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Spent a night on the mountain unexpectedly

 
gardener
Posts: 2732
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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So I had an incident last September and thought it was a good idea to share it.  I wrote about it for myself the day after and then shortened it and edited it to get it below a 1000 words, to submit it to the local paper.  It got published a couple of days ago.  I figure others can learn from my experiences and mistakes.

 Here it is:




Cool rain was forecast. Feeling strong, I decided to push to finish flagging my trail to the alpine. I had my day bag. This used to include a tent fly and some parachute cord for emergency shelter building. It used to have a water filter, bear spray, and other modern implements. I’d become complacent.


I had just broken out of the sub-alpine. I should have felt elated that I’d reached my goal. Instead, my outer right thigh tendon’s connective tissue suddenly became severely inflamed. It was shockingly painful and in my strong leg. I struggled to climb or descend, turning to my left, awkwardly walking sideways, minimizing bending my leg.


I hadn’t told anybody where I was. There wasn’t any cell service. I was quite low on liquids.


Dense forest and blowdown had forced me to retrace many steps to make a better ribbon line. The extra balancing must have been too much. Plenty had been drunk but also sweated. What to do? Going down that rat's nest was not happening before dark. In the morning? I couldn’t imagine it the way my leg was feeling.


I felt my first micro-panic right at the start. I knew I was strong enough, though. A night or two on the mountain, I could handle. A poor decision or panic now could avalanche into something worse. Keeping my wits was my most important survival skill.


There is water over the peak. Hobbled as I was, despite the distance, I decided it was in my interest. I reached the snowfield within the hour. The water, after all the rain, was undrinkable with suspended clay. Downstream I dug a hole to see if it would clear.


In the sediment: wolf tracks. But no wolf-like movements around. I wanted to rest and massage my leg. Twenty minutes. No luck with the water settling. I filled my bottles hoping they’d settle over night.


I knew the trail to be much better than my dense forest line. One of my first decisions was to head to an area of dead pine below the alpine. There are some difficult areas accessing the main trailhead, particularly with both light and leg failing.


I fished for my headlamp. It wasn’t where it should be. Then, I’d remembered I’d used it a few days before. More micro panics. Fortunately, I had navigated this area and knew my options. Recent trail work in the immature subalpine had re-routed ribboning, confusing me in the low light. Micro-panic resolved, I had this. The trail crew had done an excellent job. I found the top of the main trail.


Entering the steep rocky trail top, and with sunset colours faded towards Mcbride, I scolded myself again for not ensuring possession of my headlamp. With failing leg, the challenge was met with stubborn resolve.


I got to the camp location, night vision adjusted enough to barely distinguish trees from ground. I gathered a large wad of black lichen, and knifed into some wood, so it would catch once the lichen material flamed.


I keep my lighters dry inside screw-top pill bottles with child safety metal strips removed. Not doing so could be a fatal error with numb fingers. Another bottle had birch bark, half of which I placed where I lit the lichen ball.

Donning leather gloves, I found small firewood, and then larger stuff, building it vertically. With firelight expanded, I could locate more wood. With folding handsaw, I cut large dead branches just enough to break with body weight. To ensure enough wood if the weather worsened, I spent an hour dragging more to the fireside.


I limbed a spruce to shelter under its branches, stuffing the remaining ones with live-cut limbs. I could use my rainjacket on top to shed water from hard rain. The activity warmed me, but I knew this wouldn’t last, particularly on a cold rainy day at this elevation. I donned energy-conserving layers.


While I tended fire, I dried more lichen in case I needed to camp on the way down. My body found it’s heat balance. I removed layers. I removed my right shoe and prosthetic leg, relaxing. It only rained lightly, always warned by wind.


I was nearly asleep at one point. The fire had died to glowing coals, and the clouds were dense, threatening rain. In the distant South East, some moonlight filtered. I heard something large walking around me. I put my back to the tree and reached to locate my knife. I built the fire, illuminating a small area. With my eyes adjusted to the brightness, I could actually see less into the forest. I was hoping for reflected eyes. Was it a cougar, or that wolf, or maybe a bear? By the weighty footfalls, my guess was moose. I called out to it, but it never made itself known. Bear spray was also missing from the bag.


When daylight began I crushed my coals and poured some of my grey coloured water on it. The water had not settled out much. Not wanting a gut ache, I had only sipped a bit in the night. I geared up and tested my leg. After massaging it a number of times, I had high hopes. The leg bothered me within 5 minutes.


I continued my sideways limp, taking many breaks, and made it down the mountain before noon.


On the flats, the leg was bothered less. My amputated stump was quite tired from compensating for the ‘strong’ leg. I walked to some nearby friends’ place, hoping for a ride. They weren’t home. I used their garden tap to drink and then left. The 3km walk home was long because I’d spent my energy, hadn’t slept and was still dehydrated.


At home, I dropped my gear drank some water, stripped, and climbed into bed, rubbed arnica ointment on the stressed tissue and took some ibuprofen. Feeling dry, warm, lucky, and very grateful, I had a good solid nap with a lot of lessons learned.

 
gardener
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Wow, great reminder, Robert!  Glad everything worked out ok.  
 
pollinator
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I miss the periodic Jack London moments. Yes they are stressful but that experience will steel you for a while. Glad you are well, but also glad you had the hard time and came out with knowledge and hormesis.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 3105
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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My Hunny says: "You're a badass, and worthy!"
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Just so folks know, I have grown up in the bush, and have taken some pretty extreme survival training (I spent 6 months with boulder outdoor survival school in Utah), so I am generally fairly knowledgeable about what I'm getting myself into, but sometimes all the knowledge in the world can amount to a person becoming complacent  (by not letting anybody know where I was, and by not having my headlamp and other fairly important stuff), and when you toss an injury (or a grizzly bear, or a mama moose with a nearby calf, or a wolf pack on a kill) on top of that complacency, and things can go sideways in a hurry.  

Also, things can always be a lot worse.  So pessimism about a bad situation gets you nowhere.  I try hard in these situations to have an optimistic/hopeful outlook.  It takes work, though, when times are tough.  Psychology is key.   I took inventory immediately and did a lot of reassessment of my situation to gauge whether I needed to change my plan.  Because of the failing light, I nearly stopped in the subalpine (where I could light a fire with the small subalpine fir trees-but it would have been smokier, and way more exposed to weather) but I convinced myself that I could get myself into a better position, where there was better wood and more shelter.  I would have been miserable had I not got a fire started that night, and that downward psychology, as well as the cold (hypothermia potential too, if it started to rain hard), would really have drained my energy.  I was super glad to have been in other somewhat sketchy situations in the past, as well as training with people who understand what survival is, and what counts the most.  Not panicking is key, obviously, but knowing how to start a fire, and with which materials, and doing so in near dark and quite damp conditions, and having knowledge of that particular mountain, the dead pine area to go to, and where potential water was, these things can be lifesavers.  I had a lot of luck on my side, and fortunately, that meshed with my skill level.    
 
gardener
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Location: Ontario - Gardening in zone 3b, 4b, or 6b, depending on the day
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I would find it very frightening to need to get out of the bush alone, while injured. An excellent reminder to always tell people where you are going and plan to be back when heading into the bush.

Roberto- what do you usually keep in your bag and what's it's rough weight? Always interested to see what safety supplies people bring with them into the bush.
 
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Just be aware avalanche fatalities are significantly higher for solo riders in the backcountry. I go solo sometimes too, but I'm working on going alone less often.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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Hi Hanna Omar,
And welcome to posting on permies!
Yes, avalanche risk is always compounded by individuals not having support.  Where I live backcountry winter activities are a part of our culture, and fatalities have occurred in avalanches even with prepared people in groups.  Avalanches are inherently dangerous, and, in order to navigate the snow areas that include avalanche potential, people should heed the advice of professional avalanche forecasters, wear avalanche transceivers, and have avalanche training to use those transceivers and rescue others.  in my work, all of those are mandatory.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Hi Catie,

Roberto- what do you usually keep in your bag and what's it's rough weight?  

 hi Catie.  I tend to pack pretty light, and the weight varies (depending on water availability/water carried), quite significantly, and also on the season (more clothes in colder weather)..  I'd say anywhere from 5 to 25 pounds depending on those variables and on food or more gear for extending the trip (overnight or two).  The primary things that I carry are my first aid kit, fire kit, bush knife, folding saw, a few lengths of parachute cord or used bailing twine, an old tent fly, a stainless steel water bottle or two which can double for cooking vessels (I only had plastic bottles on the hike in question), bear spray, and aerobic oxygen (for water purification).  I sometimes carry snowshoes, a crazy carpet, if I'm intending to be in snow country (plus avalanche gear-transceiver, light folding shovel, probe) if I am with others),  or a Thermarest foam camp matt for better sleep if I am planning to be overnight.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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How large is your tent fly?
 
Roberto pokachinni
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The tent fly is pretty small.  Not sure.  about 5 feet by 7,  it's an odd shape.  Sometimes I take the old tent footprint; it's even smaller, but serves well as a crazy carpet too!
 
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Roberto thanks for sharing this post, I am sure it will be of help to someone.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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For those interested in light weight hiking and camping ideas, I'd suggest reading Beyond Backpacking, by Ray Jardine.  There are many ideas therein that are helpful in eliminating waste of effort through reducing weight, and by different ways of camping ad hiking.  Worth the read from a permies perspective as it helps reduce gear expenditures and thus resources.  I haven't followed through on a lot of his innovations yet.  But I had come to similar conclusions during my own weight savings measures.
 
pollinator
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Location: 10 miles NW of Helena Montana
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Having spent a few unexpected nights out in the woods myself, I tip my hat to Roberto!! Very glad that he made it out ok and was able to share his experience with us.

I spend a lot of time in the woods and the number one topic on my mind is "what if" I hurt myself, got turned around, (lost?), how would I survive.

Even if I am on my 10 acres here in Montana, I look to survival options.  I am pushing 70 and know that a twisted ankle could make it very difficult to get back to the house.  

 
Roberto pokachinni
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I can totally relate, Dennis Barlow.  Thanks for sharing.  Although I'm 20 years younger, my thoughts are often on 'what it'.  I have 40 acres and just a couple of days ago went there to clear limbs from trees encroaching on an existing road that I want to gain access into (I have to build a bridge to get to th old road with my truck as it enters my land from somebody else's).  Even though this is a very easy access part of my property (I walk on a plank, the creek isn't very big), I still carry a backpack into the area with minimum gear, but still some of it, including water and first aid and a fire kit and a coat and spare sweater.  I've got a broken dominant right wrist in a cast and I was going a bit stir crazy (I'm off work), so I decided to go try to do some left-handed hand saw work on this road.

There were fresh wolf tracks in the snow.  A neighbor informed me last week that a grizzly sow and 3 mature cubs were seen coming out of my driveway. It's prime season for moose to be at low elevations; and far more people are killed by moose and other ungulate herbivores than by bears and wolves combined, despite the irrational fears and projections of people against those 'predators'.  

The potential is there for lots of things to go sideways, and keeping a keen eye and ear out for anything potentially dangerous is always wise.  A dead leaning tree can kill a person faster than a wolf.  No danger really occurred the other day, but it's good to take note of things like wolf tracks, how fresh they are in the snow, which direction they were headed, etc., and maybe I shouldn't spend a bunch of time under this leaning dead poplar...  

One time, a few years ago, I heard a grouse explode out of a hiding place, but I hadn't started it.  I was too far away.  Grouse only do that when you are almost on top of them.  So I stopped and looked and listened, and sure enough, I saw a lynx off in that direction, and it took a while before it moved, first it's head then slowly moved one leg at a time as it slowly changed directions toward the grouse... I'd love to have had my binoculars on that day, but just the same, it is always a gift to pay attention.    
 
Dennis Barrow
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Roberto.  I know how fast things can change.  
I have had 3 close, (to close!) encounters with Grizzley's in the past 6 years.
We have wolves here, but have only seen the tracks this past year.  Enough people and dogs around that they do seem to stay back a bit.  For now.
I worked back country trail crew in Glacier National Park back in the early 70's and we called those snags "widow makers".

No more plank walking for me! I taught mountain climbing and repelling while in the Army in Germany.  Today an 8 foot step ladder is about it for me.  ;-)
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I worked back country trail crew in Glacier National Park back in the early 70's and we called those snags "widow makers".

 We call them widow makers here as well.  

We have wolves here, but have only seen the tracks this past year.  Enough people and dogs around that they do seem to stay back a bit.  For now.

 I still haven't seen a wolf on my land yet, but have seen the tracks of every major predator on it or slightly off of it, so I know that they are there, at least occasionally.  Seen, black bears, foxes, coyotes, lynx and grizzlies.  Seen tracks of cougar, wolverine, martin, wolf...  I'll be more concerned if I start to get livestock.  I'll likely get a dog or two.  We also have a lot of larger herbivore potentially on the land, 2 varieties of deer, moose, elk, and although unlikely mountain goats and mountain sheep do sometimes come down to this elevation.  All of the latter can be very unpredictable creatures, though they, like the predators, tend to keep their distance from people (and rifles).  Since I live near a good sized dairy operation, rifle training is pretty intense around here.

Having spent a few unexpected nights out in the woods myself, I tip my hat to Roberto!! Very glad that he made it out ok and was able to share his experience with us.  

I'll be that you have some stories to tell, Dennis.  Feel free to write up one or more  of your unexpected overnight adventures, and cut-and-paste it into a post in this thread.  By sharing our experiences, we may save someone else pain, heartache, or worse.

 
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