Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
June / July 1998



Backcountry Survival 101
by Roger J. Wendell

In the last issue I talked about the "Ten Essentials" and the hope that we could reduce problems in the backcountry. Unfortunately, as I write this essay, the bodies of two young hikers have just been recovered a few miles outside of Canon City - both died from hypothermia. Also, as I write, the search for their adult companion continues, bringing to mind some important backcountry issues:

1. Before any outing, ALWAYS let someone know where you're going, what your expected route of travel is, and when you expect to return.

2. As outlined in the last issue, EACH member of every outing must carry at least the Ten Essentials. It doesn't matter how short the trip or how inseparable the couple - everyone must individually carry at least the minimal amount of emergency gear.

3. It is very dangerous for individuals to separate from a group; always try to keep the party together. Assigning a "rear leader" to keep track of stragglers is a common practice for large groups.

4. If you think you're lost, STOP! Look around for other members of your party. Shout or use your whistle, then listen for an answer. If you don't hear anything, stay calm and use your powers of reason to combat panic.

5. Use your map and compass to figure out your location before forging on. Scan the landscape for features you can reason from. If you can't figure out where you are, think back to where you were an hour ago, or to the last location you were sure of. If that spot is fairly close, within an hour or so, retrace your steps and get back on route. Otherwise, if you're still confused, STAY PUT!

6. Don't travel in the dark! Long before night sets in you should be constructing a shelter, looking for water, and building a fire. Not only is a fire comforting, but it can aid searchers in finding your location as well.

7. Make yourself comfortable but keep signaling from time to time. Eventually you will be reported missing, so STAY PUT until searchers show up.

8. BUY a COLORADO HIKING CERTIFICATE! Available at most hunting, fishing, and outdoors stores, this little piece of paper provides search and rescue organizations state reimbursement should they come looking for you. At a DOLLAR a year there is no excuse not to buy this type of "insurance." I buy mine in five year sets for each member of my family.

Again, there's more to the study of survival than just reading a short essay like this. Formal course work, publications like The Mountaineers' "Freedom of the Hills," and conscious preparation can keep an enjoyable backcountry experience from becoming a newspaper headline.


The RMC will present a program on Hiking Safety on Tuesday, June 30, 1998 at 7 pm at the Denver Central Library. Don Thompson will give the presentation. Call (303) 861-8819 for more information