by Todd Walker
With only the clothes on his back and a lighter in his pocket, William LaFever survived over three weeks in the Utah desert. His predicament was not part of some ‘reality’ TV show. There wasn’t a host describing the next reward challenge. No immunity necklace. No cameras or medics standing by.
He was lucky to be found alive.
This story is full of teachable moments. Here are some take-aways from LeFever’s brush with death.
1.) Recognize survival situations
Anytime your basic needs go unmet, you’re in a survival scenario – whether you admit it or not.
Seasoned woodsmen, survivalists, and preppers are familiar with the Rule of 3’s: 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. Unless you find a way to meet these needs, you’re likelihood of dying grows exponentially.
2.) Ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do you, punk?
Dirty Harry’s classic line makes you re-think dependence on luck. With a 44 Magnum pointed at the perps head, he had to decide if Clint had fired 6 rounds, or only 5.
Don’t roll the dice with Mother Nature!
Your luck increases by applying the 7 P’s (Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance). It’s smart to leave a detailed itinerary with at least one or two trusted friends about your trip plans. Do it even if you’re taking a short day hike, fishing, hunting, or camping.
These safe mini-adventures land many outdoor enthusiast in trouble. Mother nature is not fair and she finds creative ways to toss the unexpected into the mix.
Your itinerary should include these three W’s as a bare minimum:
- Where and when you’re headed out. Including a map of the trails and area would be useful in affecting a rescue if necessary.
- When you plan on returning. Your family should know where you’re headed and when to expect your return. If your overnight excursion takes a turn for the worse, they will know you’re in trouble and begin the process of locating and rescuing you.
- Who and how many are in your group. Are there any special needs in the group (age, special needs, health conditions, male/female, etc.). LeFever’s family described him as having autism. While that might seem trivial to most, it turned out to be very helpful in locating the lost hiker. All humans need water to survive but people with autism seem to be drawn to water. Search-and-rescue focused on following the river. It paid off.
3.) Know your limits
Before being lost, the son called his dad to ask for money.
LaFever said he had run out of money and someone had stolen some of his hiking gear. Authorities said they assumed he was given a ride to Boulder, as he did not have his own vehicle.
“He didn’t want me to come out there,” said LaFever’s father, John LaFever. “He wanted me to send him some money to get him to Page.”
The wise move after someone had stolen his gear and he had daddy on the phone would have been to accept the money and fly or ride home. His decision to go-it-alone with no gear almost cost him his life.
“He made the mistake ‘I know what I am doing and I will be OK,”’ Bronson told CNN. “There are many who have done that and paid the price.” [Emphasis mine]
Could you survive on your wits and a lighter? Forage wild foods? Everything is edible once.
4.) D0n’t leave home without a kit
William was found about 30 miles further along the river than most casual hikers traveled. Even though he had camping/hiking experience, this was not the time to attempt this long journey with nothing but his clothes on his back and a lighter in his pocket.
To his credit, he survived by foraging roots, eating frogs, and possessing one of the most important pieces of survival gear – FIRE.
It can happen to any of us outdoors. Taking a wrong turn or slipping on a root and tumbling down a ravine on a short day hike can turn into a serious situation – especially when you’re close to home.
The I’m-close-to-home mentality turns our preparedness mentality into mush. Spending the night in the woods unprepared can have dire consequences.
For short outdoor outings, a basic kit should include:
- Water, filter, metal container
- Fire making material and equipment
- Cutting tool
- First aid supplies
- Cordage and duct tape
- Signal mirror and whistle (your best chance of surviving is being found)
- Shelter – tarp and/or contractor garbage bag
- Security – sidearm and extra magazines/ammo
There’s no such thing as basic emergencies. Plan accordingly.
5.) Doing the Stuff makes you the luckiest Survivor out there
Knowledge, gear, and skills are survival aids. When your hands are wet and freezing in a 30 mph wind, that’s not the time to attempt your first friction fire. Have redundant backups.
Practicing your skills with your gear builds knowledge and confidence. Doing the Stuff closes the gap on sloppy skills making you the luckiest survivor in the world.
Do you feel lucky? Luck is unreliable.
What makes you the ‘luckiest’ survivor in the backcountry? Do tell!
Keep Doing the Stuff!
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