Monday, December 10, 2012

One Survived — One Didn't

Paula Lane and her boyfriend Roderick Clifton decided to go on an off-roading trip through the Sierra Nevada Mountains — then they got stuck in the snow.

This is how so many survival stories begin. It all starts with an innocent venture into the backcountry, with total intention to make just a short trip of it and get back before nightfall.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. This is one of those cases. 
The trip started on November 29th, but didn't end for Paula until  7 days later when she was discovered, still alive, by her own brother as she wandered near a highway.
During her recovery from frostbite and hypothermia, she was able to tell her story. After the vehicle became stuck in the snow, Roderick Clifton decided to hike out of the area to look for help. When he never returned, Paula Lane wrapped herself in blankets to stay warm, then headed out on foot to try to reach a road. During her 7-day ordeal, the report says she slept in hollowed-out trees and ate snow and tomatoes (which she must have carried with her from the vehicle) to stay alive. 
 The official search and rescue effort was called off by authorities after they found no trace of the couple. But her family refused to give up the search. Her brother took off into the wilderness, looking for the lost pair, and eventually found Paula wandering alongside the highway. He took her to a medical facility where she was treated for frostbite and severe hypothermia. 
So, what can we learn from all this? 
  • To help searchers find you quickly when you become stranded, always file a trip plan with friends and family members, saying where you're going and when to expect you back. Then stick to the plan. If you don't show up on time, at least the search can be conducted in the right place. 
  • Be prepared to stay longer than expected. Take shelter and sleeping bags, even if you don't plan on staying overnight. Have redundant methods of starting a fire, and carry enough food and water to keep you going for a week or more. 
  • Take communication devices such as cell phones, or 2-way radio. The ultimate way to call for help when you're in a life-threatening situation is to use a personal locator beacon (PLB) or a SPOT Satellite Messenger (
  • Rather than wander away from the vehicle, risking becoming lost, and having to face the elements without shelter, stick with the vehicle and get to work on signal techniques that might attract someone's attention. A smoky fire by day, a bright blaze by night. Use every strategy to make yourself seen and heard. 
  • The reason to stay with the vehicle is because it offers shelter from the elements, and it's easier for searchers to spot from the air or from a distance. Finding a single person wandering in the forest is a long-shot. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ammunition Fire Survival

Have you ever wondered what happens to ammunition that is stored in a house or garage when the place catches fire?

Or what about the danger of dropping a box or case of live ammunition? Can it blow up? Or can individual rounds go off and kill somebody?

Good questions. And for those of us who are reloaders, hunters or keep ammunition around the house for self defense, it's the kind of question that deserves to be answered.

When I served on a volunteer fire department years ago, I entered a burning house where it was reported that there was a large quantity of live ammunition stored. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned. But that was back before the kind of testing you about to see in this video was performed.

So sit back and watch this excellent demonstration of how safe sporting ammunition really is. Click on the link below.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter Survival

There’s nothing quite like buckling into a set of snowshoes and hiking across a pristine meadow of crystal-white, hearing only the soft crunch as the snow gives way beneath your feet.

It’s magical. The forest is flocked like a Christmas tree lot in the high-rent district of the city, but there is no city here — only the silence of wilderness. The stream is decked out with soft mounds of snow on every rock above the waterline, and along the edges are diamond chandeliers of ice dangling from every overhang. Imagine the prettiest Christmas card you ever saw — this is even better.

But all this beauty and adventure can come at a price. Winter, for all its stunning glory, can be a cruel schoolmaster, always ready to teach harsh lessons about suffering and survival. Macho attitudes swiftly wither as the windchill strips the life out of those who fail to understand that Mother Nature takes no prisoners during this season. My advice — go prepared or don’t go at all.

Preparation begins with knowledge, then grows through experience and the development of expertise in the use of relevant skills. But there’s good news, and the first part of the good news is that preparation is half the fun. The rest of the good news is that we live at a time when there is excellent winter camping equipment available at a reasonable cost. So being prepared is neither difficult nor expensive.

But even when you’re prepared, winter is a tough season for survival. You need to take care not to get into trouble, but if it happens, you need to know how to get yourself out.

Let’s take a look at a possible scenario. You leave your vehicle, intending to hike around on snowshoe for a couple of hours. The day is clear and beautiful, and you're lured on and on through the forest until you're a couple miles from your vehicle. Suddenly, the ground gives way beneath you and you realize, too late, that you're standing on a snow bridge across a stream. The next thing you know, you're hip deep in frigid water.

Another possibility — While out hiking, you are overtaken by a sudden snowstorm that blows up out of nowhere, obliterating your tracks and blinding your visibility. Suddenly, you’re lost.

Or — Your hiking buddy takes a spill and breaks his leg, a long way from the vehicle. Or perhaps you are overtaken by darkness, having lost awareness of the time and the fact that in the winter sudden nightfall seems to come in the middle of the afternoon.

These things happen every winter, and one of two outcomes will be the result — the people involve in the incident either come away with survival stories to tell, or they die. I have personally known people in both categories.

Regardless of what happens that causes you to have to survive in a winter environment, the most important things you need to do are to establish a shelter to protect yourself from the elements (wind, wet, cold), take care of any injuries, and then do everything possible to alert people that you need help.

Here are some fundamental rules that will help keep you out of trouble to begin with, or help get you out of trouble if you end up stranded in the snow.
  • Never travel alone. I know, one of the best things about winter hiking is the solitude. But think of it this way — you’re going to be seeing a lot of fantastic scenery and wildlife, and it is always more fun to share those experiences. Hike silent, if you want to enjoy the quiet, but always have a hiking partner.
  • Stay dry. Don’t sweat. Don’t brush up against the snow.
  • Stay Warm. Don’t sit on, lie down on or touch cold objects. Stay out of the wind.
  • Carry communication gear. It might be a cell phone, an FRS (Family Radio Service) radio, a GMRS (General mobile Radio Service) radio. Remember the limitations of the equipment — the cell phone may or may not work where you go hiking. FRS is good for about two miles and the more powerful GMRS signal will carry perhaps five miles (line of sight), but in both cases you need to have someone on the other end and within range who is monitoring the same frequency. It’s not very difficult to get an amateur radio operator’s license these days, and having a handheld HAM radio along for the hike might just save your cookies.
  • Carry signaling equipment with you at all times. This includes a signal whistle, a mirror, methods of starting signal fires, lightweight colored cloth panels. All of that stuff is cheap. If you don’t care about cheap and just want to be able to call for help to save your life, carry a personal locator beacon (PLB). Activate and maintain your signaling efforts as soon as you realize that you are in a survival situation.
  • Always leave a “flight plan” with trusted friends or relatives, detailing where you're going and when you intend to return. Then stick to your plan.
  • Always be prepared to spend an unplanned night or more in the woods. Carry an emergency shelter, a Space blanket, a pocket poncho, a bivvy bag and fire-making equipment with you.
  • Know how to construct a variety of expedient shelters. Snow caves can be a challenge to make (and stay dry at the same time), unless the depth and consistency of the snow are just right. Consider a tree pit shelter, in which you seek out a large tree with overhanging branches that have kept snow from collecting around the trunk. Dig out what snow is around the trunk, pile it over the branches, perhaps using your pocket poncho to help enclose the roof, and use that as a nearly ready-made natural shelter. Lacking trees, dig a trench and cover it (leaving one end open for an entrance) with your pocket poncho with snow piled along the edges to hold the “roof” taut across the trench. The snow trench is easy to build and will get you out of the wind.