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 http://www.inquiry.net/outdoor/skills/b-p/signs.htm for an example of trail signs that can be useful.
BE WISE & HAPPY ADVENTURES!