Preparing for the Unexpected

Grab your bear can or camp chair, kick your feet up and chew the fat about anything Sierra Nevada related that doesn't quite fit in any of the other forums. Within reason, (and the HST rules and guidelines) this is also an anything goes forum. Tell stories, discuss wilderness issues, music, or whatever else the High Sierra stirs up in your mind.
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bobby49
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Re: Preparing for the Unexpected

Post by bobby49 » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:52 pm

I took my first Red Cross first aid class forty years ago, and it was oriented toward Sierra Club leaders, so it was very much outdoor oriented (not like today's class for what to do before you dial 911). Within this class, they showed us a short movie film entitled By Nature's Ways, and it had a very good message. In the movie, a backpacking group packs up and starts out on their trail in nice weather. Eventually they get stormed on, and the gung-ho leader kept trying to push on ahead without donning sufficient storm gear. As a result, he gets hypothermic which leads to judgment errors and worse. Somebody else takes over the leader role, saves the hypothermic leader, and straightens the whole group out. That movie had such an important message that it was indelibly etched into my brain, and I still recall it after forty years.








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SSSdave
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Re: Preparing for the Unexpected

Post by SSSdave » Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:43 am

A hypothetical example of how not planning versus planning can make a difference using the example I mentioned of falling into a cold stream with gear.

Of course that is a real life threat even if one does not drown if say one falls in close to night fall when nights temperatures will get below 40 degrees that is not too uncommon at all in the Sierra especially in May June and September.

Scenario is it is late in the day, one has been hiking for hours and one is faced with a difficult stream crossing of cold water.
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>>>The wise person will camp before the crossing and try the crossing early next morning when they have a full day to recover and dry out gear if they fall in.

###The Homer Simpson will not consider the advantage of putting it off till the next morning and try crossing. If they fall in, then they may discover and start to think of why they are in such a bad situation.

###Their clothing and gear is wet including tent and sleeping bag. It takes just seconds once submerged for water to get into a down bag and all one's clothing. Then what do I do?

>>> The wise person that knew a tough crossing was on the itinerary might have bought a waterproof stuff sack to considerably reduce the rate at which water could get into their sleeping bag.

### They think about rounding up some wood and starting a fire but each one of their 3 butane lighters is wet and cannot generate a spark to make a flame. If they had considered that result before hand they would have put a lighter or matches in a waterproof container.

###And they have no other back up fire starters? Oh wait maybe he does and its one of those magnesium blocks plus a small flint stone. Its been in his packs 5 years but gee no longer have the directions! What am I supposed to do? Sure is getting cold.

>>>Well in this era even if he never tried it out that is the smartest action because one's brain would then recall what to do best, he might have at least watched one of any youtube demos like:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yUblZC2eC0

###It's getting dark, I could sure use a fire starter? My maps and all are all wet and stuck together.

>>>Well if you had extra ZipLock bags, you might have put your paper maps and your wilderness permit and whatever other paper stuff inside those bags before trying the stream crossing so you could use them to start a fire.

###It sure would be nice to eat some hot food like soup. But oops the stoves all wet but worse no fire starter to light it.

>>>Good practice to always store that stove part in a large ZipLock bag.

###Ok, how can I stay warm with wet clothes during a cold night? Where is the best place to do so? I'm down at the bottom of a canyon along the river. Guess I'll just stay here and walk around wearing my pack. DUH!

>>>Take non cotton clothing items you might wear wet out and rapidly wring the water out of them as best one can then change into those clothes and wring out what you were wearing including your socks. Duct tape your wet butane lighters to the outside of your pack while you move so they can better dry out. Start hiking up a canyon wall on a trail or where possible where their is forest above to get at least a few hundred feet higher. That will help generate body heat to dry out faster. Additionally it won't be as cold as the canyon floor from sumping cold air night flows down along canyon bottoms. That is a reason deer bed down up on slopes.

>>> Getting in your down sleeping bag will only make you colder and will take a lot of hours in warm sun to dry out if at all. It is heavy dead weight. Locate a protected clump of trees out of breezes where one can bed down against the insulating and dry crotch of trees like hemlock or a deep pine needle bed. Might put your rain suit on top of whatever other clothes. Get in your tent with as much wool or synthetic clothing next to your skin and your foam pad and whatever for insulation. Put some clothing over your head too where much heat can escape.

Of course a lot more. The above is just a short brainstorming session like I've had over the years about what ifs. By thinking and planning these things out beforehand, survival chances can rise significantly. As I mentioned, the backcountry is no place for the Homer Simpsons.

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Re: Preparing for the Unexpected

Post by mrphil » Fri Jul 20, 2018 7:06 am

Hillhikerz wrote:"ability to stay calm and process the situation " - how does one learn this on there own
That's hard to say, because everyone is different. Some will live by their decisions, some will die.

I'll give you a fairly recent example:

I'm in Sonoma County. I'm sure you know about our fires back in Oct. Lots of lessons have come out of this in what to do and what not to do.

First, mistake or not, they didn't send out official alerts. The rationale was that too many people fleeing would cause a panic and overload the roadways. It was mistakenly believed that all alerts would be county-wide and couldn't be selectively targeted to areas of imminent danger. Had people all moved at once, it would've been chaos, and I know people that were in imminent evacuation areas and had to run for their lives while stuck in traffic. Some people woke up to their houses burning or about to, others had time or didn't need to move at all. Fear and panic set in, many moved for the sake of moving out of fear of the unknown and massively unfamiliar circumstances, and it wasn't what they did to assess their own particular situation, it was that they fell prey to mass-hysteria. I think this is also what drives lost people to keep moving when they're lost, only to get more lost in the process, instead of sitting tight if they're otherwise safe where they are.

That brings me to the second point of my experience, a more personal one:

On the morning of Oct 8th, I received a frantic call at about 4:30 am from my girlfriend who lives in Santa Rosa, over 25 miles south of where I do. I had no idea what was going on in the big scope of things. She was literally freaking out...dead, paralytic panic. She was right at the eastern edge of the Tubbs fire, and smoke was thick. Bad and frightening in and of itself, but no imminent danger. Her power was still on, she obviously had phone service, no flames. By this time, web-based emergency alerts of just about every type were posting and being updated every two minutes. I logged on and pulled up her neighborhood on the map. The roads between our houses were all closed, including Hwy 101, and even if I wanted to get there to help her, it would've taken me over two hours to get there by circumventing those closures. It wasn't an option if she needed to move and move fast. I asked her to do several things: 1) go out her front door and see if she saw flames, 2) pull her car out of the garage, 3) get some things together. She was unable to do any of them...things she had to do, because her mind wouldn't let her. She had effectively shut down. I continued monitoring the situation from over 25 miles away, and I had a better grasp of what she was facing than she did being there. Seeing what I did, I tried to assure her that she was fine for the time being and had plenty of time to prepare and evacuate if it came to that, but advised her that she was better off just sitting tight. I wasn't there, but I was on it for her benefit. I was her only rational resource, and I was doing nothing more than trying to help her. In return, she turned on me hard and began screaming at me and told me "you don't know what the #$%@ you're talking about". I told her that she was there but, sadly, she knew even less than I did." She made me the enemy. Boom! Brain down, primary resource other than herself nullified. At that point, beyond finding the ability to redirect her fears into viable actions, now coupled with her need to vilify and scapegoat me as part of that entirely misguided manifestation of her paralytic fear, her two biggest, immediate concerns were: what clothes she should wear, and the fact that she only had one cat carrier and two cats, and neither of them wanted to be put in the carrier. I told her that she just needed to grab a few days worth of clothing (any clothing) and medications, her important papers, and if needed, punch the cats in the head and stuff them in the damned box. She again got mad and told me I was mean for telling her to punch the cats, to which I replied, "Then decide which one is going to die, or die yourself trying to wrangle them." Really, if you can't even do the most basic things to save your life, even to just take a deep breath and evaluate your situation for your own sake, I don't know what else to say to help you. You'll die, I'll be sad, but I'll also live to be sad, and you've left none of us any other options. Panic and freak out enough, and you become your own worst enemy. Think, and your chances of survival go up exponentially right there. Make your situation worse by not calming yourself, thinking through and processing the steps needed and possible consequences of your actions, well, you take your best bet (your rational brain), and it works against you every time. The greatest asset you have becomes your greatest liability because you've lost or failed to control it for your own benefit....your brain's primary function for all thoughts, actions, and biological functions...survival. And people all hate to hear the phrase "get over it", it sounds dismissive, and it's not what they might like, but what choice do you have left? Not to? That's actually all you can do. It's all you have left if you want something better to come out of it, and it's not a gentle, PC, feel-good, sympathetic proposition...have your moment, then make your best move or die, but jeez, at least try.

One other thing is relevant coming out of the fires: I live in the country out 2 miles of dirt road that runs through some rugged terrain. We have neighbors, and talk has turned to emergency evacuation planning. We're 75 years overdue for a major burn according to Cal Fire. Everyone has set up defensible spaces around their houses, and then some. But for some reason, everyone is fixated on getting in their cars while the flames are raging, and driving through unpredictable conditions in that rugged terrain. I don't get it. By all means, let's stack those variables up and hope they all work out in our favor. Of course no one wants to burn, but their perceived solution is much more likely to cause their death than hunkering down with a known set of conditions in an area set up to prevent what they're afraid of to begin with. In my case, and as I've advised them all, man the hose and defend your space the best you can, and if it overtakes you, jump in the pool and ride it out in a big body of water. I find that far preferable to being pinned in by burning trees across the road while the flames race uphill towards me, and dying in the car. And when you think about it in terms of how most wildland firefighters die, this is exactly how it goes...they got into it out of necessity (in their case, it's their job, not a foolish choice), they get surrounded, they have nowhere to go....

Finally, and this is probably the most glaring example of poor thinking I remember, there was a case years ago up west of Grants Pass, Oregon wherein a man died by wandering off for help, while his wife and children who stayed at the car lived. He had watched some TV show that said that you could usually follow river drainages to eventual civilization and help, so he takes off down the hill and freezes to death. Had he thought clearly and taken stock of his resources at hand, he would have realized that his greatest asset and chance for rescue was the road that he had just driven in on. I mean, who does that? How does that not register? Even animals will walk the roads and trails instead of bushwhacking it.

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mrphil
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Re: Preparing for the Unexpected

Post by mrphil » Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:52 pm

And, in terms of teachable skills in both techniques and learning to cope with things going wrong mentally, tell the people in your classes to put themselves into the situation under controlled conditions. The people posting here that have said that they've learned the most by doing have it entirely right.

Go get lost: depending on your physical limitations, find an area of whatever size in which to do it safely that's fully boxed in by roads, major trails, towns...wander off. Be where you aren't comfortable or know where you are. This is also true of map and compass skills and then backtesting with your GPS and seeing where you thought you were vs where you end up. You're entirely safe overall, but there's that moment of realization that you have no idea where you are, and that's unsettling enough to at least give you an introduction to the experience of that moment. Sit with it, come to grips with it, deal with it, move on with it, but just feel it.

Go out with broken gear, no gear, wet gear... Same safe and escapable environmental conditions, but force yourself to think about your possible solutions, test them systematically, and solve them the best you can. Do it until you figure it out and get it right. Evaluate in hindsight. How many improvised shelters and sticks for traction devices have saved lives by doing it this way?...I froze my butt off last night, and I have no intention of doing it again tonight. Heck, even have your significant other soak you and everything you own that's on your back with the hose and lock you outside in the yard some night to see what happens and how you deal with it. Cry and beg all you want, but try to see what works and doesn't logistically while you wrap your mind around it and the fact that he/she is probably really enjoying watching you suffer, but that it's you that has to solve your own problems.

Really, this kind of stuff is good for you if it's not something that'll actually kill you. And it's really just an advanced version of advice like knowing how to use your stove, water filter, set up your tent, or even knowing if you like Chili Mac with beef, before you actually have to go out and do it for real and find out the hard way. Your mind is a tool. Use it like the rest of them, because it's the one that matters most in mastering when things go wrong.

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Re: Preparing for the Unexpected

Post by rlown » Fri Jul 20, 2018 2:33 pm

I've been lost plenty. Once was NE of Shasta at the day before deer season opened. I wen't squirrel hunting, and the fog dropped in. All I had was a .22, a knife, and bic lighter. As night approached, I found a nice log under a tree and set up a fire in front and gathered plenty of wood. Cut wood boughs as a bed next to the log and the fire 3' in front of that. Stoked it all night but I stayed warm. If I started to get cold, I'd stoke it again.

As stated before, never panic.

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Re: Preparing for the Unexpected

Post by bobby49 » Fri Jul 20, 2018 4:59 pm

A friend of mine was teaching an advanced first aid class to a bunch of Sierra Club leaders. Inside the classroom, he explained that he was going to take each individual student outside into the courtyard, and there would be a pretend accident victim. Each student needed to do whatever was necessary to assess and care for the victim. All of the students had studied hard, so they felt like they were ready for this, and each one had a first aid kit. As each student was led outside to the victim, they made a discovery. There was another instructor up on the roof of the building with a garden hose simulating a rain storm on the victim. Obviously the students weren't expecting that, so they had to dash around to find some rain cover for the victim before they could even begin the simulated treatment. That sounded like good training.

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