George accidentally cut his arm. It was one of those situations that can easily happen in camp. It would normally be minor and require only a little first-aid treatment. These were extraordinary circumstances. It was 150 years ago. George Donner, the leader of the pioneering company that headed west towards the Sacramento Valley, was leading the charge. The group, which included children and women, was caught in early snowfalls in the Sierra Mountains. They began to suffer from starvation and exposure. The snow continued to pile up and the immigrants began to run out of food so they ate their oxen. They ate the hide of the oxen after the meat ran out. They became weaker the longer they were stuck in the snow and eventually, members of the party began to die. It was not a good time to slip a hand or a knife into your arm.
Even small problems like a slip of the hand can have huge consequences for survival. George Donner’s case was easy. He had poor nutrition, insufficient sanitation, and received limited medical attention. His wound remained and became infected. He became weaker over time and was unable to be saved by the rescue team.
Yes, there was a rescue. It all began with the heroic efforts of ten women and five men — only two of them and all five survived the journey — who made snowshoes out of scrap materials and trekked the remainder of the way up to the Sacramento Valley. There, they organized a rescue effort to return the mountain to rescue the survivors.
The consequences of George Donner’s slip didn’t end with rescuers arriving. His infection had left him weak and Tamsen, his wife, decided to stay with him rather than abandon him. The moment was tragic and lonely as they watched the survivors vanish over the mountain, leaving them to face the wilderness by themselves. The grim reaper purchased two of them for the price if one. The Donner Party’s eighty-seven pioneers died on the mountain. Forty-eight others survived.
The Donner Party’s story is both sad and instructive. The wagon train made a few small mistakes on the way west that were not significant if taken as a whole. These small errors on the trail led to delays which put the group behind schedule. It was not easy to judge. The pace was slowed by equipment breakdowns. The travellers were late getting out of camp each day, which caused them to fall behind schedule. This accumulation of small mistakes eventually led to the company being trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains’ early snow. George’s wound.
The injury is not what is at stake here. This is just one example of how small details can make a big difference in a survival situation. The smallest details can make all the difference between a relaxing outdoor experience and a life-or-death survival situation. The first step in surviving is to pay close attention to details and be constantly aware of the situation. Without a complete understanding of your circumstances, you can’t create a plan for survival. The assessment is essential in order to make a plan for the future. The first step in resolving the problem is to have a candid discussion with your group, or yourself, if you are alone.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the key issues that will impact your survival. These topics will be covered in greater detail in later chapters of this book. However, these are just a few highlights that illustrate how important it is to pay attention to even the smallest details.
You may recall the scene in Jeremiah Johnson where Robert Redford’s campfire was suddenly extinguished by snow falling from a tree branch. The proper choice of campfire site is only one of many things that must be taken into consideration. These are just a few.
PREPARE a fire ring in safe place and gather as much wood as you can before lighting it. It is a good rule of thumb to collect three times the amount of wood you believe you will need to last the night.
- Fuel must be abundant and dry.
- To prevent the fire from getting away from you, the fire base must be placed on dry mineral soil (hard dirt and rocks). You should make sure the ground is dry. The convection current from rising air will cause the soil to absorb moisture, which can lead to a weakening of the fire. To prevent the fire from spreading, keep it within a ring made of rocks or soil.
- Check overhead for anything that could catch fire or go up in flames.
- Make sure to consider the direction of the night wind so that you don’t sleep in the smoke.
- Think about the purpose of the fire. Are you using it to signal (bright flames at night and smoke at day), cook or boil water (small fire built with good coals), warmth (larger with reflectors behind it), or for signalling?
- Keep the fire ablaze so that it isn’t drowned by rain falling or rising water.
The following information concerns natural hazards and nuisances in the area you are considering building your shelter.
WIDOW makers are fallen limbs from trees that may fall on your camp and cause injury or damage. Always look up before setting up camp to ensure nothing falls on you.
(The topic shelter in hot, cold and wet weather will be covered more fully later.
- Look down. Look down to find ants, ground-dwelling bees or other insect colonies on the construction site.
- Look up. Look up. Also, look for evidence that water might be rushing over the edge of the cliff in a night storm.
- Take a look around. You should inspect the area for scorpions, snake habitats, and spiders. Your shelter location should not be in an area that is susceptible to flooding from a distant storm. * Flash flood.
- Make sure to place your shelter in an area that search-and rescue teams can see it. If possible, make sure that the shelter is easily accessible to water, firewood, and other food items.
- Make the most of shade when it is hot, sun exposure in cold weather, and natural wind breaks.
All equipment should be kept clean, neat, and in good order. A knife that is lost or damaged in a survival situation can cause serious damage. However, it’s equally important to ensure the knife doesn’t become useless through neglect or misuse. This applies to all equipment, clothing, food and water.
- Make a list of everything you own.
- Consider every secondary and third-party use of each item. You will discover other uses for your bootlaces than just holding your boots on. Your belt buckle can be used to serve as a signal mirror. Is there any paper in your bag that could be used to help you start a fire? You get the idea.
- Place every item in its proper place and remember to keep it there.
- Repair anything that is damaged, dull, broken, torn or otherwise infected immediately. This is what you do when there’s no TV.
It is more than just washing your hands after eating. Field sanitation should be a way of living, no matter where you are camping or fighting for survival.
- Do not live in the dirt. You can build a platform from natural materials, such as log floors, bark slabs or matted grasses.
- Keep your body clean. Wash your clothes and body whenever you can. Clean clothes make you feel better and last longer. This is an effort that will make you think of ways to keep your clothes clean.
- Water and food. Be positive. There are many things that you can eat that you didn’t know were possible. You should be cautious with what you eat and how much water you drink. Do not experiment with the menu. Wild plants can be deadly. Don’t eat them unless you are familiar with their names. While starvation won’t kill you, the wrong plant could. Boil water to prevent dehydration from Giardia and Cryptosporidium-related illness. See Chapter 4 for water-finding techniques and Chapter 5. Chapter 5 provides information about wild food availability and safety.
KEEPING your clothes and yourself clean can help you feel better and keep you healthier. For example, clean socks will prevent foot problems
It’s vital to constantly be aware of details and what’s happening around you. Think back to what happened when George Donner’s hand was slipped. If the knife slips, where will it end up? If the boulder falls from the cliff above my shelter, where will it go? What happens if my fire suddenly bursts into flames? Survival is only possible in small steps. The details are the devil.
Remember pioneer times, when people survived the dangers of crossing vast wildernesses, sleeping under the stars at night, and then setting up home on empty lands to start farming, ranching, or raising their families. There were dangers in those days, but today, life seems more dangerous.
Wild animals did not kill many pioneers or travellers, contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal of their lives. Wild predators were dangerous, but they were much less risky than diseases, accidents, and extreme weather. We have modern equipment that can help us avoid some of the dangers of yesteryear. Modern medicine has eliminated most of the diseases that decimated people in their thousands a century ago. High-tech shelters and clothing are available to protect us from the elements. There is unfortunately an increase in predatory activities. Another predator might be lurking in the parking lots and stalking nearby areas, looking for an opportunity. The human predator is it. Even semi-wilderness areas in our country are being impacted by the increase of population. Some people who travel into the backcountry have less than stellar moral character. This makes it important to be extra cautious while we camp and travel.
Exploring the wilderness presents unique challenges for our personal safety as well as the security of our property. We should not only prepare for the occasional appearance of a grizzly at our weenie roast, but also take precautions to avoid injuries and assaults on our property and ourselves.
- It is best to not camp or hike alone. While I understand that some prefer to hike or camp alone, this increases your risk. A simple stumble in the backcountry can lead to a serious injury that could leave you permanently disabled. If you travel with others, it is less likely that you will encounter a predator, animal, or human bent on mischief.
- Be ready to leave if neighbouring campers get rowdy. This can happen even in a quiet and serene campground. It is dangerous to confront testosterone addicts who show off to their friends and are worthless.
- When you are camping, make sure your toys are secured. Take the ignition keys off your four-wheelers and motorcycles, and place them in the
- of your primary vehicle. * Love box. These items can be secured to trees, logs, or your primary vehicle using heavy padlocks and chains.
- Make sure your car is locked.
- Always secure food in a container that is hung from a tree if you are camping in bear country. Garbage that is not allowed to be burned in the campfire should be left hanging in the same way as the food. Once you’re ready to leave camp, you can take the garbage out and haul it out. For rules on encounters with wild animals, refer to Chapter 10.
Traveling and camping is dangerous. You must take responsibility for your safety and your property’s security. Some hazards can be avoided with a little more preparation and awareness.
When camping in bear country, make sure to keep your food up high so it is not touching the ground. You can make a bear wire by laying a rope between the trees, then tying the line that holds your food bag to the rope. Then, lift the bag about 10 feet above the ground. Next find out more about the basic survival strategies.