Saturday, September 18, 2010

Walking Out or Staying Put

In survival situations, more specifically when you are lost should you attempt to walk out or stay put and set up a camp?

The Alaska episode of Man, Woman, Wild deals with this idea during a the spring thaw scenario. They ride a snowmobile out into the boonies. It quits, and they set up base camp near a stream to wait for rescue.
The Tennessee episode also deals with this where presumably they lost the trail, then decide to wait for rescue a stream for a few days.
In both cases they end up walking out. In Alaska they follow the snowmobile tracks back. In Tennessee they follow the stream. Both of these paths were available from the very start.

I've studied and read many cases of true survival situations where the end result was the person had to walk, crawl, hobble their way to safety.
One guy fell off the ridge near Sonora Pass in 2001. A helicopter crashed in as attempt to locate this hiker. Six days of search and rescue yeilded nothing. Eventually, the guy crawled out to a nearby camp in spite of his injuries.
Another guy's car rolled back over him after he had pulled over to check something in his trunk. Pinned for three days, with no cell service, he eventually wiggled loose and walked to a road, and made his way home.

The infamous story of the guy who cut off his hand which had become stuck under a rock while hiking alone in a canyon shows the extreme measures that a soloist might have to take for self preservation.

One of the best preventative measures is to not get lost. That means stopping to check your back trail so that you can retrace steps. Taking serious note of all landmarks. Even describing the unusual tree, the rock formations, taking note of the rivers and junctions out loud helps to solidify them. Every sense you can bring to the hike aids in self rescue. How does it smell? What do I hear? Tasting the rock lichen, touching the rough bark all help prevent wilderness disorientation.
If things start getting sketchy, I set up rock ducks, or lay three branches (dead wood) across each other in a pattern so that I can back trail.

A map and compass are great tools. A GPS, a cell phone. One guy called for help as darkness began to fall on a day hike. You never know where you'll get a signal.

The thing I noticed most in watching the episodes of Man, Woman, Wild was the amount of energy expended in setting up a base camp, building shelter and securing(chasing) food sources. In both cases, after several days of depletion of natural body reserves, they ended up walking out. Had they done this from the start following the obvious path, the path they chose three days later, their energy levels would have been much greater and given them enough energy to make it out with just one nights camp.

My end conclusion is to immediately begin a self rescue, leaving obvious trail sign for rescuers to follow should anyone decide to come looking for you. Retrace steps where possible, follow a stream down hill until it reaches a larger body of water and almost always civilization or a road. Take a long range bearing on a landmark and keep hiking in one direction until you cross a road.

Bushwacking and backcountry trailing alone is fun. Be prepared, tell a trusted friend or leave a note on the kitchen table of your itinerary and stay alert.


  1. yeah I watched both those episodes..and I loved to primitive camp in upstate I have an idea how cold the nights can get even in the summer..I now live in western TN and my camping has all but ceased due to the climate here..Oct through Feb is my camping season in this far as those survival shows go..Man and Woman/ Bear Grylls or the Survivors on Disc..I think theres tidbits of useful info on them once in awhile..but in the end they are just entertainment..and in the case of Man and Woman..not really that good of entertainment unless one comsiders smooching and pet names necessary for survival ..Les Stroud was more realistic to me for the one fact he had no camera crew, granted he didnt jump around like a monkey like Bear which made Stround more realistic to me...I dont know, maybe its just me

  2. I agree with you, Les Stroud is so real, and he shows the whole experience: good bad and ugly.
    The others always seem too fabricated. I think Bear takes way too many risks running down hill, caving, bee hive raiding,and water fall climbing which gives people a warped view of true survival behaivor.
    Thanks for commenting, azurevirus.