This Article is About
survival situation
snow shoes
long path
bad experience
heading home
snowshoes
rest of the story
couple days
Getting Out Alive
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Getting Out Alive

In the book, Getting Out Alive: 13 Deadly Scenarios and How Others Survived, by Scott B. Williams is a great book chalked full of survival stories across a wide spectrum of situations. Not too long ago I asked my wife to read 3 chapters that I thought might peak her interest and give her a little perspective of what I’m always ranting about. She read chapter one (cutting your losses), eight (broke down in the desert), and thirteen (urban breakdown). However, of the three that I recommended, my favorite has to be chapter one.

About 10 years ago while I was teaching up at the Air Force Survival School in Spokane, Washington, my father and brother came to visit. We decided to do a couple days in the backcountry. You know the kind I’m talking about, the typical manly getaway. Naturally, as a good tour guide, I took them to some very familiar territory so that there was without a doubt no way this could be a bad experience for the both of them. Oh, how wisdom is a thing for the old and life-experience the long path to get there!

Without giving a play-by-play synopsis of the trip, let me instead jump straight to my point. We got up the last morning and decided to break camp, load up the car, and then go on a nice hike before heading home. The hike was pretty easy… 1 kilometer over uneven terrain, completely forested, and only a foot of snow on the ground. I told them that there was just enough snow on the ground to justify wearing snow shoes, but not enough to absolutely need them. Since they’ve never walked on snowshoes before I said, “How about we have snowshoe appreciation day!” The rest of the story has to be one of my father’s favorites to tell and the more he embellishes it over the years, the closer to the truth it probably is. It’s hilarious to hear him talk as if he was almost left for dead, but had he been alone… he would have experienced a survival situation that few could have lived to tell about.

So, like any good story… there we were. The snow was pretty well packed and I felt confident that although we would hit some deeper spots that our general toughness would prevail. Yet, truthfully in the back of my mind I was just giving them the full survival experience that thousands of military students get every year. Snowshoe appreciation day to the Air Force folks is a time honored tradition. The reason is simple. If we put them in snowshoes right away, they’ll just complain about how bad snowshoes suck! But, by making them post hole through the snow and suffer a little, they’ll practically cry for joy when they strap on some snowshoes. There truly is a method to the madness.

At the time, my brother was about to join the Air Force himself and wanted to get a head start on some land navigation skills. So, I gave him a crash course on the basics and we got our bearing and away we went. After an easy 30 minute hike we arrived at the desired destination, a beautiful pond with a few ducks and a generally ideal place to just hang out for a bit. I gave them a few impromptu lessons on some things in the area and tried to really just make the place come alive for them and not be just a forced march kind of experience.

After a nice break, we decided to head back. I had my brother pretend that he had lost his map and compass and that he needed to take up an emergency heading. Granted he could have followed the tracks, but we’re training here! We headed out in the general direction of the last known major north/south running road. I taught him to use some natural land navigation indicators to guide his travel; pretty simple stuff really. Actually, he’s probably the best student I’ve ever had… he remembers everything and I only have to say or teach it once.

About 100 yards into our return journey I hear my father call out from behind us. I look back and I see nothing. After backtracking a bit I smile and say, “Oh, there you are!” He fell into a root buttress hole and what should have been one foot of snow was now more like four feet of snow. He got himself stuck pretty good, and his leg was caught in some roots and branches.

At this point I’m not going to lie. My brother and I savored in the moment and had a real good laugh at his expense. Absent of a camera, we resorted to some entertaining taunts and crude jokes. We weren’t going to get another opportunity like this, so we allowed our youthful spirit to savor the moment. He was a good sport about it, especially since he was still pretty spry and knew once he got out of that hole he could mop the floor with both of us. So, at this point you could see why we may have considered leaving him. I’m not sure if it was love or fear that took over, but we started digging him out.

It took a good bit of digging and his leg was caught up quite nicely, but we freed him. I know after the effort that it took to get him out that we were all left with the lasting lesson of… if he was alone, that may not have ended nearly the same way!

The chapter entitled “Cutting Your Losses” rings especially true to me. Had that been me in that hole, what would I have done? I would have had to eat the equivalent of 2,000 snowballs just to get to my leg. Then I would have had to cut or break roots and branches in the hope of freeing myself. How quickly would have hypothermia set in? What if a predatory animal figured out I was an easy meal? What if the leg couldn’t be freed?

As you can see, a survival situation is chalked up with endless what if questions and here’s the grand point. The more you’re prepared physically, mentally, and skill-set wise, the better off you’re going to be. Everything you can add to your preparedness goody bag will not go to waste when your moment of truth presents itself. Thankfully in this case study, my father followed a golden rule of outdoor adventure… always take a buddy!


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