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There are five things to remember before going outdoors. A recent news article discusses the rescue of an injured hiker in Colorado back in July. Jeffery Ashby is a retired NASA astronaut who decided to go on a high altitude hike by himself at Colorado’s La Plata Peak. He slipped and fell 500 feet down the mountain. The location where his fall stopped put him in an area that required an airlift rescue operation. Somewhere during the fall, he broke both of his legs. He survived his fall and injuries and was later rescued by a helicopter crew from the nearby Army National Guard aviation training center.

Jeff is a retired military person in excellent shape for being sixty-five years old. He was well prepared and familiar with the area he was hiking. However, July 16, 2019, would not be an average hike. The story reminds us that on any given day, we can find ourselves in an emergency survival situation in the backcountry.

Many people love to go outdoors for recreational purposes. The early fall season brings many hunters to the backcountry to hunt deer and elk. People are trying to get those last multi-day backpacking trips in before the snows come. Other people want to take that last weekend camping trip before the weather turns bad. Therefore, we should remember the following principles to help increase our chances of rescue in an outdoor emergency.

1. Get As Much Knowledge As Possible About Your Outdoor Location

It is advisable to do as much research to gain as much knowledge as possible about the place you intend to go for your outdoor activity. One possible way to accomplish this is to search for news stories about the desired location. For example, some areas have a concentration of incidents of missing people. Is this a place you want to go for an outdoor adventure?

Another way to gain knowledge about an area is to talk to the local park rangers. My son and I went hiking in a nearby state park. The park ranger informed me that there were only two of them working the park and rescue in an emergency would require an airlift. That was a great tip and could only be gained by talking to someone at the site. He also informed me that there are areas where rock slides occur. Again, great insight from someone working in the area.

2. Prepare Yourself and Your Gear

It needs to be said to remind you to prepare yourself and your gear before going into the wilderness. Jeff Ashby was ready for his adventure, and he still experienced an emergency survival situation. His preparation saved his life due to having a working headlamp. It was used as a signal device in the pre-dawn darkness to gain attention from other hikers passing by his location. If Jeff’s headlamp batteries were dead, he might not have gotten noticed and eventually rescued.

Preparing yourself also means knowing your physical and health limitations. My dad related a story about a man that he worked with who died of heart failure on a hunting trip. The hunter was not the epitome of physical fitness. He was walking on a slight incline for several miles, then fell dead from a heart attack, according to one of his hunting partners. Therefore, know if your physical fitness and health can handle a particular location, especially if the area is above eight thousand feet in elevation.

3. Develop and Distribute A Communication Plan

A third thing to remember is to develop and distribute your communication plan. In a previous article, I discussed the PACE method for preparing your gear. The acronym PACE stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. It is a technique developed by infantry and special forces personal to create multiple ways to maintain communication with each other and their field headquarters. This method is an excellent tool to develop your communication plan.

Your communication plan should also include a timeline for checking in and to whom you will make those checks. For example, you may wish to send a text message to your designated recipients every two or three hours. Additionally, your communication plan should also include how to contact first responders, the park ranger station, and significant others, such as parents or your spouse. Once you have developed your communication plan, distribute it to those with whom you will communicate. Everyone in your group should have a copy of your communication plan in case you get separated.

Sample Communication Plan

4. Develop and Rehearse An Emergency Plan

After developing a communication plan, it is advisable to create and rehearse an emergency plan before you head out to the outdoors. Your emergency plan does not have to be elaborate and complicated. It can be as simple as developing a first option and a second option if things go wrong in the field. The emergency communication plan should be part of your planning process. Everyone in your group should be familiar with and understand the emergency plan before heading out to your chosen location.

One particular story that I read recently illustrates the need for developing and rehearsing an emergency plan. A group of hunters was hunting near Rainbow Lake in Colorado when a sudden blizzard hit the area. The hunters were separated at the time. Three of the four made it back to camp. When they realized one of their friends was missing, they went out again to look for him only to nearly succumb to the weather themselves. The story relates the need to develop and rehearse an emergency plan.

5. Avoid Going Outdoors Alone

One of the more important aspects of outdoor adventures is not going out alone, if at all possible. Hunters like to go off by themselves, even if they are with others. It is even more crucial that an emergency plan is in place when such a scenario exists. Backpackers and recreational hikers also like to go out alone. Many of the disappearances, mishaps, and fatalities in the outdoors occurs when the unfortunate ones are by themselves. The US Army sees the need for soldiers not to go anywhere by themselves and developed the battle buddy method to ensure the safety and security of soldiers. Experienced or recreational outdoorsmen should always have a partner when going into the outdoors.

Final Thoughts

The fall season can be an excellent time to spend outdoors. The changing color of the leaves and the crispness of the cold morning air make being outdoors all the more pleasant. Remembering to be safe and prepared increases your chances for a great time outdoors. Knowledge of your intended location, preparing yourself and your gear, developing a communication plan, developing an emergency plan, and going out with a partner or group will cut down on the chances of a mishap outdoors. As we enter the end of the year, let us enjoy our outdoor adventures with friends and family.

Can you stay alive outdoors by assessing risks? The summer outdoor season sees an increase in reports about disappearances and accidents. A recent report from California discusses the disappearance of an experienced hiker at a campsite in the Bristlecone Pine Forest. She was later found alive after four days. The report reveals that she had to flee her location due to a threatening person. Another story relates the discovery of the body of a missing person on the Snake River in Wyoming. He was working at a KOA campsite. Outdoor activities can be great experiences. However, outdoor activities also have inherent risks. You should develop a risk assessment and reduction plan before you go on a wilderness adventure. The following principles can help you build your risk mitigation plan.

1. Assess the level of wilderness experience and field skills of yourself and others

It is terrific to have a desire to spend time outdoors. There is an increasing number of people heading to the wilderness to hunt, hike, camp, or fish. The growing popularity of survival-related reality television programs and the rising interest in survival and preparedness are motivating people to get outdoors. However, the reality of being in the wilderness is different from how it is portrayed in the mass media. There is a danger of overconfidence in one’s abilities.

It is prudent to be realistic in assessing the level of wilderness experience and field skills of yourself and those in your group. The less wilderness experience and skills that one has should be an indicator that they are a high risk to themselves and others. Therefore, it is imperative to take a partner with you into the outdoors. Your partner should be more experienced and have more field skills than you to compliment your weaknesses. As a matter of safety, you should never go into the wilderness by yourself regardless of how skilled and experienced you are with the outdoors.

2. Know the level of health and physical fitness of yourself and others.

It is vital to know your level of health and physical fitness. Health and physical fitness play an important role in determining the kinds of activity and locations that one visits. For example, people with high blood pressure might have limitations as to the types of trails that they can trek on a backpacking adventure.

3. Understand the natural or man-made dangers of the area of activity

One of the common characteristics of negative experiences in the outdoors is a lack of awareness of the risks. More specifically, there seems to be a lack of knowledge of the natural and man-made dangers in the area of activity. One type of natural hazard involves predatory animals, such as mountain lions or bears. Other inherent threats are those relating to the terrain such as cliffs, bodies of water, areas of deadfall, or unstable ground. Man-made dangers are those pertaining to human activity. These can comprise logging areas, areas of construction, or even previous criminal activity.

4. Analyze the local weather and weather anomalies of the area of activity

Weather is a contributor to outdoor risks. There are reports of sudden fog, rain, or dropping of temperatures even in the summer months in some locations. It must be remembered that some local weather patterns cannot be found in a national or local forecast. The people who live near the area of your outdoor activity can provide useful information on local weather activity such as afternoon thundershowers. Analyzing the local weather traits will help make decisions about what to put in your backpack, such as rain gear or a light fleece jacket.

5. Identify the level of access to emergency help in the area of activity

Sometimes people, who go outdoors, do not take into account the availability of emergency help. It is essential to have a good understanding of what kind of emergency help is available. Additionally, it is crucial to know how to access emergency help in your planned area of activity. The importance of knowing how to contact emergency help is a critical part of your outdoor planning.

For example, one of the areas near me does not have a large number of park rangers. They tell you when you come into the park that most emergency help will be by airlift. They do not have the personnel or transportation available to come to your aid if you call for help. Thus, an expensive life flight to a local hospital awaits, should you dial for help. That kind of information influences your activity and what you have in your gear.  Some wilderness areas have no cell phone access. How will you get help in an emergency?

It is recommended that you develop a first-responder contact card. This card should have contact information for park rangers, first responders, and area hospitals. You should include emergency radio channels on the card if you are carrying a handheld ham radio two-way transceiver with you.

Final Thoughts

Risk reduction is an important skill to develop and exercise for those who love the outdoors. Your risk reduction plan has its limitations. However, without one, you may find your activity being less than enjoyable. Once you have identified the risks for your planned wilderness adventure, then develop and implement measures to reduce that risk. One of the best techniques to consider for risk reduction measures is the PACE plan. Additionally, your risk reduction plan should take into account the kind of activity (Mission), local and area dangers (Enemy), time of day, month or day (Time), the people involved (Troops), location (Terrain), and accesses to emergency help (Civilian Considerations). Once you have your risk mitigation plan complete, give a copy to whomever, you will be making your communication checks while you are outdoors.

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