Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ten Days Stranded

How would you like to spend 10 frozen days alone stranded in your car with nothing to eat except a couple of candy bars and nothing to drink except melted snow?

That's what Lauren Elizabeth Weinberg, a 23-year-old Arizona State University student did, and it got her name in the headlines. Not that getting headlines for this sort of thing is desirable, but at least she survived her ordeal without much damage.

The whole thing started when Lauren decided to take a drive in the mountains of northeast Arizona, not knowing that a vicious sub-freezing winter storm was about to clobber the region, laying down a blanket of several feet of snow. According to her rescuers, the young lady didn't understand that those forest roads are impassible during the winter.

When the car became stuck, Lauren hunkered down and spent the next 10 days nibbling on candy bars and  drinking water she melted from snow. She turned the snow into water by packing it into water bottles and setting them on top of the car so the sunshine could do the melting. A good tactic.

Authorities commented that Lauren's survival was remarkable after such a length of time in near-zero temperatures and with so few resources available. When the car became stuck, she just sat there with 2 candy bars and a bottle of water to keep her alive until some forest service employees happened to ride by on snowmobiles 10 days later checking gates. They weren't even looking for her, because no search was underway. It was pure luck.

What she did wrong:
  • she didn't let anyone know where she was going and when to expect her to return
  • she didn't check the weather ahead of making the trip
  • she didn't understand that the roads were impossible to drive in the winter
  • the vehicle wasn't equipped with survival gear (food, water, clothing, sleeping bag, signaling, fire)
What she did right was that she remained calm and stuck with the vehicle that provided shelter and offered access to all the resources (meager as they were) she had with her. A vehicle is much easier for rescuers to spot than a person wandering on foot through the forest. But after such a long time with no rescue, it would be understandable for anyone to want to leave the vehicle behind and attempt to hike out. That's especially true if you had not left information with anyone back home that you would expect to initiate a search if you didn't show up.

Lauren made the decision to stay with the vehicle, and that probably saved her life in this case. But there was a lot of luck involved, because she had left no "flight plan" with friends, and no official search was taking place to look for her. She might easily have died alone in her car later in the winter, if not for the fortunate arrival of the forest service workers on snow mobiles.

On the other hand, she probably would have died if she had left the vehicle in an attempt to hike out for self-rescue, because:
  • she would have been exposed to the bitter cold
  • her clothing would have become wet
  • she would have been expending caloric energy she couldn't afford
  • she would have been increasing her need for water consumption
  • she would have been exposed to frostbite and hypothermia
  • in all probability she would not have survived
Maybe there's something we can learn from this incident.


  1. Na, you can't teach most of these idiots anything.

    I have a chest in the back of my truck, there's fire starting stuff in it, a single burner propane stove, food, a big quilt, big come a long, jumper cables, things like that.

    Many of these fools that go into remote areas for day drives apparently don't even charge their cell phones before leaving, or top off the gas tank.

    I don't know if she had a knife with her to cut up the seats to use for warmth.

    Sometimes I look at stupidity as a way of cleaning up the gene pool.

  2. And many non smokers don't pack lighters or matches, but should.

  3. My cell phone service is with AT&T, one thing I can depend on is that I'm not going to get a signal out there so I'm damn well going to have to depend on only myself until help shows up, if it does.

  4. I also have a 100 watt inverter and an electric shaver in the truck, this monkey doesn't want to die with a fuzzy face, hahahaha

  5. If you have bucket seats you can cut around the bottom of a seat back and cut a hole in the top of it to pull it off over the headrest, cut some arm slits and slip it over you for use as a coat.

    SHOE GOO, great stuff…. Can be used to ‘stitch’ cut out seat covers together to make a bag to pull over the legs, AND it’s a good fire starting gel.