Column: Admitting you’re lost can save your life

'The Safe Approach'

Compounding failures are the building blocks of all human disasters: if one thing is going bad, so will everything else, thus a search-and-rescue (SAR) event can be lengthy and unpleasant.

Do not be Yogi Berra, “We’re lost, but we are making good time.” As soon as “lost” becomes a conscious thought, cease the stroll to parts unknown.

Three survival concepts: admit you are lost, ascertain what you have to work with, and be seen. Stay busy with tasks to limit the panic that will grow. Make shelter; possibly locate a water source, gather small diameter wood, and set-up to be seen.

Rescue may come days after the request. Stay put, remain patient, and up to the challenge; be mentally focused and positive. The physical challenge may last several days.

If stationary, ration your food and fluids. Divide them into thirds and allow the first two-thirds for the estimated first half of the challenge and the last third to consume in the final half. Rescued earlier, you will be in good shape and no worse off, if rescued later, you dieted.

Strive to make yourself “BIG” so as to be seen or heard by anyone. Contrasting or bright colors will identify your position. “Bright Blue” is the current choice, “Orange” is a close second. These colors are not found naturally in the environment and will stand out. Spell in large letters the word: “HELP” -or- “SOS” using rocks, logs or by stomping into the snow. The symbol: “X” means: “cannot proceed further” and an “I” means: “have injuries.” Geometric shapes stand out in the wild, arrange colored ponchos or backpacks in a triangle.

Remain with your tent or vehicle, such large objects are always found first by SAR. Do not separate from companions, but always have an agreed upon meeting point, just in case. If you send out runners (“two go out”), know their route, so that if found first (as always seems to be the case) SAR can track them down.

Although not recommended, if you must move, place arrows (using rocks/wood) on the path indicating your direction. At all forks/ intersections, place two crossed sticks (“X”) at the paths not taken. A stone on each “X” assures searchers they were deliberately placed. If retracing your steps, take the time to re-set the markers. Go slower than normal, rest periodically in the shade, allowing searchers to catch up.

Never go down an unknown ridge or into a canyon. No matter what we have been told, it is not a wise thing to do. “Down” leads to canyon walls, deadfall trees, cliff-outs and steep terrain. You become myopic by the lower elevation, losing your ability to view the surrounding country or to use signaling tactics, and it eliminates a helicopter’s ability to pull you out.

Rick Hartman, a resident of Prescott, is providing occasional articles on preparedness and survival.