Wednesday, August 7, 2019

My Survival Prep for Hiking


I really enjoy doing SOTA, (Summits On The Air).  It gets me outside and I can setup my “ham shack” on places that have a fantastic view and that are optimal for ham radio.  Since I don’t live on a summit, this hobby involves hiking. I decided to produce this article on hiking safety for my fellow SOTA operators after my small incident on Turner Peak (which I wrote about here).  Since I give presentations on SOTA and people ask me about hiking loadout and safety, I can now point them to this post (Here is a link to the slides ).

The “event” was really just a boo boo while hiking, not a massive injury, but it serves as a good example of a simple boo boo that you should be prepared for when doing SOTA.  It was a stop the bleeding kinda thing, and then go to doctor to get it sutured up to fully repair.  I’ve aked a few SAR (Search And Rescue)  members to chime in with their thoughts and suggestions as well.  This isn’t going to be an in-depth survival guide that plays the “what if” game.  Although the article is long, it’s keeping things pretty basic.  At-least, I think so.


While hiking Taylor Peak, I fell backward onto a fallen tree with a broken off branch sticking out while setting up an antenna.  The resultant impalement left a puncture to my right hamstring but no serious damage other than a hole with this red stuff leaking out where it’s not supposed to. (BTW, if you see fat poking out as well, then it’s not just a scratch)  This reinforced the notion of having a good med kit.  The injury could have been worse but I was prepared and trained.  My medical kit is light but had exactly what I needed to stop the bleeding, treat myself, and move on.  Sure, it hurt like hell, but that’s just life telling you to wake up.

The experience showed how I react under the stress of injury.  I did start flinging stuff around as I tried to remember which pocket the first-aid kit was in, but all in all, things came together quickly.  Remember, its hard to stay clear headed when under stress.  No, the patch job didn’t look professional but it was effective and I had a plan on next steps if the bleeding didn’t stop (all my training coming back).  I knew that I should eat right away and drink plenty of water while I was on the summit and I would need the energy for the descent.  After I treated myself, I sat down, ate,  and did a quick survey for any other holes.  I felt fine and in no danger.  There was very little blood loss (the equivalent to a scrape on the face) so I wasn’t going to go into shock.  Do you know the signs of shock? So while I chilled, I fired up the radio and activated the mountain with the minimum of four contacts.  No reason to abandon the mission, everything was setup. :)

I am not an expert mountaineer, nor a medical expert, but I've had training.  I was an Army Combat Medic, have been EMT certified, and have had multiple first-aid refreshers at work as a member of the medical first response team.  Refreshers are really important because if the skills are not part of your daily routine, they are quickly forgotten.  As a kid I’d probably blow off the refresher but experience has taught me well both in being a medic and a pilot.

The most important thing I can say right here is to stay within your capabilities and appetite for risk (mine is not that high).  If you are doing any sort of hiking, I strongly recommend taking a wilderness first-aid course.  If it’s been a while, get a refresher.  Also, take advice from the experts in mountaineering and wilderness medical field. If nothing else, pack some stuff that you know how to use. (I’m not recommending a full trauma bag for a day hike by the way, what you take is up to you).  Remember, you may have to help someone else on the trail, why not enable yourself to do that.   Please don’t exceed your skills in the medical area.  It’s a recipe for disaster and lots of lawyers if you touch someone else beyond basic first-aid.

If you want to go light as possible, water is number one.  Number 2 and beyond is up to you.  Your decisions should be driven by conditions, length of trip and your appetite for risk.

Some Suggestions

Hiker’s Ten Essentials

I’ll start with the “Ten Essentials”.  The following are what I know are the minimums / ten essentials and a few extra from the Ham Ninja.  Google “hiking ten essentials” and you’ll get plenty of hits.  This list is very representative.

  1. Navigation: Compass, GPS & Paper charts.  I know, you have a phone with AllTrails and you downloaded charts for off-line.  But... You’ll drop your phone when you most need it and now you’re hosed

  1. Headlamp (& extra batteries).  Bring what the situation calls for.  If you are on well marked trails, or easily navigated areas, you don’t need a whole lot.

  2. Sun Protection

  3. First aid including foot care.  I’ll try to put together a list of what people recommend.  Mine happens to treat a hole in your leg :)

  4. Knife: multi-tool for repairs.

  5. Fire: Matches, lighter, etc (please don’t start a fire unless it’s life or death)

  6. Shelter: emergency bivy to stay warm.

  7. Extra food beyond what the expedition calls for and you may need to help others.

  8. Extra water.  If you are hurt, you will need this or you may run into someone else that does need it.

  9. Extra clothes: I pack a minimum of two extra layers.  I have a light fleece in the pack along with a shell for rain.  Winter requires more layers.

    Ham Ninjas also bring....

  10. Get a cheap VHF radio and learn how to use it.  To learn, get a ham technician license. It’s really easy to get and it will help you understand how to use repeaters etc, allowing you to practice legally.  In addition, there are legions of hams that would love to help you learn. (See “The Fast Track To Your Technician Class HAM Radio License”).  I will say “practice” because I guarantee you’ll forget how to configure it in just weeks.
    If you have an emergency, use the radio whether you are licensed or not, you will not be punished.  In fact, use any means at your disposal to save yourself or others.  As an example, a kayak tour guide was saved by one of his group after they ran back to camp to use his radio to call for help while on a remote Alaska island. 

  11. Consider carrying a satellite communication unit.  In my opinion, the Garmin Inreach unit is the best.  It supports one button emergency call out, SMS and email messaging.  And, if you desire, tracking by pinging your location at a recurring time that you set (I use every 10 minutes).  You see my track at https://share.garming.com/claborne.  Multiple reviews by people that hike and are part of search and rescue that I know recommend them.  The InReach uses the Iridium satellite network, which I’m told, has higher reliability (they also launched more satellites last year but I'm not positive those support the Inreach).  One word of caution, they don’t always work. Obviously they need to have been charged up before you leave and they need to be able to see the satellites.  Messages you send may go out in 2 minutes or longer than 20 minutes. It all depends on your units ability to see the satellites passing overhead, and the satellite's ability to handle traffic.  Iridium capacity will be maxed out if there is a large scale event in your area.
There are a lot of “essentials lists”, this is just mine, not the best.  There’s also a lot of training online and classes offered by multiple groups on hiking safety, clothing, and how to get more fun out of your trip. I say “get more fun” because if you are just a little trained and prepared, there’s less stress about the adventure. (see REFERENCE section at bottom).

Some suggestions for a first-aid bag

There are complete books on mountain wilderness and what to put in an aid kit.  The following is geared to people like me, doing light to medium hiking.
  1. Small bandages for those cuts and scrapes.
  2. Antiseptic wipes
  3. Large bandages
  4. Gauze and tape and duct tape (just put some around a pencil).
  5. Cling wrap
  6. Ace Bandage
  7. Tweezers for thorns, etc
There are a lot of pre-packaged kits out there (the Adventure Medical Kits like this one) where they have done a little planning and provide you with just the right amount of stuff to handle a small event while keeping it light.  What I found when I needed the Adventure Medical kit was that it was double wrapped.  The yellow zippered pouch, pictured above, allowed me to add a few things, and there was a inner ziplock and heat-sealed pouch with tear-off seal ensuring it would be dry when you need it.  I opened it no problem and it had everything I needed and more.  Thumbs up from me.

NOTE: I will NOT try to tell you how to use any of this.  Get training on how to stop the bleeding, what to do if it won’t stop, signs of shock, how to tell when your bandage is too tight, how to stabilize a broken limb or make a sling...  At a minimum, anyone can do ABC. Check airway, breathing, and circulation (CPR if needed and stop the bleeding).
Do not assume that I'm saying you have treat yourself or others to get off the mountain on your own under any possible condition.  Never be afraid to call for help if you feel your life or others might be in danger but you should be prepared.  Had my injury been severe enough, I’d have pressed the “red button” and gotten a nice helicopter ride off that mountain (or scary as shit carry down the mountain).  In my case, possible rescue had a bonus.  I was within feet of the Arizona and New Mexico border.  I’m guessing New Mexico and Arizona Search and Rescue dudes would probably have been fighting over who got to “get the save”  because they wouldn't know which side of the fence I was on.  😄😄😄

Food & Water

Food is easy.  There are tons of high energy and nutritious bars on the market.  It’s light, and good tasting.  How much you carry is up to you.  Bring enough to hold you for 24 hours after your trip ends.  You can survive weeks without food.  If you or someone on the trail is “bonking”, sitting down in some shade, plus eating and drinking makes a world of difference.  This is also a safety thing.  If you have a pack on and are unsteady on your feet due to low blood sugar, there are all kinds of not-so-fun things that can happen.

Water is a much bigger concern though.  You’re 60 to 80% water and you kinda need this stuff to function.   This is the one hikers like to skimp on because it’s so darned heavy (2.2 lbs / liter).  They skimp thinking they can get by on a liter or two.  If it’s hot, this can be a deadly decision. If you are at high elevation, which is where us SOTA guys normally are at, you need more than normal due to dry air and your high activity.  Hydrate before you leave and take sips along the way rather than chugging 2 liters all at once.  REMEMBER, if you get hurt or lost, you’re going to be on the mountain for a while.  I’ve run out of water a couple of times, once due to a leak, the other time was my screwup.  I was miserable.  Water is a comfort thing for me.  Also, think about bringing something that treats local water if there is any (You checked to see if the route has water, right?). If you run out, you’ll need a plan B.   Always purify.  I’ll use a quote from Jamies BLOG;
That water may look cool, clear and tasty, but chances are if it’s in the mountains it’s probably had some marmot fecal matter in it, or donkey/horse where trail crews use pack animals to take supplies in etc.  Unless you want to lose 20-30 pounds FAST, do not drink the water untreated!!!

I normally don’t leave the house with less than 3 liters.  If I bring water home then I probably wasn’t drinking enough (which is a personal mistake I tend to make).  Bring enough that will hold you for 24 hours and or allow you to help someone else that is in trouble. 

I  was hiking in southern California with my hydration bladder filled to 3.5 liters max.  It was cool in the morning but a difficult hike.  I arrived at the top with plenty of water for the trip back.  As the day went on, the temperature unexpectedly spiked to over 80 f.  While on the summit goofing with the radio and having a great time, the water was slowly leaking out of my pack.  The trek had several uphill sections to get back to the car. I suffered the last three or so miles with no water.

I was absolutely amazed by the number of people that came to that hike with a single sports bottle!  I passed several people that were worse off than I was.  I probably I drank more on the way to the summit than they had brought for the whole trip.  If a person is already dehydrated for the start of the trip (like doing a little too much partying the night before), then they are already at a disadvantage starting the trek.  Lesson learned on that one. If you see signs all over the place warning you to take water, have plenty of water halfway or more up the trail, that probably means the Rangers are constantly called to haul people back to their car all the darn time.

If you carry enough for yourself and to help others in trouble, then it will help you bring enough for the trip and a little extra in case you are delayed.... And you might be able to really help a fellow hiker.

I’ll stop here on the water thing.  Read this article on backpacker.com for more info.. 

Ability to Communicate

Communications gear is not listed in the ten essentials, but we have the technology to communicate from almost anywhere on the planet, it’s small, and it’s inexpensive.  When most people are out in the wilderness, they don’t want calls from the boss, but being able to communicate in an emergency is a huge contributor to being able to save yourself.  Us ham guys almost always have radios.  (See my number 11 & 12 essential above)

I know people that hike with nothing more than a cell phone and a water bottle, or nothing but the clothes on their backs.  In the mountains, cell service is sketchy and sometimes goes from good to no service (like due to a lightning strike).  In the mountains, I’ve gone from four to zero bars without moving.

    A note on cell phone and emergencies.  If you need to, always try 911 from your cell phone.  Cell towers are programmed to handle 911 calls as a priority from any phone.  If you have AT&T but the local service only supports other carriers, it will handle your call if it can.


About a year ago, while hiking in the San Gabriel mountains, a hiker took a fall off the PCT near the road.  None of us had cell service although between us we had 6 radios.  Another person on the trail grabbed her Sat Comm unit and pressed the SOS button. Help arrived very shortly after via helicopter with a full medical team.   

During my hikes I had constant comms ability (the cell phone only worked on the summit).  I had a sat comm unit that has a position ping every 10 minutes (https://share.garmin.com/claborne) and it has the ability to send SMS text messages and email to others.  Since I told my wife I had a small ouch, I used to keep her informed on my progress.  In addition to that, the Garmin Inreach has the  “red button”.  Press the red button and it sends a SOS to an emergency operations center that will dispatch help ASAP to your GPS location.  I also had a hand held radio that had access to the local repeater network as well as being able to reach a few others 30+ miles away at times.  Yes, I had an HF radio that would go to both coasts at a minimum, and other countries as well but let’s just put that aside for now. :)  If you are into ham radio and and enjoy SOTA, the radio stuff is basic loadout.  On my hiking outings I turn on the ping feature and then forget it.  It keeps my wife happy and if I keel over, she can come find the dog.

Do some planning!  Know where you are going and include brief yourself on the  route, weather, terrain, and associated risks (heat being a huge one). 

Clothing

Learn how to layer.  My wife taught me and I’ve learned from the web and others, and now experience.  Sure, it was short sleeves and shorts when you left but the peak has a little (or a lot) of wind can chill your sweaty ass down quickly (ask me how I know).  Weather can change quickly and if you have to spend the night on the mountain awaiting help, are you prepared for the night time weather (Did you even check what it is before you left?)

I always have two extra layers of clothing and a space-bivy in my pack. The first is a fleece.  I’ve used this on the summits in the summer quite often.  After summiting, it’s normally cooler, I’m sweaty, and the wind is blowing and I’ve stopped exercising.  This chills you quick.  Fleece is light and comfy.  The second layer is a very light shell stuffed into the bag for rain or layering.  Putting on both on a summer night will help you survive a chilly night in the summer where I normally hike.  In the winter, you’ll need more backup depending on what you are already wearing.  I have a super lightweight puffy jacket and on a couple of winter hikes I wore everything I had + beanie.

My last layer is what I call a “space-bivy”.  It’s just like that super lightweight space blanket your parents always tossed in the first aid kit.  This “space-bivy” is the same thing but it’s a bag.(kinda like the one my mom put the turkey in).  My medical kits always had them because if you or someone else is injured, a shocky patient gets cold (cool clammy skin is the first sign of shock).  Also, the injured person typically stops hiking, which means that furnace keeping them warm just went from “high” to “off”.  

Your very last option is fire.  I strongly recommend against this if you can avoid it because way too many fires have turned into massive state-wide disaster destroying property and lives..  I’ll use another quote from Jamie’s BLOG;
Again, I’ll re-iterate, if the fire danger is anything but Green/Low use your clothing layers that are in this list and skip the fire.  Winter, by all means do what you can to stay warm.

Check the forecast weather where you are hiking and ensure that you can survive the nighttime lows with the stuff you brought.  To estimate the temp on the peak, subtract 3 degrees Fahrenheit per thousand feet of elevation gain. 


One other note... A flashlight would be nice when it gets dark wouldn’t it?  If you stayed on the peak a little too long, looking at the fantastic views, you may  have to hike back in the dark.  Also, if you are hiking in an area with steep drop offs, you’re really hosed.  Your little cell phone light won’t last long, so pack a little head lamp.  Toss some extra batteries in the pack too.  Sure as hell you’ll have a dead flashlight because it got switched on in your pack (ask me how I know).  You’ll be glad you dropped the extra batteries in there with the light.  The new headlamps are extremely small and light these days using LED technology.  There’s no reason to leave this out of your bag.  (When I fly, I have multiple lights and I know exactly where they are in the bag so that if I unexpected fly into a cloud and it goes dark I’m ready)

Navigate

I’m a horrible navigator.  I’ve been trained by the scouts, the Army, and  fantastic flight instructors but I’m one of those people SAR may have to come looking for if I don’t pay attention.  Knowing this, I carry a cell phone with Alltrails.com.  Before I leave, I create a custom chart with routing and a plan how to get to the ingress point (I call it a IAF which pilots refer to “Initail Approach Fix” in instrument flying, you call it a trailhead). 

In my planning, I look for existing trails on the AllTrails chart, USFS, satellite, as well as looking at other people’s tracks if they have published them.  For you SOTA guys, take a look at the previous activations and reach out to those operators on routes if you are having trouble finding a good route to the top.  SOTA operators are always willing to help.  I’ve had a full charted plan emailed to me within minutes of asking.   BEFORE I LEAVE, I download the maps to the phone so that it can function with zero network or cell service.  Fail to do this and you’ll be pissed.  I love AllTrails but there are other charting programs out there, GAIA, and CalTopo are a couple others.  I’ve reviewed AllTrails and GAIA in a previous post.. 

OK, you just dropped your phone and broke it (I almost lost mine over a cliff one day), now what?  When I go into a sketchy area, I print out charts from AllTrails and bring them with me.  I have a compass and orienteering skills if it comes to that.  I become a lot more aware of what I’m doing when I’m bushwhacking.  For example, this past week, I took an azimuth reading on the compass to know the direction to head to get back to the trail when I come back if the phone is pooched.  If it becomes overcast, sunset or darkness moves in, you are screwed if you are depending on sun angle.  It’s not a huge deal, most phone have a compass app.  Just take a quick look and jot it down. (please put a compass in your kit though).

Another quote that I’ll take from Jamie’s BLOG;
While I am at it, I might as well mention and IF you do get lost, STAY PUT!   There is a wonderful thing that is being taught to kids now: “If you get lost ‘S.T.O.P’  Stop. Think. Observe. Plan.    If you did leave your plan with someone, and you are not that far off your intended path by staying put we will be able to find you quicker.

Other

I carry a multi-tool.  There are about a million incantations of multi-tools, knives and knick-nacks to choose from on the market.  I don't carry anything big but this is a big time personal choice item so I'll let your imagination run wild.  I have a way to start a fire with a little magnesium do-dad and another options.  I hope it never comes to having to use that given my admonitions about not starting fires.

Don’t depend on 911 speed of rescue

Don’t depend on immediate rescue like when you are in the city.  Mountains can bring bad weather quickly, delaying rescue or help from others via ground or air.  Also remember, when you do have to press the “big red button” on your cool satellite tracker or cell phone, it takes a while for search and rescue to assemble, plan, and execute.

Many areas rely on highly trained volunteers for their SAR team that may be at their day job when the call comes in.  Getting to you may be very difficult if the weather is bad.  Rescue members have to assemble, brief, spend time planning (like you hopefully did), and then take precautions to keep themselves and their team safe.   If it’s too dangerous, they wait.  AND, all of this assumes they know where to find you!!!  (but you know how to mitigate that now).  If you can't be found, you can't be rescued.  You should always be prepared to be on your own for at-least 24 or more hours after your hike.

Be Willing To Abort The Mission

A lot of pilots died because they have “get there itus”.  I’m guessing it’s the same for hikers, who get “summit fever”.  Hell, even I get it. All these pilots had to do is turn around or stop for fuel.  Pilots are very goal oriented.  They are goal oriented because if you aren’t, you get weeded out because won’t get your license or advanced certificate.  That’s me, and knowing that about myself helps.  Transfer this pilot death stuff to your hike.   If the weather starts turning bad, or the terrain is beyond your prep or capability, do it another day.  I’ve landed at an alternate airport waiting for better weather.  A couple of days ago I aborted a SOTA hike due to weather.  Last year I aborted a SOTA hike due to weather and terrain (no “free climbing” skills here).  Even when I did abort, I still had a fantastic and memorable time.  I’ll attack that mountain again but maybe from the other side.

Hiking Alone
I know that I will get a lot of “feedback” about hiking alone.  I look at it this way.  Doing anything involves risk.  Driving to work, taking a walk around the block, crossing the road, walking around the park.  There are multiple factors that play into how much risk you want to take on.  I'm not a huge risk taker.  I'm a private pilot.  When I’ve flown, I planned alternate escape routes and airports.  I had charts and approach plates for those alternate airports and briefed on their forecast conditions.  I had a hand-held radio and a custom first-aid bag (which was pretty big and would handle a lot more trauma than I pack for hiking).  I’ve also filed a flight plan telling someone where I was going.

You shouldn’t hike alone, and even when you hike with others, tell someone where you are going.  I send a map to my wife and a friend.  I  do hike alone but I mitigate some of the risk.

Everything is risk, from crossing the street to driving to work.
If I’m going to be in a remote area, I don’t just wing it, I plan and I plan for stuff to go sideways.  I tell my wife where I’m going.  If it’s remote or unknown at all I send her and sometimes a SAR buddy a link to the chart of my hike plans from AllTrails.com.  I’m told this is the number one thing that experts recommend, and it’s as simple a text message.  Why not put your name on the little register at the trailhead?  If there’s a fire or worse, they at-least know you are in the area.  Remember, you can’t be rescued if you can’t be found.

Like flying, I plan, and I hike routes that are within the envelope of my technical capabilities.  I’ve cancelled treks when I couldn’t use my planned route (like that time that all I could see were cliffs) or the weather turned bad (radio antennas and lightning is a bad mix).  Where there is risk, I try to mitigate it to a point that is acceptable for me.  I could hike with someone but how much training should that person have?  How big should their medical kit be? Should I hike with a highly trained trauma doctor that is SAR certified in all conditions, with an additional support crew for him or her on standby, and why not add helicopters (multiple since you want one on standby right)?   Do I fly a single engine aircraft or a multi-engine and ensure I have tons of fuel on board when I land...?   You get the picture?  It's about finding that balance between living life and being dead.

I know people that hike alone, carry less water or no water, no first aid kit, no food, or comms gear.  They aren't wrong or a bad person, they’ve just accepted a higher level of risk.  That's all.  As you can see from my loadout described above, I have a lot of mitigation that starts to get bulky and heavy, so it’s a tradeoff. I'll continue to learn & think on this and find the right balance for me.  If I’m on a short hike by my house, I can probably leave some of this stuff... but it really doesn’t weigh that much. 

My Final Comments

There are troves of books and web articles written (and I’m sure YouTube videos) on hiking survival, etc.  If you’ve read this far, it means that you are a smart person and are doing your own research.  I’ve put a few links to some that I know of below.  Keep it up, read on and have fun.

I enjoy the hell out of a hike in the pines and the adventure it brings.  My planning doesn’t ruin the adventure of it, it just lowers the risk.  And NOTHING ever goes as planned (that flashlight will have dead batteries when you need it the most).

P.S.  Thanks to Rick and Ramsey (pictured above) for patching my wheel.  I hope to be out there soon.

Search And Rescue Team Comments


Stop going out unprepared! (a note from the SAR perspective).  Blog article written by Tahoe Area SAR team member.
-       Jamie Dahl, N6JFD, Search and Rescue Team membrer in the Tahoe Area

Thumbs up.
-       Adam Kimerly, K6ARK, Search and Rescue Team member San Diego



This guy is an idiot.  Just don’t forget your dinosaur and you'll be OK.
-       Fred Flinstone
<ed. I'm waiting on other input from SAR members that I know> 

REFERENCE LINKS




THANKS
Thanks to the following individuals for their editorial, thoughts and ideas for this article.
      Jamie Dahl, N6JFD
      Fred Flinstone.....


Safe travels, have fun,  and 73

N1CLC,
Chris Claborne
(aka Christian Claborne)

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Chris! About 97% of my SOTA activations have been hiking alone, so that section was very interesting to me. I also plan very carefully and will cancel before changing the route I've left my wife. I also leave a map and est. times of my plan on my dashboard of the pickup for longer, harder hikes. I wear bright colors, if I use my ATV to reach a certain point, people will see it (cherry red color). I have what I would need if I had to spend the night unexpectedly (layers, beanie, gloves, water filter, etc--and I live in the desert). My pack has a blaze orange rain fly (although I don't use it unless I'm trying to be seen or signal). I have turned around and cancelled because of heat, other weather, and too risky hikes and being way off of time schedule. As a solo hiker, it's not worth the extra risk for me. So far (183 summits), thankfully, I haven't had a major issue or feared for my life. I also go armed--that of course is a personal choice, but I have the training and permit to do so. Thanks again! Mike AC0PR

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