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Survive Your Destination

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

You've planned your outing for weeks on end and in your mind you've left no stone unturned as to the lists of things to bring along on your Labor Day weekend excursion up in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Your trip will take you nine miles into the wilderness area and up to an elevation of 8000 feet. Your plan is to go to the site of an old gold mine that is rarely even found on newer topographical maps. You've brought along food and water for the three-day round trip, sleeping bag, camera, and the necessary mining equipment.

So, off you go, rough tough wilderness dude, into the wild of the San Gabriel's. After six hours of steady climbing in the hotter then anticipated California sun you realize maybe you didn't bring along enough water, but hey, you're only an hour from your destination so you might as well carry on. The steepest part of the climb is up coming and your backpack is heavy. The can goods you brought along are really weighing you down. Perhaps a rest in the shade would help if you could find some. It's two in the afternoon and it's another hour before you hit the tree line and shade. Better to push on.

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The San Gabriel Mountains. A hard trek back to civilization

An hour later and the tree line is still looking like it's an hour away. According to the map you should be at your destination by now poking around the old mine getting into some other type of difficulty. You'd like to stop here and just set up camp for the night but the sun will be blaring down on you for many more hours to come. You push on and finally an hour and a half later you reach the tree line and shade. You're exhausted and hungry. You gather up the makings of a small fire to heat up water to add to your food and realize that if you do that your water will not make it for the entire trip. So a can of beans it is. A restless night of aches and pains, stones under the sleeping bag, and a few creepy crawlers get you up with the sun without hesitation.

You look over to the tree where you hung your pack and see that it's contents have been dumped out over night and all the food except the can goods has been either eaten or strung around on the ground making it inedible. What's next, you wonder? This is just the starting formula for a disaster. The next ingredient would be a fall and breaking something, or a poisonous snake or insect bite, or perhaps just totally losing your direction. Whatever the case may be, are you prepared to survive?

The above scenario happened to a friend of mine and though he made it back with the help of some other hikers it was a harrowing experience for him.

The two keys that I have found to be most important to survival are PREPAREDNESS and PREVENTION.

Prevention in the outdoors takes a lot of plain old common sense. When you're planning a trip check weather reports right up to the last minute. Sometimes you just have to make a spot evaluation. How many times have you known the weatherman to be wrong? Prevention means using sound judgment like checking your gas and water levels before heading out into the desert. Sure you can push your luck and many times come out all right but someday that person will probably be on the evening news as some sort of casualty to the will of nature.

In the before mentioned scenario my friend simply had to go on this trip he had planned no matter what the situation was. He didn't listen to the weather reports. He didn't bring enough water because of it and his pack was overloaded causing exhaustion. He went alone and did not leave details of where he was going.

If you've taken all of the preventive steps possible then you want to be prepared for what ever might occur. Obviously you cannot prepare for everything that could happen to you, but having a good general knowledge of surviving in the outdoors will help. Being prepared brings confidence. Confidence that you can lick the survival problems that you may face.

To survive means to live on. Some of the things you should have some basic knowledge of are, SIGNALING, SHELTER, FIRE, PROTECTION, WATER, and FOOD.

If I find myself in a jam the first thing I want is an early solution. Rescue my butt quick and get me to help or home, whichever I need. If you're broken down in a vehicle with a CB radio, you're in good shape as you can radio in for help. If you're in the wilderness the best thing to use to signal is smoke. Green leaves and branches on a hot fire will create a lot of smoke that can be seen for miles. At night a fires glare can be seen far. A mirror or a lid from a tin can be used to signal for help. Sometimes you can raise a flag of sorts from a tall tree to get attention.

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Natural limestone caves provide great shelter. The dark patina on these rocks contains petroglyphs.

If help were not on the way soon I would next be thinking about shelter. I want to get the upper hand on controlling my environment. I want to be protected against wind, rain, snow, sun, whatever will be harmful to my well being. Use what you have at your ready. Perhaps it's your car or boat. Maybe there's a cave or a hollow in a tree you can use. Learn how to make a lean-to. Sometimes simply propping up branches over a large rock and covering it with leaves will do the job.

Next you should be thinking about fire. Anyone who ventures into the outdoors should stop at the nearest outfitters and get a small handy dandy survival kit. They sell from $5.00 and up and usually have a means to make a fire along with other useful items. If you haven't thought to do that I hope you at least brought some dry matches because if you didn't you'll be struggling with the following methods. A bow, stick, and string moved to create friction like you've seen Indians do in the movies. Or striking iron or steel on a hard rock will create a spark which if you properly place tinder a fire will start. You could use the lens from your watch, compass, or mirror to focus the suns rays on tinder to start a fire.

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A makeshift lean-to shelter.

The protection from the elements will most likely be your shelter, but how will you protect yourself from animals or other unwanted creatures? A knife would surely help in many situations. A knife can be used to make larger weapons such as spears or snares to keep animals away. Smoke and a fire stick will deter many animals and pesky insects also. You should also consider protection from sunburn, snow blindness, and insect bites.

My friend's downfall was water. In a warm climate a person needs a gallon of water a day and more if you're sweating. Sometime in desert climates you'll need two to three gallons a day. If you don't have water you need to find a source right away, just don't expend all your energy doing so! Your sources for water will vary depending on your local. Some sources are ground water, rain, snow, dew, succulents, and fruits. In rocky terrain you should be able to locate a spring or seepage from rocks or pools of standing water. Your survival kit may have water purification tablets in it or you may want to boil the water you find. Use empty containers to store rainwater or snow that you find. Using a sheet of clear plastic, an empty container, and a rock you can make a solar still to get a water supply from the air around you.

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A solar still for collecting water

Food is a matter of taste. When it comes to hunger I guarantee you that many luxuries can be over looked and foods you looked down on before become delicacies. How many times have you heard of a person stumbling out of the woods after ten days saying they survived on grubs and bugs? If you're near water, fish is an obvious choice but keep in mind that many animals come to water to drink and if you have the means to get one you may have your next meal. Frogs, lizards and snakes are easy catches and don't taste too bad once you get past the idea of what you're eating. Snares, dead falls, and pits can be made for larger animals.

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This desert area though it appears quite desolate, is within 3 miles of millions of people off I-15 in one direction, and hundreds of miles from civilization in the other direction. A rough place to be stuck if you venture the wrong direction.

There are many edible plants to choose from. Dandelion, yellow dock, golden rod, nettles, and other similar plants can have their young leaves used as salad or cooked as greens. Some plants are used for teas and others as soups.

To me survival is a responsibility that each and every one of us should share. A responsibility to our families, our community and ourselves. It should not be taken lightly. Unless you have natural inborn survival instincts we should all take the time to bone up on survival skills because you just never know what will happen when you least expect it.



1. Bradford Angier, Living Off the Country, The Stackpole Company, 1956.
2. Mary Elizabeth Parsons, the Wild Flowers of California, Dover Publications, 1966
3. Personal experiences of the author through Scouting.

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