If you become lost or stranded in the wilderness, without any doubt, the first thing that mother nature will throw at you is the elements. Mother nature is a beautiful thing, but if you don’t respect her and read the warning signs, such as the dark clouds forming on the horizon, sudden change in wind speed, or the subtle temperature change, just the small details, she can turn on a penny to work against you.What started out as a beautiful day in the mountains has the potential to become a disaster. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we all should be getting outside more and exploring our world with our eyes and senses instead of through our screens, but I shudder to see people walking in the mountains in trainers, t-shirts and shorts with no food or water on them. Failing to prepare even just a little day sack with some basic kit is asking for trouble.
In extreme climates, we can expect to last only around 3 hours without adequate protection. Here in the UK we are fairly lucky with ours, that’s not to say that some parts of the country don’t get it bad. Even still, with our fairly mild climate compared with other parts of the world, it can be bad enough to get us into trouble. I read quite recently that a school group were on an expedition in the Mourne Mountains when deteriorating weather conditions took its toll on the group resulting in some members suffering from mild hypothermia, whilst one member suffering from severe hypothermia lost consciousness. Thankfully our mountain rescue team along with other emergency services were able to locate, treat and guide the group off the mountain safely. The rescue team commended the groups actions that evening stating,
“Clearly had it not been for the outstanding efforts of the young people in this group, this situation would have been much much more serious.” (source https://www.facebook.com/MourneMRT/ )
This goes to show that even a very capable group of individuals can be over come by the elements, and so the right kit, knowledge and preparation is essential for expeditions.
Firstly, if you have survived some form of disaster, the main priority is to get yourself and others away from any potential danger zone, i.e an aircraft wreckage, forest fire, avalanche etc. If there was a vehicle involved, it is best to move out of range of any potential fire or explosions that may occur, however you should remain in the vicinity of the site as it is much easier to spot a vehicle/wreckage from the air than it is to see a person. Once you have removed yourself from any further danger, you should begin to treat any injuries were possible on yourself and others. When you are in a position to do so, find or make shelter.
Shelters do not have to be complicated, in essence they need to keep the elements off you. In open areas, where there appears to be no shelter/materials available, then try to stack any equipment behind you to at least keep you out of the wind. It is essential to keep your body insulated from the ground. Make a note of all available materials in the area, a simple hollow in the ground with branches overlaid and covered with foliage could be enough to get you through the first night, pine branches, bracken, and grasses etc. should be used to insulate your body from the ground. If there is plenty available, do not skimp in the ground insulation, it will compact with body weight so bare this in mind.
You need to stay as dry as possible. We lose heat around 25 times faster when we are wet. It may seem to contradict the senses, but if your clothes are soaked, it is best to remove them from the body and dry yourself, and try to get the clothes dry with a fire before putting them back on. Where materials are more readily available, its it easy to make up a lean to shelter. Two posts just over body length apart with a cross bar running along the top, can be used to lean other vertical branches along the length. Interweave smaller more flexible branches horizontally between them to lock them in place and give you something to help add foliage to. Start from the bottom and work your way up to make the structure rainproof. Dont forget to add the all important ground insulation. Build your fire to the front of the structure and make a heat reflector behind it. This will help to direct the heat towards you and make you that bit more comfortable. I’ll cover fire in the next blog.
At first, keep it simple, build a simple shelter to begin with to get you through the first night. Then you can work on something more substantial. Shelter in my opinion is a main priority, as we are looking at only surviving for hours without it. We can usually go three days without water and three weeks without food, however without shelter, we stand no chance of making it that far. In a survival situation, getting your priority’s right is the difference between life and death. That’s why we have the rule of 3’s. Generally we can last 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter (in extreme climates), 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. If you are an outdoors type of person, you should at least know the basics of these skills, because what you don’t know, can hurt.
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