Recent events (the tragedies on Mt. Hood, and now the missing boy scout) prompted this post...
Many of you are serious birders who take to the wilderness for that "special sighting". Cool. But you still need to be prepared for the accidental fall, getting lost, a sudden
change in weather, etc... Read that "You're in deep trouble!"
So, the following general advice is from someone who's spent tens of thousands of hours in the great outdoors, in conditions that vary from -15F to 115F (and a good
chunk of that was at night).
In general, there are the big five "Make or Breaks" to survival. (Remember them as "PAHSW
repare: Research and train before you go! Study sites like Ready.gov
. Make sure you and your pals know the terrain and
"much-worse-than-possible-case weather scenarios" before you go. Talk with the local park ranger, guide, sporting-store owner, hunter, fisherman, etc. Always seek out
the folks who've actually been stuck in the very wilderness you are about to enter. The local police and fire departments as well as the local pubs are goldmines.
ttitude: This is crucial! If you're upbeat, sensible, calm, and keeping the faith, you're well on your way. If you panic, you're in a hurt locker. Stay busy regardless.
ealth: Number three on the must-do list is address immediate health problems. If there's an injury, you gotta stabilize the situation. Stop the bleeding,
immobilize the broken bone, treat the sunburn... Whatever... But get the situation under control.
helter: The forth priority is protection. Have at least a marginal shelter, marginal clothes. Excessive heat or cold are big problems. In the case of a hot
environment, seek shade. In the case of cold, get a controlled fire going. Do that and you're almost home. (Note that even in hot environments, a fire is still crucial for
signaling, psychological comfort, defense, etc.)
ater: Finally, find potable water ASAP. (Snow is ok, but boil it before you drink it.) It never hurts to pack extra water, especially if you're heading into desert
conditions. Remember, you only have a few days (at best!)
before lack of water will kill. The typical person can survive for a couple of weeks without food.
So how do you prep for that four-hour birding adventure gone awry in the Great Unknown? Some thoughts...
- Write out a "Hike Plan" and give a copy to a trusted friend or family member. (A good hike plan should include the "who", "what", "when", "where", "why", and "how" of
the birding trip.) Be sure to leave a copy in your car too.
- Wear an old t-shirt for a day or two, and then leave that in the car with your hike plan. If authorities have to search for you using dogs, you could be lost on the moon
and the hounds will still find you.
- Go with a group or a buddy if you can. And if you do go out in a bunch, do everything in your power to stay together.
- Prepare to dress in layers! Garments like zippered/tied sweats are perfect.
- Always carry a quality pocket knife. Swiss Army, Leatherman, and Camillus (Boy Scout) spring to mind. I own all three brands, and all are excellent.
- The instant you get that "Uh oh" feeling of being lost, STOP! Do not wander off thinking that, "If I just go 'that way' for twenty minutes and then 'the other way'
for forty-five minutes, I'll be all set." Go as far as you need to to take care of PAHSW and absolutely no farther.
- Practice to gain an understanding in the balance between "essential" and "bulk"... Even a "micro hike" out onto the sidewalk in a good rainstorm, snowstorm, or heat
wave speaks volumes as to what you really need.
- Practice basic skills. (This afternoon I started a fire with a fire bow and was appalled to discover that it took me 45 minutes. Why, when I was younger I could build a
fire from scratch in just... Oh never mind. And stop snickering.)
Ok, so what to carry into the great unknown? That answer depends on you and your conditions. But here are some guidelines... Start with a backpack that contains the
appropriately waterproofed contents:
- Required medications.
- Pencil and paper.
- In this age of GPS, always know where you are. Hint: Buy a good GPS.
- Reliable cell phones are a must.
- Replacement batteries for the two above!
- A hand-cranked flashlight.
- An old-fashioned map and compass (see below) just in case.
- Basic first aid kit.
- Baby/child needs.
- Sanitary water tablets.
- Clean, empty tin can for emergency boiling.
- A few sheets of aluminum foil.
- Extra eye glasses.
- Waterproof matches.
- Emergency beacon.
- Sanitation supplies.
- Nylon cord/string.
- Dental floss.
- Small and large plastic bags.
- Sewing kit.
- Fishing kit.
- Printed material on local survival techniques.
- Emergency blanket.
- A number of pairs of sweat socks. They make for great mittens and keep the feet warm too.
- A metal mirror. (See below.)
- Wire saw.
- Inspirational text.
- Photo of loved ones.
So that's it. To give you an idea of how unobtrusive some of this stuff can be, take a look at the photo below.
That's three knives, two sets of tweezers, a compass (floating in the mug), a magnifying glass, emergency instructions, a whistle, three screwdrivers, a mirror, two can
openers, two sets of scissors, two files, a small chisel, and stuff I'm sure I forgot. And all that junk in the picture fits in (ok, gets lost in) a wallet and a pocket.
is said and done, plan on a pack that will weigh roughly ten pounds (depending on how much water you carry) plus your camera gear. Update your pack
every six months by testing it in your (or a friend's) back yard.
See you by the feeders,
P.S. The boy scout has been found alive!