Saturday, December 17, 2011

Touching the Void

I often read newspaper articles about wilderness survival situations.  When I see a report on TV about a hiker or adventurer who has gone missing and a search is underway I am sure to keep up with the story until the person is found or the search is called off.  I have also read many wilderness survival related books.  I just recently finished reading  - Touching the Void.  This is a story about Joe Simpson and Simon Yates.  The book is written by Joe Simpson.  It is well written since the story is written based on first hand experience.  The book was also made into a movie and I found that the internet (You Tube) has an 11 part series of videos which gives a good presentation of the story.  While Joe and Simon report that some people are critical of their actions in the story, I am appreciative that they had the fortitude to share their story so that others might learn and benefit from it.  If you don’t like sitting down to read a book, then try to take time to at least watch the story on the internet.

Joe Simpson made a remark toward the end of the book about his experience making the film when he went back to the scene of his survival experience. He commented about a sense of invincibility in the past years.  Elsewhere in the book there were some other comments that were also somewhat supportive of a carefree attitude although Joe and Simon were indeed experienced adventurers.   It is remarkable too that Joe and Simon recognized that their fatal mistake happened before they left their base camp.  A very small piece of equipment would have made all the difference in their story. 

I would encourage reading the story or watching the movie.  The book is not very long but gives remarkable insight to a wilderness survival situation.  Again, I would express my gratitude toward Joe Simpson and Simon Yates for sharing their story. 

Just a very short blog this time.  Happy adventures and happy holidays.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rule 4

My most recent blog discussed survival kits.  The few examples that were given via web links were nothing more then examples and not a particular endorsement of any one particulary type of kit.  Survival kits can be a blog subject easily for a solid year and more.  The examples were only meant to illustrate that kits can easily be homemade, carried and inexpensive.  A person could of course make any number of survival kits with a wide variety of contents.  So be aware that when you make a survival kit, you should by all means taper the kit and the contents to your specific needs and possibilities that may be encountered.  The main point is to have a kit and have it on you when you need it.   Enough said then for now about survival kits.  This will surely be a subject of many future blogs.


I know that there are mixed feeling about this rule in some peoples opinions and I am somewhat (very little actually) sympathetic toward the reasons people give for going out in the wilderness alone.  The fact is however, there is generally safety in numbers and often two heads are better than one.  I know there may be arguments against these statements too, but look at it this way-------------------------

If you were along and injured and dealing with some type of misfortune in the wilderness, you would very likely at that time appreciate that somebody else was there to give you a hand.  Misfortunes and tragedies can happen so easily in the wilderness and even to the most experienced outdoors enthusiast.  Perhaps your buddy happened to pack an item that you did not pack and that one item may make a difference of surviving for your group.  Perhaps your hiking buddy or somebody in your group has a particular skill or experience that may be needed and that you may be lacking or simply not quite as skilled with as your buddy and the level of skill can make a significant difference in survival outcomes.  Keep in mind too that a solo hiker or adventurer is more vulnerable to attacks from predators (human and animal predators).

Here is a little test to consider if you are totally confident that you do not need anybody else to go with you in the wilderness------

Go to the nearest high school track and lay down on the track then drag your body once around the track with your legs as dead weight.  Once around the track (which is generally about ¼ mile) and you will not likely want to keep repeating the experience.  One quarter of a mile is not far at all when you are able to walk but it can be a very unpleasant experience when you are not able to walk or when your walk is painful and causing more damage.  Still think the ¼ mile is not so bad?  Keep in mind the most running tracks are on fairly even ground with somewhat padded material.  This is not the case when you travel one quarter mile in the wilderness.  Still not convinced?  Try doing the one quarter mile on the track in the rain, a blizzard or on a very hot day without drink or warmth available.  Maybe even try it with a backpack on you back.  Chances are that if you are in a real survival situation you will likely be more then one quarter mile away from help.  At times like this it would be in your best interest to have somebody with you who can help. Worse case scenarios have been experienced by all too many people in the wilderness when they go out alone and with no survival kit and get into misfortunate situations.  Remember, when it comes to you vs nature, nature generally has the advantage.  I mentioned in a previous blog the website Hiker Hell .  If you get a chance, take a look at this site and see how many stories you can find in just a few minutes about individuals who went out alone in the wilderness.  These people learned the hard way.  Some of them did not survive the experience.  Don’t let this happen to you.  NEVER, NEVER GO OUT ALONE.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Just suppose for a moment that you (or a family member) became lost or stranded in the wilderness.   If rules 1 and 2 were followed, this should help to boost your morale and to some degree assure you that help is likely on the way.  Even so, it may take some time before help arrives.  Meanwhile, you (or your family member) would greatly benefit by having a survival kit on you.  The kit can provide much needed extra comfort and help increased the odds of being found and not only just surviving but surviving somewhat comfortably.   Before we go any further about survival kits, just a quick reminder about rules 1 and 2.

                        RULE 1.  KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
                        RULE 2.  LET SOMEBODY ELSE KNOW

  Okay, onward and forward with rule 3. ALWAYS KEEP A SURVIVAL KIT ON YOU

So there are lots of questions to ask about survival kits mainly – Should you buy a kit or make a kit?  What items should be in the kit?  For now, the first thing to do is get a paper and something to write with as this blog will introduce some helpful information to get you started.

Ready with your paper?  Now please review the kits on these websites and make a column listing the contents of the kit of the first kit.  When you review the second kit, put a check mark by items already listed and any new items add to the column list.  By the time you have reviewed the following websites you will not only see a variety of kits and sizes of kits but you will readily see items that are repeatedly listed in most of the kits.  This will provide you with a good list for starting your own wilderness survival kit.

Survival Necklace

Survival Necklace

All of the above kits and many, many more which you can find on the internet give great useful information and I think it is wonderful that so many people are willing to share their kit ideas so others can benefit.

Personally, I favor the concept of making your own survival kit rather than buying a kit.  But that is my opinion.  Even a purchased kit is better than no kit at all.   If you are in a real survival situation, something is always better than nothing as far as kits go.   If you look at kits you will soon see that there are kits that can be very expensive and weigh many pounds and there are very compact kits such as the Altoids type of kits.   If nothing else, start with a kit that you can always carry ON YOU.  It will do you no good at all to have a deluxe wilderness survival kit in the trunk of your car when you go on a hike, if you are stranded 10 miles away from the car.  So KEEP THE KIT ON YOU.  This may be a small kit in your pocket, a hiking pole kit, a wilderness survival necklace or wilderness survival hat.  Better yet, why not all of them.  Wilderness survival kits can actually be very inexpensive to make.  This will be the subject of future blogs as well since there is so much to consider when making these kits.  The main point for now is to start making a kit today for yourself and for each member of your family.  Make it a goal to have the kit completed before you go on your next wilderness adventure.  By the way, making the kits is a great family activity or can be a great get together party for you and your outdoor adventure friends. 

Have fun and happy adventures.

- Magpie

Friday, September 30, 2011

RULE 2:  LET SOMEBODY ELSE KNOW  - Before you go on your outing make sure that someone dependable knows where you are going, when you will be back, who you are going with, how you are getting there(your car or a friends car), trails that you plan to hike, food and supplies that you plan to take (enough for two people for 1 week or whatever).  Make sure that they know which authorities to call if you have not returned safely by a specified time (so search and rescue efforts can be started as early as possible).

I remember doing story problems in math classes at school, so here is an interesting wilderness survival story problem.  Johnny left his house two days ago.  He had a sleeping bag, hiking boots and a back pack.  We haven't heard from him, can you find him? This seems like sort of dumb story problem but all too often this is reality.  When people go out on wilderness adventures, whether it be camping, hiking or snowmobiling, and they haven't provided details of when they'll be back, how long they'll be gone, or where they went, then search and rescue efforts are like finding a needle in a haystack - or worse! Actually, the needle is probably easier to find.

There was a book written recently, that was made into a film, which demonstrates this point.  The individual ended up cutting off his own arm in order to survive.  Of course, the biggest problem that I see is that this individual went out alone.  There was some general idea of the area where this person went to but there were simply not enough details to initiate an efficient and quick search and rescue effort.  Just recently another hiker was stranded in the same area.  The hiker was alone, 64 years old and broke a leg.  He was crawling for four days before he was spotted by a search and rescue crew.  Nobody knew for sure where to look,  but there was a general idea (which could mean miles of area to search).   I recently read in the newspaper about another individual who went hiking alone and it was determined that he was to meet up with some friends at a certain location, at a certain time.  When he did not show up they realized fairly soon that something was wrong.  So they contacted the authorities and a search & rescue effort was started.  These scenarios happen all too frequently and a few precautions can greatly aid search and rescue efforts and enhance your probability of being found alive. 

So let's look at a few suggested precautions....

1) Make sure that someone dependable knows where you are going, when you will be back, who you are going with, how you are getting there (your car or a friends car). Actually don't limit yourself to one dependable person.  If that dependable person has some unforeseen event and they're not available it will be all the much better that two or three people know the details.  Don't leave the information simply recorded on a phone.  Write this information down, tell them the information and give them the written information.  Explain that you have confidence in them and that you know that you can depend on them in case you end up in an unforeseen situation. 

Once you have let them know where you are going, don't change your plans at the last minute. If you told your friend that you are going to a certain location in the Everglades [of Florida] and on your way there you decided to go to Disneyworld instead this presents an awkward situation if the search and rescue people are called out to look for you.  If you told your friend that you will be back in three days from your Montana camping spot and you are just really enjoying yourself at the camp and decide stay for four more days which is not part of the plan you may find you have some camp visitors from local search and rescue and sheriff authorities.

It is important to let your dependable person know who you are going with for several reasons.   For example, if you don't return at your scheduled time and your dependable person knows that you went hiking with Tom and Robert, they can try to contact Tom and Robert.  Perhaps you had a change of plans and your friends can let your dependable contact person know of the change in plans, in the event that you failed to inform them of such a change yourself.  Second, knowing who you went with may give search and rescue crews additional information such as a friend who has a particular medical condition or knowing that certain members of your group have some degree of wilderness survival skills.

Knowing about your mode of transportation used to your destination can also be a great aid in knowing how to find you (and your party).  For example, if you are going to a fishing spot that is one hundred miles away, it would be very helpful to know if you went there by car or an airplane.  If your friend has a small airplane and you all decided to fly to this fishing spot there is usually a flight plan or some type of communication that would help in search and rescue efforts.  If you are traveling by car, it helps to know whose vehicle because the type of vehicle may be suitable for certain terrains or not, which may indicate where the vehicle may be stuck.  Lastly, make sure that your dependable person has a good description of the vehicle (plane, boat, etc.) as this information can be useful for search and rescue efforts.

2) The information you provide, to your dependable person, should include trails that you plan to hike, food and supplies that you plan to take (enough for two people for 1 week or whatever).  If you tell your dependable person that you are planning to hike Shady Pine Trail than make sure that's the trail you hike on.  Similarly, if you tell them that you plan to fish on Blue Reservoir then that is where you go.  If you can be more specific, like say the east side of Blue Reservoir, that will narrow down the area for search and rescue parties to explore.  Next, if your dependable person knows what type of food and supplies  you took with you this will give some kind of an idea to search and rescue efforts as to how long you could reasonably not be in a severe situation.  For example, if you took enough food for three days and search and rescue efforts have not found you in four days, the rescuers know that the situation has become more severe.  Or if you took a summer tent and there has been an unforeseeable freak snow blizzard the search and rescue parties know that you have shelter but not adequate for the situation.

3) Make sure that your dependable person knows which authorities to call if you have not returned safely by a specified time (so search and rescue efforts can be started as early as possible).  Basically what you have done if you follow these steps is you've placed the value of your life into the hands of a person that you consider dependable.  You owe it to honor that person with respect.   So stick with the plan that you gave to your dependable person.  It would be, at the very least, an embarrassment to you and your dependable person if something went wrong and you had not stuck with the plan and at the worst it could be a life threatening situation which could have been avoided had you stuck with the plan.

What happens if an incident occurs that makes you detour from your original path, plan or trail?  For instance, you had to leave the trail because of a wild animal encounter.  You couldn't find your way back to the trail.  Knowing simple trail signs, which can be done with rocks and sticks, could also be very helpful for search and rescue efforts.  Even though you are already off from the trail where the search and rescue parties would be looking they will likely spread out to a point that they may find some of the trail signs that you have made.  In the mean time, if possible stay put until search and rescue find.

Check out   for an example of trail signs that can be useful.


Sunday, August 28, 2011


Last month I indicated that I would elaborate about rules 1 and 2 on my next blogs.  These are very important rules to follow and should always be part of your outdoor activity preparations.  As such, I have decided to blog about these rules separately.  This blog is dedicated to Rule 1: Know Before You Go. 

RULE 1:  KNOW BEFORE YOU GO -  Get as much details about the area you plan to visit before you leave home.  IE: terrain, climate, animals, plants, maps, seasonal details, current weather conditions, possible risks, recommended equipment for your activity.  It is always a good idea to contact local authorities such as park rangers or foresters to advise them of your plans and get any feedback or pointers they would offer.

Before you pack gear for your activity, it helps to know as much as possible about your destination.  By destination, I mean both the main destination and the means of getting there.   Knowing details about the environment can be a great aid as to what should be packed and what can be left behind.  Lots of destinations provide free pamphlets, toll free phone numbers or even very helpful information on the Internet.  Of course if you know somebody who has recently been to your planned destination you can ask them questions about their experience also.  Somebody who went to your planned destination 20 years ago may provide some helpful information but lots of things change in 20 years so be careful about using information from an experience 20 years ago.   

Another very good source of information which should be included with your preparation and which enhances your overall experience is to chat with the locals.  Perhaps you are in the vicinity of your destination and you have already contacted a park ranger or did some reading about your destination and as you arrive you may be stopping for gas or a bite to eat before starting on your hike or camping trip.  Take time to ask questions to the local people as often they may be aware of recent situations or developments which may help make your trip more enjoyable.  For instance, if you plan on doing a jeep tour and after 200 miles you are to reach a beautiful camping spot but you learn from the locals that the camping spot was destroyed the night before in a fire or a flood; then you have saved yourself from a lot of inconvenience.  Sometimes the locals can even provide information about special deals that can save you money.

So lets consider a few things to know about before you go--------------------------------------

TERRAIN:  Will you be in a sandy or rocky area,  wet or dry area, steep hills or gentle slopes, lots of water, will the water be - streams, rivers, lakes or ponds, well vegetated area or lacking in vegetation, are there services available such as gas, stores, phone or food within the area you will be visiting?  If you know what kind of terrain you will be traveling, this can make a huge difference of knowing that you have a vehicle that can handle such terrain or if your medical condition and equipment are suitable for the terrain.

CLIMATE:  Will you be visiting an area with a rapidly changing climate, a seasonal changing climate or a consistent year around climate?

ANIMALS:  Will there be lots of wildlife to view?  Is there dangerous wildlife in the area or recent posted warnings? Do you know what to do if you come across wildlife-for instance, a bear, a cougar, a snake?

PLANTS:  Are there plants that you should learn about which can be used for food, medicine or just something pretty for pictures?  If you enjoy eating wild edible plants have certain areas been sprayed recently with insecticides?  Caution-if you are going to use plants, know your plants very well before touching or consuming them.  Some plants are poisonous and some can be irritants.  In fact, some plants have poisonous look-a-likes.  If you are not absolutely sure, leave it alone.

MAPS:  Do you have a current map of the area to be visited?  Do you understand how to use a map and compass?  Perhaps part of knowing before you go may include taking a map and compass class.

SEASONAL DETAILS:  Are you visiting an area at the peak of tourist season or if you run into trouble is there slim chance that you will find any help?  Does the area you plan to visit have flash floods, avalanches at the time you plan to visit?  Is it mating season for certain animals which may not take kindly to human visitors?  If you planned on getting certain supplies from a trading post in the area - is the trading post open when you plan to visit?

CURRENT WEATHER CONDITIONS: Although you may have learned about the climate and terrain before visiting the area, usually rangers post current weather conditions.  It is really valuable to know the current weather conditions for the day and what are the expectations for the day because sometimes they are not the norm for that season.  It is always an excellent idea to check the current and expected weather conditions for the day before heading out on your adventure.

POSSIBLE RISKS: This may include trails that are potentially hazardous to people with certain health conditions or not recommended for children or pets.  Or roads that are not recommended for certain types of vehicles.  Extreme forest fire potential or flash flooding conditions.  Knowing about these and other potential risks before heading out on your adventure could save you from some inconveniences or save your life.

RECOMMENDED EQUIPMENT: Once you know about the terrain, climate, current weather conditions, possible risks, animals, maps, plants and seasonal details, and you've checked with local authorities and citizens, you may be advised to carry certain types of equipment.  Perhaps an extra container of water because a well that is normally on the trail has dried up.  Of course, after knowing the above conditions before you go you'll most likely be able to select equipment that you are comfortable with and you know how to operate well.  You're well advised to have a First Aid Kit as part of your equipment wherever you plan on traveling.


Readers are invited to share your experiences of when you have learned that "knowing before you go" would have saved you inconveniences or other problems.  Feel free to comment below or send me an email.  Also, website links illustrating the above points are welcome to be shared.

Next blog, I'll be elaborating on RULE 2:  LET SOMEBODY ELSE KNOW


Sunday, July 10, 2011


When you go out to enjoy outdoor activities, are you safe?  What about your family members, are they safe?  Are you and your family members prepared to survive a night or two outdoors when you least expect it?

Every year people find themselves in life threatening situations.  Some of these situations have happy endings, some end in tragedy and some have no closure.

This is my first blog and it is my hope to present some very basic points for everyone to consider toward being safer in your outdoor experiences.  I will also point out some references that I recommend for further reading.  It is not my intention to change anybody to a wilderness survival expert but to help make the reader aware of some basics that can save your life or the life of a loved one.  For those of you who feel extremely confident with your outdoor survival skills – the basics are still good points to remember and practice.  

RULE 1:  KNOW BEFORE YOU GO -  Get as much details about the area you plan to visit before you leave home.  IE: terrain, climate, animals, plants, maps, seasonal details, current weather conditions, possible risks, recommended equipment for your activity.  It is always a good idea to contact local authorities such as park rangers or foresters to advise them of your plans and get any feedback or pointers they would offer.

RULE 2:  LET SOMEBODY ELSE KNOW – Before you go on your outing make sure that someone dependable knows where you are going, when you will be back, who you are going with, how you are getting there(your car or a friends car), trails that you plan to hike, food and supplies that you plan to take (enough for two people for 1 week or whatever).  Make sure that they know which authorities to call if you have not returned safely by a specified time (so search and rescue efforts can be started as early as possible).

RULE 3:  ALWAYS KEEP A SURVIVAL KIT ON YOU – That does not mean to keep the kit in your tent or car when you go hiking but actually keep it with you personally.  The kit may fit in a pocket or it may be in your back pack but take it with you.  Maybe even consider two kits (one in a back pack and another that fits in your pant pocket if for some reason your back pack is lost or destroyed).  There are all kinds of possibilities for survival kits.  You can buy kits or make your own.  Personally, I prefer to make my own so I become quite familiar with the contents and the quality of the kit.  Check out wilderness survival kits online or check out some books at your local library or book store. 

Rule 4:  NEVER, NEVER GO OUT ALONE!  I realize that there are those individuals who do not want to hear this.  They are saying to themselves stuff like –“ I can handle myself or anything that can possibly happen”.  “ I enjoy the solitude of being one with nature.”  There are lots of excuses that people give for going out alone but these excuses are nothing more than excuses and too much pride and overconfidence.  It does not matter how skilled you are (or think you are) – when it comes down to you vs nature – nature will have the advantage.  An excellent website for illustrating this point is

As part of this rule, families should keep in mind that when you are hiking together with children, even though you are in a group, DO NOT LET CHILDREN HIKE ALONE even if you are close by.   If you are on a group hike but the younger kids who have more energy are about 5-10 minutes further up the trail ahead of you – they are alone!  I recommend keeping children within an easy grasp.  There are too many dangerous scenarios when young kids are separated on the trail.  IE: hungry cougar can be gone with a kid in a flash and without leaving a sign, a curious kid may lean over a cliff to get a better look, or may be curious about a plant or animal and step closer for a better look.

RECOMMENDED READING: for those who want to learn more about wilderness survival - 
                            *OUTDOOR SURVIVAL SKILLS by Larry Dean Olsen.
                                                  *SURVIVE! by Les Stroud.  

Both of these books give great information.  There are several people who have written books or who have made videos about wilderness survival and they all have good things to offer.  It is not my intention to get in a discussion of why one author is better than another.  I have several reasons why I recommend these books for individuals who want to learn more about wilderness survival.  

My next blog will have more details about Rules 1 and 2.  Happy adventures and keep safe.