True North Blog

Lost Hiker Saves Self by Staying Put

Lost Hiker Saves Self by Staying Put

Durning the recent Independence Day holiday, hiker James Bane did what many of us around the country did that weekend … He decided to spend the day hiking.  But when he finally realized that he was hopelessly lost on Mount Hood in Oregon, he did what few others actually do in the same predicament … He decided to stay put.

This not only saved Oregon thousands of dollars in taxpayer money that would otherwise have been spent searching for, and retrieving, James, but it likely kept him from getting injured, even saving his life.  And, just as importantly, his decision likely kept many of the dozens of searchers out looking for him from getting injured, even saving their lives too.

As reported in The Oregonian, Bane, 62, an experienced hiker, found himself suddenly lost in the late afternoon.  When darkness approached, he dialed 9-1-1 to tell the Clackamas County Sheriff’s office that he was lost near Paradise Park.  Still, Bane told dispatchers that he thought that he could find a way down on his own.  Instead, they told him to stay calm, let darkness come, and to hold tight on the ridgeline.  As they explained, a search-and-rescue (SAR) team had already located his position after pinging his cell phone.  It would just be a matter of time.

Logical, right?

But by that point, James was beginning to feel oncoming waves of panic, and panic isn’t logical.

Right?

Still, as I often explain to my students, panic isn’t necessarily a terrible thing.  After all, it is an important survival mechanism that has evolved in humans over millions of years to help keep us alive.  Panic is the foundation of our flight-or-fight response system when confronted with danger, either real or perceived.  But blind panic is terrible … It can quickly kill us and those around us.

I regularly underscore to students that, in the wilderness, “lost” is one of the most insidious of stressors, even to an experienced outdoors person.  Researchers have shown that the physical and psychological responses to being lost largely mirror that to drowning in open water.  Consequently, lost hikers typically don’t stay in one location or look backward (because that spot and anything behind them is instinctively perceived as “danger”) and, instead, move forward (to perceived “safety”).  Also, in its mildest forms, hikers have been known to smash their compasses against rocks in their mistaken belief that the North needle has suddenly broken.  In more extreme cases, hikers will abandoned full backpacks that include tents, sleeping bags, even food and water.  In effect, they are trying to “keep their heads above water.”

The trick to controlling panic, then, is training, preparation, and practice.  And more practice.

That is what helped James to survive his ordeal.  He not only had what he needed to get through the night, but he knew what to do.  Plus, he understood what the SAR teams would be doing to rescue him.  Most importantly, he was as much concerned for the SAR teams’ safety as he was for his own.  This is what helped James to keep a cool head.

This is what makes James so remarkable.

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If you are interested in learning more, or if you would like guidance in picking a wilderness skills course that is right for you, then contact Erik.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook.

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