Fire resrictions were in place and rightfully so … it was so dry that a stray spark might well have had me in the middle of a raging grass then forest fire.
A cold night that if I had not carried a high loft insulated pullover would have guarenteed being borderline hypothermic. The risk of death by being caught in a grass fire or by hypothermia, two choices that would not be easy to choose from.
I had just purchased the high loft Patagucci pullover after reading Ryan Jordan’s paper on sub 5 lb backpacking. Having the high loft pullover as a safety piece sounded like sound advice …. as it turned out, even though I didn’t get much sleep, Ryan’s advice may have saved my rear … I survived just fine with my “safety” piece and a warm hat on.
I’ve learned a lot since … including practicing a number of survival skills, as there is no substitute for knowledge!Aug 8, 2006 at 10:18 pm #1360736
My own recreational group/self has never been in a an accident situation… we’ve been in several “we have to turn back now or else” and “we have to be excruciatingly carefull about route selection” situations. Map/compass/headlamp were key…
As a member of SAR, I’ve been involved in many situations as a rescuer.
The most common PREVENTABLE causes seem to be:
Lack of common sense – EX too much too fast, not turning back when conditions/time dictate, venturing into the backcountry without ANYTHING, etc
Lack of basic safety/survival gear/skills – EX lack of headlamp, map, compass, firestarting, incapable of the most basic orienteering (like the best way to get down a mountain is to (drumroll) WALK DOWN THE MOUNTAIN) etc
Lack of technical gear in technical terrain – EX: proper clothing for conditions, avalanche gear in avalanche terrain, crampons/axe for snowfields, no PFD on the water
Lack of technical knowledge for technical activies – EX: lack of avalanche safety training in avalanche terrain, lack of river reading skills and whitewater self rescueAug 11, 2006 at 6:28 pm #1360966
I got myself into a really scary hypothermia situation two years ago on a hike into the Enchantments via Aasgard Pass. Actually, we never made it to Colcuck Lake, due to a freak storm that came in. Three of us had started out in lightweight nylon summer hiking clothes at the beginning of the hike, but then the weather turned rainy and cold. I made a stupid mistake in not changing into dry clothes and raingear and kept pushing on. To make a long story shorter, we decided to make an emergency camp right off the trail below the lake and it was then that I discovered that I was hypothermic. It was as dramatic as can be. There didn’t seem to be any progression into it – it was more like someone threw a lightswitch and boom – I couldn’t function normally. I couldn’t speak clearly and my motor skills were just about gone. I couldn’t help set up the tent or do much of anything except shake uncontrollably and speak jibberish. To compound the problem, I was hiking with a friend who knew even less about it than I, and he didn’t know what to do. He had a brand new tent of some kind and had never set it up nor taken it out of it’s package. While he struggled to read the instructions with a flashlight in high wind, rain and snow, I grew worse. eventually, he just layed the tent on the ground and we climbed into it and he spooned with me to keep me warm (my wife still teases me about this). He had gotten out of his wet clothes and into some dry clothes, but for some reason he didn’t do the same for me. So I laid there all night long in wet clothes underneath the thin tent nylon like a sheet, at first shivering uncontrolably, then at some point that turned into something else, then something else again. I really can’t remember because I was at a point where I was pretty much delerious.
Anyway, we made it and I have to say it was the worst night I’ve ever spent in the mountains, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s so insidious because by the time you realize what’s happening it’s sometimes too late. If my friend had not been there I think I may have been in real trouble. I guess that’s why they find dead hikers sitting next to packs full of warm, dry clothes. So, no more stupid mistakes and/or decisions for me. Mistakes like that can get you killed.Aug 11, 2006 at 9:28 pm #1360983
Miguel ArboledaBPL Member
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Nine years ago, when I was at the height of my heavyweight walking days, I went hiking with my wife and her sister in the remote mountains of the Iide Range in northern Japan. I was using a Dana Designs Terraplane and carrying two tents because I hadn’t had the time to check to see if the bigger tent was big enough for all three of us. My pack weighed 25 kg (55 lbs) and I wasn’t exactly in the best of shape. Since it was my wife’s sister’s first time to go hiking I ended up carrying some of her stuff, too. And not taking the time to read the literature (in Japanese) about the Iide Range I had no idea that it was some of the toughest climbing in Japan (lots of razorback ridges, one where we literally had to straddle the ridge for about a hundred meters). Really, really, really stupid, especially since I had already had many years of backpacking experience.
On the third day, exhausted and tense from having to make extra sure my wife’s sister was okay, I stormed out of a mountain hut after sheltering from strong winds and rain for a snack break. My pack was so heavy that I couldn’t keep my balance properly. Just down the slope my boot caught on a creeping pine root (creeping pine are coniferous bushes that live above treeline in Japan) and I tripped, sailed over the edge of the cliff to my right, landed on a ledge just below, and hit my head on a rock. My wife saw me and ran back to the hut in a frenzy. Luckily there was an experienced mountain climber there who’d been walking with us for half the morning (he’d climbed Annapurna and recently Acongagua) and he quickly pulled me back to safety and bound up my head. Seems I was fine, physically. No concussion. But the experience completely shook me up. Talking to that mountain climber and later consulting with myself, I vowed never to go so heavy again or to get lax and be so unprepared.
Needless-to-say, my wife’s sister didn’t talk to me again for years after that. Can’t say I blame her at all. Not only did I exhibit stupidity as a mountain walker, but as a leader as well. You live and learn.
Tomorrow I will be going on a six day jaunt over the Kurobe Range in the North Alps here in Japan. The walk is similar to the Iide Range walk, but longer and more remote. My pack is now 11 kg (including food and water) and I still consider it too heavy (I have a lot to learn about lightening up with the food, but having insulin dependent diabetes makes it just too scary to cut it too close. I’ve had scary experiences with that, too, but that is another story).
I guess the lesson is that reading about what you need to prepare is just not enough. You really have to get out there and learn from your mistakes, because mistakes you will make.
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