Friday, July 30, 2010

Survival Situations Can Be Sneaky

It doesn't take a huge disaster like Katrina or Haiti to create a genuine survival situation. Sometimes, all it takes is a miscalculation on our part.

In recent weeks, two women from Wisconsin were visiting the Arizona desert and decided to hike Camelback Mountain.

I should pause here to point out that Wisconsin has neither mountains nor desert, so these women might not have had much past experience in those environments. (With all due respect to those who believe some of the bumps in the terrain of Wisconsin are really mountains, we lived there for four years and, being from the West, we know the difference.)

Back to our story — the women, ages 53 and 78 took off for their hike at about 6:00 in the morning.

Here's another issue: The desert is cool at 6:00 in the morning, but in the middle of July it will quickly transform into an unbearable furnace after the sun rises.

At 11:00 a.m., emergency personnel received a call. The women were in need of rescue. Although the women had water with them, they were exhausted, experiencing dizziness, and were incapable of making it back down the mountain. Fortunately, the fire rescue team brought them out alive.

So, what is the point of my relating this incident? Is this about being too old, or the wrong gender to participate in strenuous outdoor activities? Not at all! I know of women in their 70s who run Ironman triathlons in the heat of Kona, Hawaii. So it has nothing to do with being a woman or being a senior citizen.

It has everything to do with knowing what you're getting yourself into before you launch off into an adventure. It's about doing your homework, understanding the climate patterns for the area, gradually training your body to endure whatever you're going to impose upon it, wearing the right clothing, and preparing proper equipment to see you through the experience.

Was this a genuine survival incident? Absolutely! It is possible to perish in a matter of hours under conditions like that, so these ladies were lucky to get out alive. I have a file cabinet full of stories about people who went off on a little day hike and never made it back, so I never underestimate the danger of a short hike. But the fact that these folks were unfamiliar with the conditions they would face made it doubly dangerous.

This was a case of a survival situation being sneaky — gradually overtaking a couple of people who were not totally prepared with an understanding of the environment.

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