After being missing for two days, on Jan. 16, 2012 a 66-year-old experienced hiker was found alive on Mt. Rainier. How did he succeed when so many fail to survive? What are the Disaster Survival Skills for winter survival? Here are some tips to keep you alive.
Always let someone one where you went, and for how long, and your intended your intended route and your expected return. If you think that is silly or overkill; just check out the movie "127 Hours". I have been involved in many searches, and the best chance of rescuers finding you quickly is knowing where you were going when you got lost.
Whether a day hike or an extended trip, pack for the unexpected. The items you should carry in a day pack can be debated, but the more items you carry, the more prepared you will be for an unexpected circumstance. Remember, the rules of 3. You can only go 3 hours without heat. 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. So pack accordingly. Warmth -Thermal Blanket, Matches, Water- Water Bottle w/filter, and Food. These items will improve your chances of survival, and increase your level of comfort. Of course, in addition at a minimum, lightweight items like a mirror, compass, first aid supplies, important medicine, and backup batteries are always a good idea. Additional items (the list is endless) like clothing, rain gear, flashlight, light stick, water, personal locator device, and a tube tent might also make sense, based on the level of isolation or difficulty of access, if you should become stranded.
If you find yourself sliding down an icy mountain slope, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of injury, or at least have survivable injuries. You should attempt to get your feet going first. While you may still get injured, at least it won't be your head. High-speed head injuries, with or without a helmet are often fatal. If you carry an ice axe (and you should if slopes are steep and ice is likely), you can then roll onto your stomach and press hard into the snow with the axe into the ice to slow your speed of descent. This will greatly reduce your risk of injury and may provide you a way to go back up if that is your best option.
After the fall, Mr. Yong Chun Kim was able to radio to the group that he had survived the descent and would be hiking around to meet them at the starting area. Communications are very effective in improving your chance of survival and help rescuers locate you. In this day of cell phones, we are almost never out of contact, but remember that cellular service is very unreliable on most mountains, and another type of radio can be very valuable. If you have a radio, you will be able to better advise of your circumstances, condition, and intention. You can advise rescuers what may be needed to help bring you out. After Mr. Kim was unable to rejoin his party, rescuers were able to anticipate his route, to reduce the area that needed to be searched during terrible winter conditions.
Lastly, training on survival in winter conditions is always helpful. Understanding the techniques to create shelter, generate and find water, and help rescuers know your location will also improve your chances of survival. You should have a basic first aid course, and CPR class, and have taken it recently. If your training was long ago, under stress it will be hard to remember the finer points. Confidence comes from knowing what to do, and doing the right thing is always easier if you have been trained.
Can you survive a night on a snowy mountain? Take a minute or two to add a few items to your backpack, and take one afternoon to learn first aid, and you can certainly improve your chances of surviving.