“I know what I am doing and I will be OK!” Result: Over Three Weeks Lost in the Desert

Here’s a story that almost turned into recovery instead of rescue. Sent in by Steve after my request for Real Life Survival Success Stories. This definitely meets the criteria for a survival story. After reading the article, prepping vs. survival comes to mind. Read the entire article below my comments.

I have never been in this situation. This story offers many “what were you thinking” moments. So I’ll proceed with my analysis from the comfort of my keyboard. Hopefully shedding some light on the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” to keep you found and not lost for three weeks.

Main lessons to take from Mr. LaFever’s ordeal:

1.) Always leave a detailed itinerary with at least one or two trusted friends about your plans for your trip. Even on “short” day hikes. These are trips that get so many outdoor enthusiast in trouble.

I’m guilty of this recently. Dirt Road Girl and I road bikes on a long stretch of beach and trough some trails on vacation. On the deserted beach, the sky turned gray and threatening. We took the first chance to exit and get back to the main bike path. I had my survival kit in my fanny pack. In my haste and stupidity, I’d forgotten to pack any rain ponchos or garbage bags to protect from exposure. I wanted to pack “light” and I was on vacation…and so was my preparedness mindset.

The heavens opened and began to dump horizontal rain three miles from shelter. My main worry was not for me, but for DRG. Her strength was okay even on the cancer drugs and she wanted to ride bikes. Being exposed to the rain and wind for three miles was only going drain her batteries. Riding on an island with relatively flat terrain turned into a potentially dangerous situation considering our circumstances. Regulating exposure (hypothermia and hyperthermia) is the key to surviving emergency situations. Something I had failed to prepare for. Fortunately, we got our soaking, chilled bodies back with only a few shivers from DRG. Prolonged exposure could have turned out to be a very different outcome.

This was a little more than a day hike for our pilgrim…and he was alone. Fortunately, his dad knew the general location of his son and was able to relay that to the rescue team.

Your plan should include at least these three W’s:

  • Where and when you’re headed out. Including a map of the trails and area would be very useful in affecting a rescue if necessary.
  • When you plan on returning. Not much good if your family knows where you are if they don’t know when to expect your return. If they think you are camping for a week, when you really only planned on being gone two days, the extra five days could leave you bloated and dead in the wilderness.
  • Who and how many are in your group. Are there any special needs in the group (age, special needs, health conditions, male/female, etc.). If rescuers are tracking you or your group, this info would be very valuable.

2.) Swallow your pride and live to try again. At one point, the son called his dad to say 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 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.”

3.) Practice with a safety net. 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 and possessing one of the two most important pieces of survival gear – FIRE. Even without the other item (knife), fire helped keep him alive.

Even if you are not a smoker, it is always essential to keep a fire starting device in your everyday carry stuff.

4.) The devil is in the details. One of the factors that helped lead rescuers to him was knowing details about his particular condition. Referring back to the “Who” in my first point, family members described him as having autism. While that might seem trivial to most, it turned out to be very helpful in locating the lost hiker. Autism sufferers seem to be drawn to water. Armed with that knowledge, searchers focused on following the river. It paid off. LeFevor had not strayed from the watery path he was following.

Here’s the real life story of LeFevor’s brush with room temperature. Learn from his mistakes and stay alive!

Doing the stuff,



Utah rescuers find emaciated hiker after month long ordeal

By Phil Gast, CNN
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Sat July 14, 2012
Watch this video

  • Man survives more than three weeks in remote Utah desert
  • Helicopter pilot, deputy rescued him in river gulch
  • Hiker had eaten roots, frogs to stay alive
  • According to family, survivor has autism

(CNN) — Too weak to stand or walk, William M. LaFever sat in a shallow river bed in the south Utah desert, awaiting rescue that came more than a month after his family last heard from him.

Thursday afternoon, a helicopter flying in the Escalante River gorge spied the bearded LaFever, 28, who had lost 50 pounds and eaten frogs and roots in his desperate effort to stay alive during his walk from a Utah city to Page, Arizona.

“We came around the corner and we were pretty amazed to see him alive and sitting up,” Shane Oldfield, a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter pilot assisting the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN Friday.

LaFever was hospitalized Friday in St. George, Utah, in stable condition. Family members told a deputy that he has autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder, said Becki Bronson, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

Rescued man saves would-be rescuer

The Colorado Springs, Colorado, man’s incredible odyssey began when he called his father on June 6 or 7 to tell him he was in Boulder, Utah, hiking with his dog, according to the sheriff’s office.

Rescued hiker: I messed up

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 elder LaFever said he wasn’t sure how William would make it all the way to Page, but his son mentioned following the river.

Within a week of his call home, William got a ride to where Highway 12 crosses the river, and set out on his journey.

The younger LaFever apparently did not know the extent of the rigors he would face when he planned to walk nearly 50 miles in the Escalante Desert to Lake Powell and then obtain a boat ride, officials said.

Eventually, LaFever’s food and strength ran out as he continued walking, according to authorities, and his dog ran off. Officials were looking into a report that the animal may have been located, Bronson told CNN.

With her brother long overdue, LaFever’s sister called authorities Monday, seeking help and providing information on where he might be.

Garfield County Deputy Ray Gardner accompanied Oldfield on the flight and told him he had learned in recent training that people with autism often are drawn to water.

Oldfield said the hiker had apparently followed the river as he walked south and had been in the location where they found him for several days, sapped of almost all his strength. LaFever was only a few miles away from Lake Powell.

Hikers rescued in Utah canyon

“I think he probably hiked as far as he could until he was physically exhausted and he went into survival mode,” the pilot said.

LaFever had no compass and had discarded or lost his hiking gear.

All he had were his pants, shoes, underwear, shirt and a lighter.

He used the lighter to set a small fire at night, officials said, and then would roll into the river to stay cool and drink water.

LaFever weakly waved when Gardner and Oldfield spotted him from the air.

After their landing, the pair approached the emaciated man, not certain of his identity. Initially, LaFever did not want to get into the helicopter.

“He was asking us for food but it was not like he was shoveling it down. He was casually eating a granola bar as he was talking to the deputy,” said Oldfield.

In a statement, Gardner said he had not been expecting a good outcome.

“We had no idea if William had stayed along the river, or decided to leave, or got a ride with someone, or was lost somewhere other than along the river,” he said. “We flew along it without any expectation of finding anything at all. The conditions would have to be just right too; unless he was out in the open there was no way we would be able to find him.”

Gardner, praised by LaFever’s family for his work on the case, did not immediately return a message left Friday by CNN.

William LaFever was in an area popular with hikers, but was about 30 miles beyond where most venture, Oldfield said.

“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.”

John LaFever said his son “has done a lot of camping but he has always been close enough to where he could walk to people and get a grocery store. It has never been at this capacity.”

William LaFever, who is on disability, will be hospitalized indefinitely as he regains his strength.

“I am just overwhelmed,” said his father. “I was really hoping he was alive. The chances of him being found alive were one in a million, maybe.”

Categories: Preparedness, Real Life Survival Success Stories, Self-reliance, SHTF, Survival | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on ““I know what I am doing and I will be OK!” Result: Over Three Weeks Lost in the Desert

  1. Pingback: Hiking, It’s Like Heaven but with More Effort « The Running Thriver

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