Thursday, July 29, 2010

First-Aid Training

First-aid Training should be mandatory for the survivor. Your ability to survive takes a quantum leap forward by knowing even basic first aid and human physiology. While this might seem obvious, it escapes many experienced and not-so experienced outdoors-people and prepers. The goal of learning survival skills and being prepared is to keep the human body alive. Learning basic first-aid skills gives you insight into how the body works; its requirements, its priorities and its fragility. Having an understanding of the bodies basic needs from a medical perspective will give you insight into what you truly need to prepare and include in you emergency preparations.

A great place to start for the basics:

Wilderness Medicine institute:

CERT Training:

Stay healthy, mind-body-spirit! -Z

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


On any typical sweltering summer day in the desert southwest, Flood safety is the last thing on most minds. Your dry throat, the searing sun and heat attest to the regions bone-dry reputation. Yet each summer brings an unexpected risk, Flash Flooding.


I was in the middle of a week long, late summer, backcountry trip in Utah's canyon country. Two days from the nearest trailhead. My only supplies consisting of a basket of primitive gear: a grass sleeping mat, clay pot for cooking and water purification and a small handmade basket carrying various stone and bone tools for daily chores.

The weather had been un-seasonably warm, daytime temps in the 90's, night in the 60' retrospect it was "the calm before the storm". These canyons are notorious for their late summer flooding. Monsoon produced thunderstorms often hover over the surrounding mountains dropping torrential rains, the topography funnels this moisture violently downhill....bottle necking into the numerous slot canyons dotting the slick rock Utah landscape.

The last weather forecast I had heard called for high pressure and sunshine.

My canyon trip was going as planned up to this point.

Pinenuts, trout and grasshoppers were plentiful, my stomach was full.

The afternoon was beautiful, the sky a sea of blue, scattered with a few high clouds.

I curiously wandered up a narrow side canyon of the Escalante River. In search of the remains of the canyons ancient inhabitants: the Anasazi.

The overgrown trail tripped in and out of the creek for the better part of an hour. While stopping to tighten my sandal, my attention turns to the sparse scrub oak surrounding me and the unusual fog of silence now blanketing the area. Over the creeks low gurgle my ear picks up a low volume grumbling vibrating off the tight canyon walls....and another....frozen in my tracks I strain to determine the source.

The slice of sky overhead revealed nothing but deep blue, but the weather to the north, to the mountains was obscured. I knew with mountain rain would come the inevitable runoff and potential DANGER.

"I CANNOT be in this narrow canyon when that runoff arrives" I told myself. "I have gotta pick up the pace".

As my direction and speed shift down canyon, I notice the water quickly rising, now lapping just below my calves.....

20 yards ahead I spot a rock shelter, a small 6x8ft shelf eroded into the sandstone wall, 5 foot off the deck of the rising creek. On hands and knees I crawl onto the sandy shelf. Another few minutes and I would have been swept down the narrow canyon by the swirling muddy torrent.

Perched on my sandy safe haven, my mind has difficulty wrapping itself around the strange scene, blue sky, warm sunshine and the creek rising violently. The rumbling of boulders tumbling along the floods bottom shakes me from my hypnosis.

The brown liquid continued to rise....soon lapping at the edge of my dry patch of earth. Panic swelled in my chest, as I realized I wouldn’t survive the rising flood water if swept off the ledge.

Instinctively, I clenched the rear wall of my earthly protector. Silently praying for deliverance.

This tiny ledge would be my home for the LONG restless night ahead. I hunkered down waiting for the new day....

As I eagerly watched the canyon lighten with the rising sun, the roar of the flood long subsided, leaving behind the remnants of the night’s storm.

I anxiously flee my nights abode and continue quickly down the the open country and to safety

Flash Flood Safety Tips:

• If a wash or canyon bottom is flooded, do not cross. Take an alternate route. Or, wait until the water recedes. 6 inches of water is enough to sweep you off your feet.
• Climb to high ground and stay put. Do not try to outrace a flood on foot.
• Never camp on low ground next to streams since a flash flood can catch you while you're asleep.
• Always be careful when approaching a wash or slot canyon, even if it’s not raining or cloudy in your location. A wash or slot can become flooded by a thunderstorm several miles away.
• Be familiar with the topography, hazards and resources in the area in which you travel and recreate. Be prepared!
• Stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest statements, watches and warnings concerning heavy rain and flash flooding in your area. Local ranger stations are an excellent source of seasonal info.

Stay healthy, mind-body-spirit! -Z

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fear Factor....

Fear is THE MOST common emotional response to any perceived stressful or emergency situation. Its physiological and psychological effects can range from slight anxiety to overwhelming panic to cardiac arrest. Recognizing fear and having the ability to control it will greatly increase the odds of your surviving an emergency situation.

In a recent polling of our survival students, we asked students to identify their most common fears in an outdoor (wilderness) setting. What we discovered: generally, we all posses similar fears, perhaps genetic throwbacks to primal times. The following list is a compilation, (I am sure it will not surprise many), of the most prevalent fears found in our poll. **Not necessarily in order.

1. Heights
2. The dark
3. The unknown
4. Death
5. Loneliness
6. Suffering/pain
7. Wild animals (spiders & snakes….)

How does fear affects YOU: Our physiological reactions to stress and fear are not necessarily a negative thing, these response are a crucial part of our “fight or flight” mechanism. Allowing us to adapt and respond appropriately to unknown or traumatic circumstance. Understanding how this affects us is key to recognizing and controlling these potentially life threatening reactions.

Impairment of Circulatory and Metabolic System: as learned in the survival “Rule of 3’s” we can survive 3 minutes without oxygen, this illustrates the immense importance of maintaining a healthy circulatory system. Impairment of this function can cause: dilated pupils, dizziness and black-outs, racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, headaches, labored breathing, sweating, tightness in chest and possible cardiac arrest.

Impairment of Rational Thought: clear judgment is essential to handling any type of survival or emergency situation. As stated in previous posts, “Your #1 survival tool is your brain”, lack of the ability to rationalize, improvise and find solutions can be the determining factor to your survival. Lack of judgment manifests in the following: Shock, denial, shame, a sense of helplessness, depression, loss of hope, confusion, anxiety, panic, hallucinations, loss of appetite and inability to relax.

Impairment of Motor Skills: the ability to perform simple tasks from striking a match to operating a signaling device can be severely impaired due to adrenaline release and the effects of the previous two “Impairments” mentioned above. Both fine and complex movements require a steady hand & a calm mind. As the ability to move is impaired, you will experience: uncontrollable shaking of hands and extremities, inability to focus on the task at hand, flight, loss of “hand-eye” co-ordination.

Dealing with and controlling Stress and Fear: Both stress and fear are a necessary part of our human experience, some believe, throw backs to our more primal days when predators hunted US. Mounting an offense and effectively confronting stress and fear is a valuable technique to learn, while these affects will always be present, YOUR ability to control them makes YOU the master of your destiny…..

Methods of controlling fear

• Be Prepared: accept the fact that you could find yourself in a survival situation, prepare mentally, physically and spiritually. Carry a survival kit which can meet environmental and seasonal threats, fits your skill level, obtain survival training and maintain a positive mental attitude.
• Be aware: educate yourself on possible threats, personal weakness, weather patterns, possible animal encounters, environmental (i.e. flash flooding, avalanche etc.) and human hazards.
• S.T.O.P: once lost execute the following survival acronym, S-stop, T-think, O-organize, P-plan.**This will be covered more thoroughly in a future post.
• Focus: once a plan of action has been established, focus on the plan and accomplishing your desired outcome.
• PMA: crucial to getting home alive!! Having the WILL TO LIVE and HOPE will help you maintain that “UNKNOWN” survival factor. Practice Autogenic breathing technique.**This will be covered more thoroughly in a future post.
• Act: once a plan has been established, follow through, focus on goals.

Stay healthy, mind-body-spirit! -Z

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Causes of Survival Situations

Today’s post will examine some of the most common reasons people end up in a backcountry survival situation. Most individuals don’t have the realization of their dangerous predicament until it’s too late, increasing situational stress and preventing an adequate response (i.e. shelter, fire construction….etc.) to the impending problem.

The skills taught by the majority of “Outdoor Survival” schools and media neglect to take this into account, for example: The bowdrill fire technique which is commonly taught, while a valuable skill to own, in an Emergency situation there are simply too many variables and possible mistakes to be made(humidity, tinder sources, physical ability), making the bowdrill an unreliable fire starting method to depend on when the chips are down.

Prior preparation is your key to overcoming an unexpected emergency, having an adequate kit and resources on hand (the ability to make a fire effortlessly and crawl into a shelter within a matter of minutes) is crucial to you making it home alive.

The following are the leading cause of most Emergency situations in the backcountry:

• Fatigue, fitness level (both physical and mental).
• Shame.
• Dehydration.
• Unrealistic goals, “summit fever” or "get-home-itis.
• Ego, forging ahead, overconfidence.
• Over reliance on technology.
• Shortcuts, change of plans.
• Lack of awareness: weather patterns, terrain & potential hazards.

Stay healthy, mind-body-spirit! -Z

Monday, July 5, 2010

Search & Rescue Stats....

Seems human stupidity and arrogance is big news these days, I routinely come across outdoor gear adds featuring "survival celebs", who have gained notoriety based on their bad choices, being unprepared and breaking cardinal backcountry rules. Survival of the "common sense" challenged??

I wonder what Darwin would have to say about this and the following statistics??

Between 1992 to 2007 our national parks were host to 78,488 individuals involved in 65,439 Search & Rescue incidents. The results of these "call-outs": 2,659 fatalities, 24,288 ill or injured individuals, and 13,212 saves.

More fun facts....

1. Estimated number of SAR missions in US each year: 50,000
2. Percent of SAR operations aiding lost individuals: 36%
3. Percent of SAR operations in Nat. Parks to find lost hikers: 40%
4. Duration of average search: 10 hours
5. Average daily cost to operate a full scale SAR operation: $32,000
6. Most likely group to be SAR targets: Men 20 to 25/ 2nd Men, 50 to 60
7. Leading activities requiring assistance: Hiking (48%) and boating (21%).
8. Fatalities: Hiking(22.8%), suicides(12.1%), swimming(10.1%), and boating(10.1%).

Be Prepared: Tips to Staying Found:

-Carry a survival kit at all times, even if only out for a day hike. Most survival situations occur while on short afternoon or day outings.
-Get in the habit of leaving emergency contact information with at least two responsible individuals.
-Study weather patterns, geography, environmental hazards, i.e. avalanche, flash flooding, dangerous animals, etc.
-Know your limits. Don’t overestimate your skill or underestimate Mother Nature.
-If part of a group, know each member’s strengths and weaknesses. Set your pace to the slowest member of your group.
-Your #1 survival tool is your brain. Use common sense.
-Plan for the unexpected.

Don't become a statistic....

**"Dead Men Walking: Search and Rescue in U.S. National Parks", Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (Volume 20, Number 3), 2009.

Stay healthy, mind-body-spirit! -Z

Friday, July 2, 2010

Emergency Prep Tip #2

Tip #2 - Preparing for emergencies needn’t be expensive, plan ahead and buy small quantities over time. Create a list of foods your family regularly consumes, these should: Have a long shelf-life and be non-perishable (can goods are an ideal choice). Do not require cooking. Meet nutritional needs. Can be easily stored. Have a low salt content (salty foods increase thirst). Ease of access and portable. At minimum you should keep a 2 to 4 week supply of foodstuffs on hand at all times.

Stay healthy, mind-body-spirit! -Z