Friday, December 28, 2012

Wilderness Survival Part 4 – Getting Found…, or Not?

There are a lot of philosophies regarding wilderness survival.  Most follow the modern orthodoxy of staying put and surviving until help can find you.  This orthodoxy is the reason why we should always tell someone where we are going and when we plan to be back before heading into the wilderness.  This simple precaution does save life and limb.  This is also the reason why many trail head signs now ask that hikers sign in and out as they enter and leave the wilderness.  These are great precautions.  After all, accidents do happen and some people over estimate their wilderness abilities or under estimate the vastness and power of nature.  Challenging situations can arise.

But I am going to part from orthodoxy just a bit.  While I strongly recommend telling someone where you are going and how long you will be gone, my approach to wilderness survival—my philosophy—mandates that people know enough about living in the wilderness that they will not need to be found.  This requires skill, experience, and plenty of knowledge about the natural world.  The more we know about nature, the more nature becomes our home and our towns, roads, and houses become the other place we go to when we can’t be at home in the wild.  So, is one lost when at home?  Is one lost when he or she has everything needed to stay safely and comfortably in the woods for weeks or even months?  Clearly, we cannot carry months’ worth of food into the woods, and we may need shelter besides the tents we lug in with us.  We may need medicines.  We will need clean water and basic tools.  All of these things are provided by nature.  All that is really needed then is the skill and knowledge to know how to live in and with nature. 

The skills required to live indefinitely in the wilderness are not gained by only reading a blog or a book.  They don’t come from wishful desire to commune with nature.  These skills come from dedication and practice actually living in the woods.  But once these skills are gained, then is one ever lost in the woods?  Granted, accidents can and do happen.  But the more we understand nurturing nature, the less dangerous she becomes. 

So, what does this have to do with getting found?  In brief, you likely will not need to get found if your skill set is adequate not to only deal with challenges in the wild, but to thrive in the wild.  This is no Man vs. Wild or Survivorman episode.  Rather this is an approach that will help you to avoid getting into the situations they create for those shows.  I promote humans harmonizing with nature.  If the situations get too tough, the fellows in those survivor shows either get help or hike out to their pick up location.  Show over.  Disaster averted.  You may not have those options.  A wilderness expert will need to avoid life-threatening situations when at all possible, and understand that there is no film crew or safety team to fall back on. 

But what if you need to get found? 
  • Don’t think that help will find you in time.  If the weather is harsh, the odds are not great.  You must be able to create reliable shelter to use while you wait, and even be able to do so when injured.  If you are not injured, then you likely will not need to be found anyway!
  • Understand that natural shelters all share the same challenge of being excellent camouflage since they are made from the natural materials at hand.  They not only blend in, but they hide people effectively from search efforts.
  • If you need to be found, then you will need to first create your shelter, and then take action to help search parties find you.

Ways to help others find you:

  • Place brightly colored items like clothing or a piece of tarp in open areas near your shelter where they can be seen from the air and from a great horizontal distance.  Use a sapling or a stick to make a flag.
  • Use logs or stones to spell out a giant SOS in a meadow near your shelter.
  • Build a fire and then create LOTS of smoke by adding wet leaves or pine needles to the fire.  Use a blanket to create “smoke signals”.  Simple puffs of interrupted smoke indicate the need for help.
  • Make a lot of noise.  Whistles are good.  Three gun shots can be heard for miles.  Bang on a log with a large stick.  Morse code for SOS is three shorts, three longs, and three shorts (. . . - - - . . .).  And if you spell it backwards, searchers will forgive you for misspelling and still get the message!  Make noise every few minutes.
  • Try to be in a place where you will be seen and heard. 
  • Movement attracts attention.  Wave your flag.
  • Use a shiny surface to reflect sunlight in the direction of help.  You can use Morse code and SOS this way too.  Reflected sunlight can be spotted for many miles in open country.  That cell phone may not have service, but it does have a shiny screen!
  • Stay put.  If you really need to be found, then don’t wander around.  Get yourself to a prominent, open spot, make a shelter, and create plenty of signals for searchers to find.
  • Teach these skills to your children.  Small kids especially tend to hide from searchers.  They hear yelling from strangers, and that is a fearful thing when lost and worried about getting in trouble!  Tell your kids how to get found and be sure they understand that they will not be in trouble for being found!

But prevention is the best solution.  Make wise decisions in the wilderness.  Know how to thrive with nature.  Avoid situations where you will need to be found.  The real fun is learning how NOT to be found when living in the woods. 

Let me be frank.  You should not get yourself into situations you can’t get out of.  Build your skill set.  Know what you are doing.  Learn the integrity of true self-reliance.  Keep in mind that if you need to be rescued, you will be placing the safety and well-being of many others at risk.  This is selfish and short-sighted.  Don’t be nuisance.  Learn to thrive in nature and don’t be stupid.  Believe me.  You don’t want to ever NEED to be found.  But if you do, then make a reliable shelter and take steps to make the search party’s work as simple as possible.

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