"We'll head back after sunset, I want to see it from this point. Don't worry I know a shortcut to get back." I doubt many people's hearts wouldn't sink just a little if those were the last words that caused them to be lost in the wild not knowing if they'll ever return to their family, but it is a reality non the less. Hiking is the leading recreation that causes well meaning city slickers to be thrust into one of the real life survival stories that's made of the stuff of nightmares. But I mean why wouldn't it be a nightmare if you don't know what you're doing, it's nature right? You wanted to get close to nature, and the word hiking is synonymous with nature it seems, so what's the big cause for alarm?
Well it's not so much the fact that you're in nature that should make you worried, but the conditions you're in nature with i.e. your mental attitude, awareness of surroundings, over confidence and changes in weather are all recipes for disaster which will turn a fun night in the hills of Colorado into a struggle for your life. We have all heard the stories of the well meaning adventurist who take one too many chances on their trip and wind up struggling to survive in the wild for weeks or months. So to help you avoid this, this post is going to walk you through the most common setting for being stranded in the wild and getting out alive!
Let's Get Started!
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Your Setting: Longs Peak, Colorado
This setting comes to us from Outsideonline.com, authors Jason Daley and Melanie Wong say this about Longs Peak.
"One of Colorado's most popular peaks is also one of the deadliest, thanks to high exposure, rock slides, frequent lightning strikes, and narrow ledges. An average of one person a year dies on the mountain, and with a difficulty rating of Class 3, it's one of the most challenging standard routes up a 14er in the state.
The Longs Peak trail is tame until you reach a section known as the Keyhole. From there, hikers must scramble along narrow ledges, following painted bull's-eyes to stay on course. It's not technical climbing, but it's easy for hikers to get in over their heads.
One of the more famous people to die on Longs Peak was mountaineer Agnes Vaille. After she and a companion successfully summited, Vaille fell 150 feet down a rock field. Exhausted, she told her friend that she would take a short nap before resuming the hike, but she froze to death by the time rescuers found her. Agnes Vaille Shelter, a small cabin on the trail, serves as a memorial to her."
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So we want to avoid Agnes' fate is the point of this article from outsideonline.com, and to do that we are going to dive into what the setting was of her adventure, and what most people could expect to encounter. Of course we will over look the aspect of dying shortly after the fall, instead we will assume you survived and were merely unconscious for a few hours awaking just before dusk.
We will look into the survival strategies of the common civilian that can make the difference between life and death in one of the real life survival stories that could last upwards of weeks to months in the wild.
Waking Up In The Wild
Panic is the first thing that will overtake you, you re live the fall and the thoughts that rushed through your head as it all unfolded. After shouting for help for a few minutes the gravity of your situation is setting in and you know now that you're in for an uncommon adventure. At the start I know it will be hard, but you need to focus on 3 things 1. the amount of daylight left 2. an easy place for shelter 3. make a fire.
1. To assess the amount of daylight you have to work with in most settings, you will hold your hand to the horizon with your palm facing you with your pinky on the horizon. Each finger will be an hour. If you have three fingers (hours), you will want to focus on shelter first, then fire. Any less then three fingers and you will wan to start with fire, because the fire will provide comfort, a small victory and protection from predators.
2. Shelter is your next concern, if you're someone who's fallen off of the cliff face then you will want to go to the base of the cliff to make your shelter. This will provide protection from almost all sides and with the sounds you will hear in this situation, that will provide a peace of mind that is invaluable. Should you be in an area that's not next to a cliff face or too hard to double back, then you'll wan to find a sturdy wooded area that makes a natural choke point (funnel) into a place that is easy to defend if needed. Your shelter will be a lean to or a-frame shelter. Please reference Wilderness Survival or our post related to this.
3. Finally you will want to have fire, if not just for the warmth, it will strangely give you a small amount of peace about your situation having this victory to start your adventure. To make your fire there are many options. Of course you can use matches if you were such a forward thinker to do so. Should you be out in the wild with limited resources, I would recommend getting our free pdf of starting a fire 15 ways in the wild. If you're setting up can at the base of a cliff you will want to make your fire against the wall, so that the heat from the fire will reflect from the wall and back to your shelter. Likewise, if you're in the woods and are in an area that is like a wall you can apply the same principals.
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Your First Day In The Wild
Ok so you've survived your first night in the wild, and I'm fairly certain that you probably didn't get much sleep due to the noises and the worry you're not going to make it out alive. You need to stop that non-sense right now! Your most valuable survival resource is your confidence and drive to survive and get back to your family. So get it together and do what you need to do today to make a step back toward your family and friends.
If They Don't Know You're In Need, They Won't Come
The first thing you will need to know is that you'll want to keep a signal fire going continuously. To do this you'll need to keep the fire you had from last night going and every hour you will add whatever man made materials you can spare. Most man made materials when burned will produce black smoke, and the black smoke in most outdoors settings are considered to be a signal for rescue. So if you have an extra pair of shoes, I would encourage you to find a way to break the rubber apart from the bottom of the shoe to use as long burning black smoke. Keeping the black smoke going in a steady stream is your main focus to ensure rescue!
Water Does The Body Good
Next you will need to find a water source that can sustain you for the day of activities you'll be faced with. To do this we recommend carrying some sort of water distillation straw, but again you might not have one of those on hand. If you don't have a distillation straw on hand and find water from a stream that seems safe to drink you will want to make sure that you drink from a MOVING stream. If the stream is not moving then you're probably drinking the deposits of the wild to this water. If a running stream is not an option then you will want to find a way to boil this water, we realize this will be difficult and we recommend always packing a compact able cup for a situation such as this at all times.
What Smells Like Something I Don't Want To Eat....Oh It's All My Food
Of all the places I've seen in the wild unfortunately I haven't found a gourmet way to prepare what I'm about to suggest you eat. But trust me, when you get hungry enough, that grasshopper will look like a slice of prime rib with some mint jelly (mint jelly being the insides). Bugs are going to be the first things on the menu, and not because of the nutritional value or the organic quality of these little guys, but simply for the fact that it's your only option. Unless you happen to win in survival and stumble on an older deer that dies of old age in your camp, but let's not count on that. And while we are on that subject it's a great time to say DON'T EAT ANYTHING YOU FOUND THAT'S ALREADY DEAD. Most likely what you found didn't die from old age, but it was sick or infected with something. And even if it wasn't it's not worth taking the chance on your health in a situation as delicate as this.
So to find your grub (pun intended) your going to want to look under every stone literally. The bugs that are the most nutritious aren't out in the open walking around, because they know other things will want to eat them too. So finding food that's hiding is a good sign because it means you've found something worth eating. Ok so you have your feast of creepy crawly salad in hand and you have two options on how to down these. Number one is eat it straight up like Bear Grills, and the second option is to cook them over the fire on a stone. It is necessary to note that the second option will result in some of the calories being lost in the cooking process, but the "food" will be considerably more edible. Use your best judgement.
Surviving For The Long Haul
This of course is a worst case scenario, and honestly if you've been in a situation like Agnes on a popular trail where there is probably a good amount of activity then you will probably be found in a matter of hours or at most a few days. But should you be faced with a survival situation that requires you to fend for yourself then we will go over what to expect to be able to comfortably thrive.
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Idle Hands Do The Devils Work
Above all else, if you happen to be stuck in a long term survival situation, you will absolutely have to keep yourself busy. I'm sure you will notice after the first day that sitting around your camp or catching up on some introspective thoughts gets pretty old real quick. So you will need to have a list of things to do to keep yourself busy when waiting out your rescue or return to civilization.
Improvements to what you already have is a fantastic place to start! Making your shelter more durable is head of this list. And to do that you will need to either re-build your shelter or simply start over in a new area. To add on to what you already have is as simple as ensuring that the frame of your shelter is as solid as possible with fresh somewhat green limbs, then you will add a layer of dense debris to this.
If you have mud on hand or if you're lucky enough to have the resources to transport water then I would advise making a mud shell on top of your frame and first layer of debris. After you've laid down the mud shell add more branches that aren't as thick as the frame materials to the outside, and then add a generous amount of debris on top of that as well. Continue this process until you're satisfied or run out of energy. Don't push it too hard!
Next you can improve your weapons to upgrade your eating selection from bugs and leaves to some critters with sustenance! To do this I would first recommend checking out our previous post on making your own knife in the wild. With this knife I would suggest your first advanced weapon be simple and something you won't be able to break after working hard to make it (don't worry you're not going to be making aboriginal throwing spears...yet). Your first advanced weapon needs to be a throwing stick, yup a throwing stick.
This sounds about as rudimentary as it gets, but the accuracy you'll develop coupled with the surprising deadliness of this weapon will not leave you disappointed. You'll want to find a sturdy branch that you can wrap your whole hand around. Then you will want to shave the bark off with your new knife until it's smooth all around. Now not everyone does this but I don't see why not, you're going to make a wedge in one end that's not sharp but is noticeable. This is going to make it more deadly due to the aerodynamics you now have on your side, and the wedge will of course have some splitting power when thrown correctly. Now PRACTICE!
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Now upgrading your water supply is going to get pretty tricky, it's not impossible but it's not for the rookies either. Short of moving your camp to be closer to a fresh water source you're going to need to get a little creative. I would suggest making your own containers if possible, this again is not for the rookie survivalist.
To make your own containers for transporting water you're going to want to pray you became stranded in the summer/spring time with warm weather and not sitting on frozen ground praying for a meteor to rip from the heavens and ignite the earth. If the ground where you're at is soft enough to be broken with a stick then you'll want to watch this video this young man is the epitome of what a survivalist should be able to make happen in the wild (chimney and all).
THERE YOU HAVE IT
I pray this opportunity to make one of your real life survival stories never happens to you, but if it does you now have the necessary skills to combat this event and master nature in the process. You will want to read this post until it becomes a part of your day to day thinking. And when you see a stapler and know how to make fire with it then you are almost ready 🙂
Have a great day!