Foley: Gear up for Emergencies
March 1, 2016
Last week we shared an interesting article on survival gear written by Miles Clark on our Facebook page. He interviewed some of his ski partners on what rescue equipment they had in their packs; the results were interesting and informative.
I wanted to elaborate a bit with some of my thoughts on what survival gear you might consider carrying in your pack for backcountry ski tours, wilderness hikes or peak ascents. These types of activities are a step beyond an afternoon ski tour on packed trails or short hike with the pooch. Because of the distance from the trailhead, more challenging terrain and the risk of exposure to bad weather or darkness extra precautions for emergencies should be considered. Having just a few survival items could make the difference between a harrowing experience and mere inconvenience.
A good backcountry medical kit should be able to help you treat injuries that are life threatening or that prevent travel. Broken bones, bleeding lacerations and soft tissue injuries like a torn ligament or pulled muscle need treatment before travel. Basics include tape, absorbent bandages, a wide ace wrap and a SAM splint. It is critical to protect yourself and carry latex gloves. Some over-the-counter pain medication like Ibuprofen or Tylenol can make travel with an injury much more comfortable. A trauma sheers, large triangle bandage and some safety pins are handy. If you are CPR trained you understand the need for a CPR mask.
Injuries aside, what can really get you in trouble in the backcountry is weather, cold and darkness. If you get wet, become stuck or stranded or get caught out after dark your adventure just got exponentially more challenging. Recently we had two rescues of snowmobilers who got stuck and had to be extricated. In one, the subjects called for help early and were able to build a fire. The rescue was straightforward and low stress. On the other incident we did not get mobilized until way after dark. The subject built a fire, but could not keep it going. By the time we got to him he was extremely cold because he got wet from perspiration and was frightened, almost in panic mode. He was sitting on the snow, in the dark, shivering, with a dead cell phone.
My point here is that being able to stay warm is critical to survival. The ability to build a fire and/or shelter could be the difference between inconvenience and calamity. Having a few basic items can give you some opportunities to help yourself or your partner.
Number one on my list is a headlamp. Having light can allow you to continue travelling if that is a good option. A light can make providing first aid, finding fuel or building a shelter easier and faster. A light may enable you to signal for help at night and just having a light is a morale booster when it's so dark in the woods you can't see your hands in front of your face.
Number two for me is a fire-building kit. There are many methods and tools available for you to choose from. My go-to kit is very simple and compact – a Bic lighter and Vaseline soaked cotton balls stored in a pill bottle. Learn and practice your fire-building skills before you need them on a cold, windy night.
I'll just mention a few other key items: para-cord, tarp or space blanket, knife tool, map and compass, whistle and water filter. A mini stove is a real lifesaver in the winter.
One of the questions Clark asked his partners was "can you rescue an injured ski partner?" I can tell you from thirty plus years of experience dragging people off the mountain: probably not. If the patient is unable to walk, ski or ride a machine the pure physicality of moving a person over terrain is daunting without a crew and proper equipment.
In the winter, building some sort of rescue toboggan out of a tarp or skis is doable. Practicing up front will be an eye-opener in regards to the equipment needed and the energy required. In the summer, various techniques can be utilized to build a litter, but then you still need the person power to lift and carry the load.
Maybe your time and energy would be better spent building a fire and shelter for the patient and sending or calling for help.
Backcountry survival is a wide-ranging topic. I hope I have given you some momentum to consider what you carry in your pack.
Greg Foley is a member of Grand County Search and Rescue and has been a mountain rescue volunteer for 36 years. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. The GCSAR website can be found at grandcountySAR.com or on Facebook/GCSAR.
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