It’s the simple things, the know-how and the skill to actually do it, that can mean the difference between life and death. This truth didn’t become more real than just recently when a father and son were lost in Australia and were thought to be dead. It was a crude shelter they built that kept them alive!
John Ward, 42 and his son Stephen, 13, decided to spend some time bonding and went on a day hike in the Tasmanian wilderness, Nine Mile Creek, Arthurs Plains to be exact. They mistakenly started a multi-day hike, thinking it was just a day hike trail.
“It nearly turned to tragedy but left them unscathed, apart from Mr Ward’s mild hypothermia. As well as being inexperienced, they were underprepared for the punishing conditions.
With snow falling on nearby mountains, their chances of survival were rated 0 to 5 percent by some searchers on Thursday morning, after a third night in the open.”
Rescuer’s credited the father and son’s survival on one big factor, the ability to make a shelter.
“They’ve built a small shelter (from vegetation) … they’ve been able to protect themselves somewhat from the elements, from the heavy rain we had,” Sergeant Williams said. “That’s most likely saved their lives. They’ve had the smarts to build something like that and keep themselves out of the weather.” Source
Some other things that helped in their survival and rescue were they were able to find a food depot that was left for other Bushwalkers. They were able to eat and maintain their energy throughout the three days they were exposed.
On the day they were found, they walked to higher ground, but left clues for searchers and even used “something reflective to signal, as well as yelling.” Source
Real life survival stories help us understand how quickly a situation that we are in can go south. It also helps us understand or be reminded that there are some things that we can do and lessons to be learned so we don’t make the same mistakes.
Lessons to Learn
Kit Up! – Regardless if you are going on a day hike or not, if you are traveling somewhere, carry a survival kit with you! Putting some supplies inside a small backpack would have made a big difference in this scenario. A knife, a fire kit, some cordage, a means to filter water, some snacks and first aid supplies should be the minimum. You just never know! What would it have been like if this father and son had a fire kit and knew how to make a fire? They would have stayed a lot warmer and could have signaled rescuers more easily.
My suggestion – If you are not comfortable in your fire craft skills yet, please purchase some wet fire to go in your kit. Having this will help ensure you have a way to start a fire in harsh conditions. And, at the very minimum, make yourself a robust Altoids Tin Kit that you can slip in your pocket in a moments notice. Check out these easy DIY fire starters. They are all very easy to make.
Get Familiar with the Lay of the Land Before You Go Out! – The Tasmanian Wilderness is beautiful but can be deadly. In researching this story, I came across another situation where a Forest guide tripped and broke her ankle. She spent two days out in the wilderness in cold temperatures. So if even guides can have a hard time out there, we should do everything we can to make sure our memories are all good ones. Source
The Tasmanian Wildlife Service has a nice PDF with plenty of info. (The pics alone are worth a peek) (Source) Many places that have hiking trails have something similar. But, you should also have a trail map and a compass and know how to use it! Just don’t go out without doing some research on where you’re going!
My suggestion – Watch this video on how to use a compass and practice in your neighborhood or local park. Teach your kids how to do this too! Also, if this guide would have been carrying around a whistle, it would have helped others locate her more easily. I purchased this whistle for my wife (for safety reasons). It is supposed to be the loudest made whistle available.
Get Some Book Knowledge?!? – Book knowledge will never replace actual skills! Let me say that again so you make sure you read it… Book knowledge will never replace actual skills! But, it is in reading and studying where we get ideas and a foundation for building on our current knowledge.
My suggestion – Create a list of survival skills you would like to learn: fire craft, filtering water, building a shelter, making cordage, etc… Then devote a few hours on the weekend to practicing one until you feel comfortable enough to mark it off your list. Also, purchase a copy of Mors Kochanski’s classic book, Bushcraft. This is a must have book if you are going to be spending time in the wilderness!
Let Other’s Know Where You’re Going – I understand…sometimes you just want to get away! But it is just being responsible to let others know where you are going. There are people that will be worried and scared that something terrible has happened to you. In the father and son situation, the wife was frantic. Could you imagine losing your husband and son at the same time? They might not have been able to let someone at the campsite know where they were going, but they could have left a message in their tent or even in their vehicle. Something like, “It’s Friday, 1 p.m., we are taking a day hiking trip down trail such and such. I agree that this would be a pain and something else to do, but you just never know! Even if you think you are experienced, it is a good practice.
For another example, in the above situation with the female trial guide, if she would have let other’s know where she was going or left a message, they would have found her so much more easily.
My suggestion – Get into the habit of letting those close to you know where you are going. It’s a hassle, but better safe than sorry!
Think Worst Case Scenario – Some will take this as pessimistic, but I don’t. I like to think about what is the worst case scenario, and then put things in place to help mitigate that possibility. It’s an attitude that doesn’t come from a point of fear, but instead a place of strength. You have the strength to change things, make adjustments, prepare before you are stuck in a terrible situation! If this father would have thought worst case scenario, he might have realized that they could get lost or even hurt on the trail. He could have then taken measures to mitigate that possibility, like kit-up and leave a message about their route on the trail!
My suggestion – If you are going to spend time in the deep wilderness or even on the ocean, get a Personal Beacon Device. These devices will connect with satellites and send your coordinates to rescuers. They are pricey for something you might not ever use ($260), but if you needed it…what is your life worth?
We get put in situations every single day that can go south. Just getting in your car and driving to the corner can change your life forever. And although spending some time outside is a goal for many of us, we should be eve more careful and wise about how we prepare and prep when we are out in the wilderness, whatever that looks like for you. Be smart and don’t add more grief to your life – yours or anyone you love!
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