Forum Index » General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion » How stupid is it to go into the wilderness without a shelter or survival skills?


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Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 18:36:29 MDT Print View

Interesting, the WMI signs/symptoms of mild hypothermia sound exactly like the after effects of a typical morning of winter surfing, though many would argue that the "mild stupidity" starts before we even get into the water.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Totally dude on 05/28/2013 19:20:21 MDT Print View

Totally dude.

Edited by bestbuilder on 05/28/2013 19:20:54 MDT.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 19:23:01 MDT Print View

""mild stupidity" starts before we even get into the water."

Mild?

Eric Eichelberger
(blatargh) - F

Locale: Northcoast
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 19:41:17 MDT Print View

" What you posted says the same thing I did."


In the spirit of " I did not have sexual relations with that woman", I hereby concede.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 20:35:04 MDT Print View

"I gave factual information. It comes from the Wilderness Medicine Institute/NOLS and Rescue 6 International (whitewater/swiftwater rescue trainers). What you posted says the same thing I did."

I think you may be missing the main two points here. While the data you are talking about are starting from zero, as it were, and not for someone who may have spent the last 10 hours heavily exerting himself in cold, possibly damp conditions. In such a case the time might reasonably be expected to be much less at that point if you suddenly get soaked. But the speed isn't really the primary issue. The issue is more like the speed you recognized you are in trouble and start to do something about it, as well as whether you have given yourselves viable options once you reach that point.

Point #1 is that it can sneak up on you over hours, and if it is gradual even more experienced people, especially those that think they are tough, and MOST especially those who have never actually gotten to the brink themselves and therefore may not recognize some critical point has been reached, can find themselves suddenly at or beyond a critical point. The point is not really at all about how fast it can happen, but about how fast you can pass the barrier between thinking you are can handle the cold and where you body and brain response start to degrade and some people might (emphasis on the might) reach a point of negative feedback. In that situation things can potentially get dangerous very fast.

Point#2 (sorry for the reiteration) is that people with less experience are MORE likely both to to reach this point and go beyond it without taking action, and are MORE likely to have few options once the point is reached.

Do I think it is "likely". No. In fact I think most people would probably start heading back when they merely experienced "discomfort" and not because they were rightly worried about hypothermia. I think the analogy of Russian Roulette with only one bullet a previous poster made is apt, and I don't know how many empty chambers are in this metaphorical gun, perhaps quite a few. But under those circumstances the options become more limited - for example, you start getting really cold, and you head in, but then maybe you twist or break an ankle because you are shaking (or just because of dumb luck) and now you can't move fast enough anymore, either to maintain core temperature, or to get back to safety. You would have had a viable option for all of this but now a relatively manageable situation becomes one of life and death in an instant.

But the absolute proof for anyone that thinks the risk is negligible is that it does happen, all the time, and people die. It is not "likely", but is happens, especially among exactly the kinds of folks mentioned by the OP. Since it does happen perhaps arguing about how likely it would be to happen is a bit beside the main point - especially if it is your family you are worried about.

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
How stupid is it to go into the wilderness without a shelter or survival skills? on 05/28/2013 21:25:16 MDT Print View

If they are fit enough they could have hiked out if the weather turned bad,
IF they had a light that would last long enough and IF they did not get lost.
I'll bet they didn't carry lights either.
I've done the equivalent: check the weather forecast and if it looked good leave the tent behind. But, even when I was young and stupid I'd bring some plastic drop cloth to cover myself; in a driving rain I would have gotten damp and probably cold and miserable, but wouldn't have gotten soaked or dead.

A couple of nights ago it got to 33F (0C) here with rain and wind. Somebody coming from Boston or Providence would have expected temps more like 45F to 50F. Would they have survived without shelter? Maybe. Personally, I don't like the thought of just MAYBE living till morning.

Susan Papuga
(veganaloha) - M

Locale: USA
Re: Re: How stupid is it to go into the wilderness without a shelter or survival skills? on 05/29/2013 00:30:50 MDT Print View

"What a couple of maroons we were! Very, very lucky maroons. Ah, those were the days."

Who doesn't love a good "maroon!"

+1 on lead by example. Nobody likes being chastized. OP didn't say if they were relatives or not, but, if so, any existing relationship and communcation styles would have to be taken into account. I always find it easier to try and be helpful by asking if somebody who is new to something would like me to share an easier/more efficient way of doing something with them rather than just lecturing.

Also, we've all probably done something stupid or "maroonic" over the years as we've gained knowledge and skills.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: How stupid is it to go into the wilderness without a shelter or survival skills? on 05/29/2013 02:08:51 MDT Print View

Walter wrote, "If they are fit enough they could have hiked out if the weather turned bad,
IF they had a light that would last long enough and IF they did not get lost.
I'll bet they didn't carry lights either."

Or do something stupid because your thinking was muddled by the cold. This is where people walk off cliffs or simply turn an ankle due to reduced coordination. Or whack themselves with a hatchet ;)

It's always a chain of small mistakes that snowball into a life threatening mess.

Here's a classic and the victim was a State Patrolman, a former Marine and Special Forces soldier. One calamity compounded with another.

Trooper lost in North Cascades admits he shouldn't have hiked alone
By Eric Stevick, Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE -- Daniel Anderson knows he made a mistake.

The Washington State Patrol trooper readily acknowledges he shouldn't have headed out for a solitary trek across the North Cascades east of Darrington.

Anderson, 46, was rescued late Tuesday night along the Suiattle River Trail by search-and-rescue volunteers on horseback. He'd been in trouble since Sunday. He was cold and tired and fearing a third night in a wet sleeping bag without a tent.

"I feel culpable for going alone," Anderson said Wednesday afternoon.

His sense of adventure and love of nature got the best of him, luring him onto the remote and scenic stretch.

Anderson was trying to hike across the mountains from west to east, with his planned destination Holden Village near Stehekin in Chelan County.

Much went wrong after he made the planned decision to press on deeper into the mountains after leaving behind friends who had biked and hiked with him.

On Sunday, Anderson was on snowshoes, heading over Suiattle Pass. He took a few spills in the rugged terrain. He somehow lost his tent. He didn't realize it was gone until he stopped to camp for the night.

"It was snowing," he recounted. "I knew I had an emergency situation."

He used a beacon signal to send an emergency message that would alert others to his whereabouts. A backup GPS application in his cellphone didn't work.

The batteries in the beacon signal device soon began to run out of juice.

It was enough: a Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue team as well as one from Chelan County soon began to mobilize.

Under tree cover at about 4,900 feet, Anderson made a lean-to against a boulder and spent the night.

The next morning the ex-Marine and former Special Forces soldier made a decision. He would keep moving to stay warm.

"At that point, in my mind, the fuse was lit in terms of hypothermia," he said.

The conditions had deteriorated, too. Once-crunchy snow became as loose as sugar. He had to fight his way through it.

"My success was measured in tens of feet," he said.

Anderson blamed himself but refused to let his predicament get the better of him.

"I chose this," he told himself.

He also repeated a State Patrol mantra: "I will not quit. I will not die. I will survive."

He thought about his boys, ages 12 and 8, and how he wanted to see them.

On Tuesday, he could only watch as a search and rescue helicopter flew overhead without spotting him. He wasn't able to signal.

It was confirmation that people were looking for him, and also a lesson that he should have packed a flare.

Anderson managed to work his way back to the trail leading toward Darrington. He was walking down the path around 9 p.m. Tuesday when he met up with a search and rescue team on horseback. They were about 35 miles from a main road.

Anderson said he yelled: "Are you looking for me?"

Anderson rode out on horseback to the trailhead where he was given an ATV ride to a point where he could finally hop into a car for the drive to Darrington. He made the final leg of his journey in a car driven by a State Patrol captain.

Humble and grateful, Anderson expressed his debt to the more than two dozen search and rescue professionals and volunteers who scoured the backcountry.

Oyvind Henningsen, a member of the Everett Mountain Rescue organization, was one of those volunteers.

"This is a great outcome," he said. "It was a prolonged effort by multiple agencies, spanning multiple counties using multiple types of resources."

Bill Quistorf, pilot of the Snohomish County Search and Rescue helicopter, danced around challenging weather conditions to make nine flights over two days.

The helicopter team was able to find Anderson's tracks by homing in on the location where his beacon briefly signaled.

"That was our goal, to get to those coordinates and to get him out of there," he said. "We were happy. We wanted to see his tent."

By the time the helicopter reached that location, however, Anderson had already moved on.

Searchers on Tuesday followed Anderson's snowshoe tracks at the 4,000-foot level for a while near Miners Creek.

Rescuers made it to the 3,900-foot level where rain had washed out tracks in wet snow. That trail disappeared near a steep ravine that searchers described as rugged, icy and slippery.

Quistorf guided one group of searchers to Anderson's snowshoe tracks. They had earlier encountered cougar tracks.

Anderson said he is thankful to those who helped him in his time of need.

"A lot of people put themselves in harm's way for me," he said.

A few minutes later, he expressed his appreciation in a different way.

"I'm grateful we live in a place where life is valued," he said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: WNC
Re: How stupid is it to go into the wilderness without a shelter or survival skills? on 05/29/2013 06:12:00 MDT Print View

Going back to the OP-

"But if the weather turned they would get hypothermia and die. It's really that straight forward. You get wet and you die."

That's a completely untrue statement. Period. Even in the context of going out in to the wilderness without shelter, it's false. That's where all the hypothermia discussion stemmed from. Hypothermia is rarely ruled a cause of death. It might be an attributing factor, but people rarely die directly from it. In the case of immersion, you'll die of drowning before hypothermia. I know, that's getting technical about it, but facts are facts. I wonder how many people on here know that you can develop hypothermia without exposure to water, wind, or cold....

"They have no survival skills."

I think you mean they have no survival training. There's a huge difference. If it starts raining, and it's cold, the first thing any sane (of course you never said if they were sane or not) human being is going to do is find shelter. I'm not that familiar with the Sierra, so I'm assuming (bad on me, I know) they were below tree line and in an area where trees exist.

"They went 10 miles into the woods with just sleeping pads and sleeping bags. No shelter.

They slept on the ground."

Did they sleep on the pads? Or directly on the ground?



So, yes, I'd say this is a case of overreacting, both with the OP and most of the replies. Hard to draw a reasonable conclusion and offer sound advice without all of the facts being presented.

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: Re: How stupid is it to go into the wilderness without a shelter or survival skills? on 05/29/2013 06:19:55 MDT Print View

"Hard to draw a reasonable conclusion and offer sound advice without all of the facts being presented."

+1 This is why I asked some still unanswered questions about what they had with them.

The OP's style is always on the overreacting/excitable. Like he's set to 11 all the time.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
People over-react and under-react to potential dangers on 05/29/2013 07:40:50 MDT Print View

Untrue: "But if the weather turned they would get hypothermia and die. It's really that straight forward. You get wet and you die." They might not get hypothermia. They probably wouldn't die but it's far from impossible.

Hypothermia is rarely ruled a cause of death. It might be an attributing factor, but people rarely die directly from it.

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5308a2.htm
During 2001, a total of 599 persons in the United States (2) died from "exposure to excessive natural cold.

I showed in a prior link where the guy tallied up backcountry deaths and, by my reading, hypothermia was the #2 killer in the backcountry. For every person that dies there are many expensive rescues. For every expensive rescue there is someone that wishes they had been better prepared for the weather. And hypothermia definitely causes deaths indirectly by effecting people's judgment or coordination causing death or injury in some other way.

If it starts raining, and it's cold, the first thing any sane... human being is going to do is find shelter. A common (if not standard) reaction for inexperienced people if it starts raining at night and they're exposed to the elements is #1, not notice at first, and #2 burrow deeper into their sleeping bags hoping it will stop. #3 after they are starting to feel wet and/or cold, look for shelter. In this case it would be ten miles from the road, in the dark, wet, cold and inexperienced. That's not a good position to be in.

So yes, the OP probably over-reacted which will likely make his message less effective, but he's right that the shelter-less duo took an unnecessary and significant risk.

Edited by Colter on 05/29/2013 08:04:00 MDT.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: WNC
Re: People over-react and under-react to potential dangers on 05/29/2013 08:18:56 MDT Print View

Well, you're assuming "exposure" means hypothermia. It could mean frostbite, etc. I also don't think a coroner is going to generally rule "exposure to cold" as a cause of death. That exposure to cold is going to cause cardiac arrest, asphyxiation, etc. that would be the cause of death. So yes, hypothermia is certainly contributing. We agree there.

Ex. If you get the umbles and stumble off a cliff and break your neck. Did you die from hypothermia or a broken neck?

"In this case it would be ten miles from the road, in the dark, wet, cold and inexperienced. "

Another assumption. There could've been plenty of natural shelter nearby (large trees, overhanging rocks, caves, etc.). We don't know based on what we were told.

Edited by simplespirit on 05/29/2013 08:34:46 MDT.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: People over-react and under-react to potential dangers on 05/29/2013 08:44:05 MDT Print View

Slightly off track, but just read this today and though people on thread might find this interesting. Study looking at Hikers in Whites and the Ten Essentials.

--mark

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: Re: People over-react and under-react to potential dangers on 05/29/2013 09:23:33 MDT Print View

Chris said Well, you're assuming "exposure" means hypothermia. My quote is from a CDC paper entitled "Hypothermia-Related Deaths" which says a total of 599 persons in the United States (2) died from "exposure to excessive natural cold" so I'll let people judge for themselves.

There could've been plenty of natural shelter nearby (large trees, overhanging rocks, caves, etc.). And there could have been none. Even if there was a perfect cave 10 miles in the smart thing to do would have been to carry some sort of shelter. Plans and weather change. Stuff happens. In remote country a shelter is just about the most basic and sensible of safety precautions.

That exposure to cold is going to cause cardiac arrest, asphyxiation, etc. that would be the cause of death. So yes, hypothermia is certainly contributing. If someone gets so cold their heart stops I think hypothermia is more than a contributing cause.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Re: People over-react and under-react to potential dangers on 05/29/2013 09:26:20 MDT Print View

Yes, there is a bit of hyperbole in the OPs post, but I interpreted that as a natural counter-reaction to the attitudes of the people in question. Also I thought it was plenty clear enough - 2 family members, female 28 and 40, went into the sierra, apparently without him so all the lectures on leading by example may not apply here, 10 miles from the road at 8000 feet with NO SHELTER of any kind with the intent of staying overnight. One down and one synthetic bag. They were inexperienced and based their choices only on a weather report that said there would be "no rain". That is fine all by itself since if we assume they carried everything else there is still a pretty easy route for them to get in trouble. Is it likely? NO. Would they probably make it out even if the worst happened? Yes. But it is still inadvisable for reason that, it seems clear, the people in question neither understood, nor were prepared for the actual condition that could easily arise. End of story.

I think it is ingenuous to ask if there was a large tree nearby, a cave and so on. Also I don't think whether they carried a pad matters, except to fine-tune how bad it could be. These are irrelevant details. It would be easy to assume that since they were relying on "no rain" they would also leave behind any real rain gear, and I think that could seriously effect things. Still I don't need that info for overall advice.

The fact is that the Sierra, in May, at 8000 feet, lows can easily be in the 20's. In spite of over-all weather we know that they might still get rained on for long enough to soak their bags through so that both the down and synthetic bag could become be next to useless, tree or no tree. Given what we DO know, then, it is *easy* to imagine the following scenario: early evening, dark, temps in the 20's, with soaked clothes and bags and possible high winds. Could they huddle against a tree and survive the night? Probably. Is there a route to them dying in this scenario, especially if one or more other things go south, as is more likely given their lack of experience? Absolutely. Do people actually die in these circumstances? It is not "common" or even justifiable, but unfortunately yes, all the time. Again, end of story.

But even leaving the issue of death aside, it would seem clear the folks that did this don't have even the scenario of spending a night in abject misery huddled under a tree below freezing with an unusable bag on the radar, and it should have been. End of story as far as I'm concerned.

My advice to the OP would be to run through this scenario for them without anger, and without being hyperbolic and/or patronizing. Tell then what *could* happen, and tell them what *has* happened to other people in similar conditions. Tell them if they are willing to risk a night of abject misery, then to take a space-blanket as an extra layer of insurance. If they want near certainty of reasonable comfort no matter what, then tell them to take a light tarp between them, and rain jackets. Loan them yours. Possibly just planting the idea that the worst-case scenario is worse than they imagine will make the difference. Then let them do what they want - I never thought forcing them not to go was even a possibility. I would advice you to tell them you think the minimum to insure reasonable comfort would be totally waterproof protection for their stored bag, waterproof ground sheet, small tarp or poncho, and a pad. The tarp and rain jacket will help in the case of cold winds regardless. It they are prepared to make it *though* a 30-60 min localized shower without having their bag and clothes soaked, and to sleep on damp ground, then they will be fine.

But by all means, you guys go on arguing about the the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

Edited by millonas on 05/29/2013 09:49:32 MDT.

Daniel Fish
(daniel@fishfamilypdx.com)

Locale: PDX
... on 05/29/2013 09:44:51 MDT Print View

...

Edited by daniel@fishfamilypdx.com on 06/08/2013 19:01:34 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: lack of preparedness on 05/29/2013 10:20:11 MDT Print View

That news story on essentials isn't off track. It shows the mindset and it's just basic preparedness---- the lack of it that is.

One of the core principles of UL hiking is to take only what you will use and that does conflict with some of the ten essentials mindset, but mostly with rain gear, knife, navigation, and first aid. In many cases these items aren't compltetely eliminated from UL gear list, but they are often represented by examples that aren't fully functional in an emergency. We need to temper the zeal to reduce weight just a bit with essentials. That doesn't mean that you can't seek out light, high performance alternatives. The alternative to a single edge razor blade is not an 8" knife!

Another example comes up on a regular basis, with folk asking if a windshirt can be a replacement for a rain shell. When looking at a spreadsheet, it looks like a great option, lopping off 10-12oz and saving some money and bulk too. It's really the same question as the shelter quandary and the answer is sill no. Continue to look for lighter, high performance models, but don't risk your life, or even your comfort for lack of a DriDucks shell or a poncho.

There is always the rub that these items won't be used. In a perfect world with a trained and experienced hiker, those items may never be used. That is simply a blessing.

As in the case of the lost State Patrolman, a highly trained and experienced hiker can get themselves in a nasty bind and a handful of basic equipment can save a life. A good roaring fire and a space blanket used with a makeshift shelter would have made the situation much better.

Another good example is the story of the injured hiker lost on Mount Hood. She wasn't ambulatory enough to continue to gather firewood. In that case a poncho or a space blanket could have provided more protection. Even if you are injured to the point that you couldn't properly erect a tent or tarp, you could still wrap it around you or simply lie under it. I've sat out some real deluges sitting under a tree with my poncho on. It wasn't a Barcolounger, but it sure beat the cold and wet alternative. I carry a space blanket bivy for exactly that scenario.

I don't recall anyone mentioning it, but all the guys in the OP needed were a couple bivvies. They could still sleep under the stars while having that extra level of protection.

The real thing to grasp is that this is supposed to be recreation. It's not a military campaign, nor a game of UL oneupmanship. A light load can contribute to the comfort and enjoyment of a backcountry journey, but not at risk to your life, or even the prospect of being cold and wet for a night. If you are too cold, too wet, too hungry, or too lost, you are too light!

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F - M
Re: Re: People over-react and under-react to potential dangers on 05/29/2013 12:21:30 MDT Print View

Ex. If you get the umbles and stumble off a cliff and break your neck. Did you die from hypothermia or a broken neck?

it doesnt matter ...

one of the cardinal "rules" of being "safe" (such as they are) is that you must be able to spend the night ... theres a very good chance that any SAR operation will not reach you till morning ... or even after several days

all it takes is some skills and determination .... and a minimal amount of gear

you can spend the night cold OR wet ... but cold AND wet and yr decently effed ...

joggers, hikers, etc ... get rescued here all the time because they got lost, didnt bring the right gear, or simply slipped .... you should to be able to spend the night, assume itll be in the rain ...

people make their own choices ... just do your best not to put others at risk

to the OP ... just buy em an UL helium rain jacket or an emergency 4 oz bivy as a gift

;)

Edited by bearbreeder on 05/29/2013 12:26:35 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: People over-react and under-react to potential dangers on 05/29/2013 12:45:59 MDT Print View

Well said, Eric

So if I write up a plan for an overnighter without a shelter, will you buy me a Helium and a bivy? Won't take me but a couple minutes ;)

Daniel Fish
(daniel@fishfamilypdx.com)

Locale: PDX
... on 05/29/2013 14:12:06 MDT Print View

...

Edited by daniel@fishfamilypdx.com on 06/08/2013 18:58:58 MDT.