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 (www.findmespot.com).
- 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.