Bushlore Topics > Wilderness Survival

My brush with the survival situaton- near miss!

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Well, this one is awkward! whistle I like to think I'm a logical fellow with more than my fair share of common sense. But it's easy to get overly complacent and it almost came back to bite me in the butt! I dodged a bullet and the situation could have easily become very serious. ???

I took almost two weeks of vacation and just got back. The first part was a trip home to visit my family in South Dakota. The idea was to take about eight days to do a trip with a buddy of mine to the mountains of Idaho. It ended up being a bit more than I bargained for due to a mixture of bad luck and a couple of bad decisions that didn't really seem so bad at the time.  :P

It started out great. My buddy and I drove into a fairly remote lake right on the edge of a wilderness area (officially- no motorized vehicles, no low flying aircraft, etc). We figured to do a couple days at the end of the road by Hoodoo Lake, then hike back and do a couple of days in a more remote spot. The road was pretty well maintained so I drove my car and he drove his truck. On the evening of day two though his starter went out. Not ideal since we were 22 miles from the nearest paved road and 30 miles from a telephone and there was no cell service. Not a crisis though- I had also driven.

But he suggested we take my car up the ridge that overlooks the lake some 35 miles away. I was a bit reluctant as we only had one working vehicle but he assured me it was a good road. The road actually wound up being truly horrific! About 2/3 the way up it was just snow covered boulder field, but there was no way to turn around so there was little option to press on. Near the top there was enough space to turn around so I did and we went the rest of the way up on foot. It was indeed an amazing view!

The trip down was where the problems started. There was a narrowing of the road where there was a precipice on one side and a jagged boulder on the other. I threaded the needle on the way up got too close to the rocks on the way back and punctured the sidewall of my front passenger tire. This is where things take a bad turn- I had forgotten that my 2015 was not equipped with a spare!  :shocked:

At this point it seemed like just an annoyance. We had passed a fish hatchery at the bottom of the hill that we figured might be manned, or at least we hoped. The idea was to hike the five miles or so down the mountain to (hopefully!) use the phone. My buddy had a sister that lived close by- or at least that was my understanding- and she should be able to pick us up.

It was about 3 o'clock and maybe 80 degrees. Nice weather and the walk was down hill. We should be back in our camp by eight or so I reckoned. This is where the next round of questionable decisions was made, and in retrospect I can't imagine why it wasn't more obvious. We immediately decided to proceed down on foot, leaving within a few minutes of getting the flat. We really should have assessed the situation thoroughly and discussed our options. But as males so often do we felt compelled to just act. I had enough gear in my car to equip a Scout Troop but thinking it was going to be a quick extraction I didn't take much. My buddy had a jacket and I left with just my jeans and a T-shirt! blush As I walked away from the car I sheepishly turned back to grab my Bushbumming/Ditch Kit. It's a sling bag of hiking and survival gear I prepared about a month ago. Initially I felt a bit embarrassed at taking it as we figured to just be out for a few more hours. Looking back that's the only smart thing I did that day and it kept things from taking an even worse turn.

The station was manned after all, and we used the phone. The sister was called and agreed to pick us up. Seemingly safe and sound we told the guy we were good, and he left shortly after. I was mildly concerned when my friend told me his sister lived three hours away! Plus, talking to him I was a bit concerned that our communication had broken down. Why did I not realize it was going to be hours, best case, before anyone was coming? Did she fully understand where to meet us?

I need to point out that there was very little traffic or activity in the area. Our camp was at maybe 5,500-6,000 feet and the snow just out- in fact, when we called the nearest range station to the area we were told it was impassable with snow. That turned out to be wrong but presumably no one else knew that, thus no one trying to use the area except us.

We began to hump it towards the rendezvous area. By this point was between five and six. I wasn't terribly worried as it was pretty nice out but a bit of concern was creeping into the back of my mind. The previous night it was 35 degrees at our camp site. It likely wasn't going to get much under 40 and not until ten or eleven but I was only wearing a T-shirt. eek This when the next issue cropped up; my friend began to have bad back spasms. He's pretty strong and fairly fit but fused a couple vertebrates after an accident some years past. He was only able to hike about a hundred yards at a time before being forced to stop and rest. By car a mile or two doesn't seem like much does it? Well, distances take on a different meaning on foot, especially with a companion that's hobbled by injury. The plan remained the same though; we didn't expect the sister til 10:30 or 11:00 so even at our reduced pace we should reach the agreed-upon point by the time she arrived.

Well, the appointed hour came and went. Then the next hour. Then another hour. By this point things were a bit tense. Are you sure she knows where to meet us? I asked. We didn't have much more for options. But this time it was beginning to get cold especially for me in just a light shirt. Ultimately we decided that I'd set up about 100 yards off and get a shelter and fire built while he stayed close to the rendezvous point to flag down his sister.

That's where the single good decision made earlier saved my bacon! I had a very well equipped kit with me, grabbed on a whim. My "ditch kit" included 2 x 1 liter Nalgenes of water, cordage, several space blankets, a real tarp, a robust fire kit, a ton of cordage, a Black Diamond head lamp, etc. So I set myself to the task of building setting up a shelter in the dark. I set up a kind of hybrid plow point with a mylar blanket. Although I had stakes the rocky ground was too hard and stony to use them. Ultimately I secured the ridgeline around a tree and anchored the bottom around a large rotten log dragged over to my site for the purpose. Luckily I found a spot with tight overhead cover and lots of dry dead wood on the ground and it was a simple matter to get a small fire going. Another snag arose when the batteries in my headlamp died on me. blush Yeah, classic blunder- I took my oldest lamp and stuck in the bag, forgetting to check the batteries. But luckily I had two other lights plus spares for the lamp, allowing me to continue gathering wood and I began to cut bows to build myself a bed to keep me off the cold ground.

This is where the communication breakdown reared its head again. My buddy got impatient and decided to backtrack a bit to look for his sister but neglected to tell me before he left! mad So neither of us knows where she is, she doesn't know where we are and I don't know where he is! Seriously, this is the idiocy you read about all the time but this time I'm living it!

For a few minutes I felt a bit of real concern bordering on fear rise up. But after a bit of reflection, or S.T.O.P. and assessing, I began to feel better. Under my space blanket tarp I was actually so warm I debated taking out a second blanket to shield me from the direct heat. It took many trips to gather wood to maintain the fire; there was a ton of wood but most of it was pretty small.

Around 2:00 am I formulated a plan. I'd turned my phone to airplane mode to maintain the battery. My best course of action seemed to set a timer for 1 hour, then trying to get a bit of sleep, waking to stoke the fire when the alarm went off. By five am the sun would up and things would warm up. As I came near to drifting off my buddy appeared...he'd found his sister! It took quite a few hours to get us back up and running but the danger, such as it was, had passed. She pull started his [manual transmission equipped] truck, we removed the wheel of my car and set out for the nearest city about an hour away.

I feel pretty sheepish relaying this story! Yet I figured I should if only to demonstrate how easily a bad situation can sneak up on a person. When the starter of the first vehicle died we should have been careful and stuck around camp. The really stupid things were 1) leaving my car without a jacket and 2) not taking more care to communicate our plans.

Before I forget let me clarify a few things. We probably weren't in any real danger, or at least not much. Despite being fairly remote we were near to the weekend. There's a popular lodge on a paved road that we could have reached in a day's walk. And in all likelihood someone would have come along that road eventually. After all it's the beginning of summer.

Well, that's the story in a nutshell. The day after we returned home my buddy called me and said his truck was fixed. It wasn't a dead starter but rather a fuse in the starter...and he had a spare in the glove box the whole time! mad Somehow he didn't connect the dots though til he took the starter out.

Lessons learned by me, in no particular order:

1) Carry a %^#@ spare! I had been looking for one but having trouble finding the correct one for my car, then kind of forgot it. Next time out I'll have a spare and tools.

2) Keep clear communications and have a plan. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

3) I'm going to get a few small radios/walkie talkies. That will at least help with short range comms.

4) Redo my ditch bag a little bit. My kit was excellent but kind of a kitchen-sink approach. I could have removed 1/3 of it and added a down jacket or something.

5) Once things had gone pear-shaped I should have realized things could continue to go wrong. I should have taken a fleece or coat along with me.

6) Double check all your gear! In a survival kit all the batteries should be fresh, etc.

7) Clothing appropriate to the potential conditions is the first line of shelter!  I'll make sure to carry or wear something to get me through the coldest part of the trip.

Let the dog-piling on me begin! blush grin

Well okay, I will pile on.  Get a spare.  Take a course in where not to drive a car.  Pick a new partner (let's see, my truck is broke, we can take your car and see a nice view.  It is a good road.).  Always leave with all gear checked and working.  When arranging meetings with relatives of friends make sure the relative can tell you where they are going to go and then ask them to tell you the routes they will take.  Okay, it all worked out.

I am curious about what kind of phone you used at the hatchery.  A land line?

In your favor you were not lost, you didn't die of exposure, no bears attacked and ate one of you, and you got home. 

By the way you can drive a long way on a flat tire before it really becomes as issue.  After the tire falls off the rim it actually goes pretty well.  If your car is front wheel drive put the tire on the back, if rear wheel drive I don't know where to put it.  You do have a lug wrench to change the tire don't you?

Glad it worked out for you.  It is probably a good learning experience and remember your mistakes.  I don't seem to remember mine and make them over and over.

Old Philosopher:
My last break down was a lot less dramatic.  A friend and I had his p/u loaded to the gills with lodgepole pine poles when his axle gave out.  We were about 15 miles up a logging road from the nearest pavement.  There was no option nor purpose to be served by hunkering down, so we took off cross-country, straight down the mountain toward that paved road.
Five mile of brush-whackin' through 3' snow drifts and we made the road after fording a  small creek.  G.I. parka and mukluks were my best friends that day!
We flagged down a logging truck who radioed my friend's dad who met us half way to town (another 20 miles).  I got off easy on this trip. I spent the next day thawing out by my wood stove while my buddy and his dad were up putting a new axle in his truck, half way up the mountain in 2 feet of snow. :-\

Thank you for sharing your story, Phaedrus.  It's useful to learn from others' experiences.

- Woodsorrel

Well, I can't blame my buddy.  He didn't know I didn't have a spare (and I had forgotten myself that the car didn't come with one).  It seems like when bad situations arise it's rarely one big catastrophe but rather a series of small missteps and errors that pile up til things go haywire.  The situation never got truly out of control but the Idaho wilderness is not a place to take stuff or granted or to become complacent.  Certainly I've learned to be a bit more careful!


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