Survival Lesson – What Not To Do When Lost in the Wilderness

Before you go any further please read this story from CNN about a couple of hikers that got lost. Who was it that said luck favors the prepared mind?  Pasteur? In some cases it apparently  favors the not-so-prepared as well.  In the story two young – 18 and 19 year old – kids decide to wander off the path they were hiking and got completely lost.  Let me just say right now these Darwin Award Runner Ups are very lucky to be alive.M3361S-3034 Apparently they started hallucinating after walking off the trail.  Check this out:
She hallucinated she was being eaten by a python, she tried to eat rocks and dirt, and thought that tree twigs were straws from which she could suck water.

And then this statement:

“I honestly didn’t even know I was missing, I didn’t know I was gone, I didn’t know anything was going on,” she said. “I just thought I was in a big dream.” Jack was plucked by helicopter from a tiny rocky outcropping on a near-vertical cliff Thursday, after searchers followed her cries for help across a canyon and up several dried-up waterfalls. She was severely dehydrated, could not move one arm and complained of shortness of breath and pain in her chest and legs, rescuers said at the time. Her mouth was so full of dirt the first man to reach her was afraid she would choke if he gave her water.
And it only gets better from here.
The hike started out well but things quickly went wrong when they left the trail, she recalled. “We just saw a good place and we were like, ‘Oh, we’re just going to scale the mountain here,” she said. They realized as darkness fell that they were lost and nowhere near the mountaintop and Cendoya called 911 twice on his dying cellphone. In the second call, he and Jack can be heard having a tense conversation as the operator tries to determine where exactly they are in the 720-square-mile national forest — a vast wilderness that runs smack up against the suburban comforts of southeastern Orange County. “Yeah, we wandered off the trail. We wandered off the trail,” Cendoya told the operator. “I don’t even know if we’ll make it to the morning because we have no water.”
Jack said Monday that she panicked as the darkness closed in around them. She tried to climb a tree and use her lighter to provide a signal for rescuers, but she dropped it. She thinks she remembers fighting off some type of animal with Cendoya before the two began to slip in and out of consciousness — but that, too, could have been a dream.
“I started to get like an anxiety attack and I started throwing up and I just lost it. I just went in and out of consciousness after the 911 call,” she said.
Well, let’s run down a checklist of how to die in the wilderness shall we?
  1. Make sure you don’t tell anybody where you’re hiking.  Check.
  2. Enter the forest with no basic wilderness survival skills whatsoever.  Check.
  3. Ensure that you have no gear or proper clothing.  Check.
  4. Use up your water and then suffer hallucinations because you’re dehydrated.  (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.)  Check.
  5. Once you realize you’re lost… panic.  Check.
  6. Climb a tree with your lighter at night to make a signal for the rescuers and drop it.  Check.
  7. Make sure your cell phone is dying and that you don’t have another one as a backup or even a compass and map to shoot an emergency azimuth.  Check.
Ok, you get the picture.  Should I lighten up on these young folks?  Maybe, but I’m not going to.  They are old enough to know that if you venture off a trail totally unprepared that you can die.  It’s that freakin’ simple folks.  You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon (anybody know where I got that saying?) to figure that one out. So what should these young folks have done? STOP!  Sit.  Think. Observe. Plan.  Follow this link for an earlier post about what to do when you discover you’re lost in the wilderness. Ensure that you’re adequately equipped for your hike.  That includes having enough water and a way to clean water if you run out whether that’s a filter, iodine tablets, or even a pot to boil water in.   A small pack with minimal emergency gear can make the difference between dying or merely an uncomfortable night in the wilderness. Keep track of where you are.  Even if you’re not using a map and compass stop once in awhile and look back to see what the turn you just came around looks like from that perspective.  It’s not like you’re walking along city blocks that have street signs.  Terrain in the forest can be radically different or look very much the same depending on where you are. It’s your responsibility to keep track.  When I’m walking through new woods I’ll often look back to see what the land I just came over looks like because I’m already planning on coming back that way.  Situational Awareness will do wonders for keeping you alive. Make sure you’re carrying enough gear and have the knowledge to use it if you get caught out over night.  It happens and when it does you don’t have to nearly die because of it. Let me elaborate on the Think part here a little.  I understand they were hallucinating at this point.  There’s only three things I can think of that could cause hallucinations:  1.)  Illegal Drugs  2.)  Dehydration  3.)  Magic Mushrooms
The first one could be alleviated by not taking drugs if that’s what they did.  I’m just pointing out that if you take drugs and go out in the woods eventually bad things are going to happen to you.
The second issue – dehydration – could have been avoided by bringing enough water or having a way to filter your own.
The third one, which is eating the magic mushrooms accidentally, could be avoided by not eating anything you’re not sure of. Your Turn I’m going to let you take a turn now.  What else could they have done different to not end up in this situation in the first place or once there, to survive without nearly dying? I’m glad they’re alive and I assume they’ve learned a valuable lesson from their experience. Questions?  Comments? Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor

53 comments… add one
  • SD3 April 12, 2013, 8:04 am

    Let’s see the results of toxicology reports before any conclusions are drawn.

    • Jarhead Survivor April 12, 2013, 8:07 am

      Agreed. That’s why I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

    • Selkirk April 12, 2013, 8:22 am

      I’m betting THC on the “touching the clouds” and getting lost business. Don’t typically hallucinate from that though.

      Cleveland National Forest looks like a lot of high desert. Dehydration after a day out there isn’t a stretch.

      • Ray April 12, 2013, 8:58 am

        There are drugs that will trip you that don’t show on a normal toxicology screen. The kids are a good example of why its a bad idea to go out to the woods and drop Capt. trips if you are from the city or just stooped. She started seeing the blue meenies after she walked off the trail? HAHAHAHAHAHA. TRIPIN’!!!!! This was realy common out west in the 60-70s when the hippies/deadheads used to go out to “nature” to drop LSD. the USFS would run several “rescues” every month in the summer. A lot of them died anyway. Way more than anybody cares to remember.

  • Selkirk April 12, 2013, 8:10 am

    Sleep deprivation and starvation can also cause hallucinations.

    These days I carry enough to live for three days if I’m going to leave sight of the car. I’ve been made fun of for that before. Alice pack for a 2 mile hike on an established trail? Sure.

    In all fairness, sometimes I forget that I’m not 19. I distinctly remember a time toward the end of high school when I jumped in a pickup truck with a friend, a lighter, a jacknife and some junkfood, and drove like 4 hours to climb Mt. Katahdin. I don’t recall exactly where we were, but we made it to the treeline and realized it was f$%#@ng freezing so we came back down. We made a fire and then proceeded to freeze our asses off in the back of the truck all night. I think I was sick for a week after that.

    We were at least smart enough not to get lost, but the point is: kids do dumb stuff.

    • Leslie Anne April 12, 2013, 8:34 am

      You think you get made fun of. I took a two week supply of food, water, shelter, firewood, some black plastic bags (to toss on the fire to make dark smoke as a signal in case my car slid off the road into a ravine), etc. with me for a drive from Wisconsin to Missouri “just in case” the car broke down or something went wrong along the way :)

      I’m always getting teased about preparedness.

      • Selkirk April 12, 2013, 12:40 pm

        Sounds reasonable to me.

      • Selkirk April 12, 2013, 12:45 pm

        Why not flares though?

        • Leslie Anne April 12, 2013, 5:23 pm

          I never thought about bringing flares. It was a very cold winter roadtrip and I would have needed to make a fire if I was stranded…and figured it if was nighttime and the car broke down, etc., I’d just wait for daybreak to toss some plastic onto the fire to get attention.

          I got extra laughs and teasing because I also brought along my percolator so I could make coffee on the prairie if I got stranded. It was noted as my friend unloaded my stuff that I had more preparedness stuff with me than actual luggage for the roadtrip :)

          • irishdutchuncle April 14, 2013, 9:51 am

            road flares are a good idea for “next time”. they don’t burn out as quickly as matches when you’re trying to light a signal fire. I should probably get a few bundles of local firewood, too. (but the car trunk is pretty full already. also, the percolator is more convenient to use with my camp stove…)

    • Jarhead Survivor April 12, 2013, 10:45 am

      Kids do dumb stuff and most of us somehow survive it. But even at that age I would have known better than to do a lot of what they did.

      Do you suppose that the idea of always being in touch with others via technology takes the caution and fear away that they should have been feeling when they went off trail? Or do you suppose it was just stupid kid stuff and technology be damned?

      • Selkirk April 12, 2013, 12:39 pm

        Oh, technology is a stupidity magnifier for sure.

        Kids in their late teens now might really never have experienced a broken cell phone, or even a broken down car. Hell, it typically takes twenty years to realize the extent to which TV is not real… assuming that you go outside.

        Who expects bad things to happen when nothing bad has happened to him yet?

        For the first 20 years of my life I never had a phone with me because it was attached to the damned kitchen wall. Planning to call for help is beyond me.

  • rush2112 April 12, 2013, 8:10 am

    love the checklist! man, that’s funny.

  • JAS April 12, 2013, 8:55 am

    How long will they last if things get really bad? These young people are a lot like others I know, living for the moment with no though beyond tomorrow. Every day they have to stop on the way home from school or work to pick up something to cook for dinner. Kinda pales compared to the young boy a couple of weeks ago that got stranded and built a snow cave to survive in until rescued.

  • Jason April 12, 2013, 9:42 am

    As to item #4 on your checklist, if they had a few of those little hydration pills which are sold on Amazon, their situation would have vastly improved – right? Ha, ha.

    I used to have a huge phobia about getting lost because I got lost when I was 4 years old. I was lucky I found my way back but it was pure luck. For many, many years after the phobia was almost debilitating even though I travelled quite a bit.

    What was interesting about reading this for me is I wanted to go straight to your solution before reading the rest of the article. The thing you didn’t say but did address was how to handle panic.

    The biggest difference between surviving in that type of situation or ANY related condition is how to control panic which, I believe is inherent with human beings (fight or flight). I could agree more with your solution – stop, think & assess. Planning for worst case – telling people where you are going, bringing some basic extra ‘what if’ items should be drilled in as simple common sense.

    I love the movie The Edge because Anthony Hopkins’ character does exactly that – he remains calm & thinks he his way away from panic even though they are hopelessly lost.

    • Jarhead Survivor April 12, 2013, 10:42 am

      #4.. right! See? See how they could save you?

      Seriously folks, don’t buy the dehydrated water pills. It’s just a joke.

      Hey Jason – this is the second time in as many days that I’ve The Edge mentioned. I’ve never seen it, so I know what I might be watching tonight after the kids go to bed. I hear it’s pretty good.

      • rush2112 April 12, 2013, 10:48 am

        I like that movie too. Its Sir Anthony, c’mon, you cant miss.

      • Road Warrior April 12, 2013, 6:54 pm

        GREAT movie. It’s right up your alley and you haven’t seen it?! Cripes!!! Kudos to Jason for bringing it up…I think it shall be my evening’s entertainment…

        Seriously though, the S.T.O.P. process is a wonderfully single way to remember what to do when the panic sets in. Great article!!

    • Jarheadsurvivor April 13, 2013, 11:06 pm

      Just finished watching The Edge. Wow!!!!!

      • Jason April 14, 2013, 7:58 am

        Didn’t you like the way Charles always kept perspective & worked past the fear of being lost, especially in contrast to the others? I thought that was a brilliant piece of writing because it was incredibly realistic.

        • Jarhead Survivor April 15, 2013, 8:03 am

          I liked everything about the movie. There were a couple of moments of, “I don’t think so!” For example after they kill the bear they’re suddenly wearing nice bear fur coats. People don’t realize how much work there is in skinning, tanning, cutting and sewing garments like that. Like I said there were a few things like that, but overall a definite must watch movie.

          Charles was great because of the way he’d use positive thinking and logic to work through problems. “I’m going to kill that bear!”

          And even when there was a setback (walking that big circle to come back to their camp fire) he was still like, “Ok, well there’s the big dipper and that way is south. We’re gonna be ok.”

          Positive thinking is one of the best tools you can have with you in a situation like that. (Next to a knife. :-)

          • D'ja'c April 15, 2013, 2:44 pm

            My son said the same thing when we watched. I said maybe they didn’t tan the skin cause they planned on getting out soon. My inconsistency was big ol Anthony keeping up with the 2 young guys when they where running. Also that is one heck of an EDC folder. Skinned the bear with it!

    • Selkirk April 15, 2013, 8:04 am

      Yeah The Edge was good.

  • irishdutchuncle April 12, 2013, 9:47 am

    dinner and a movie was always more my idea of what to do on a first date…

    getting into a SHTF situation is way down on the list. I hope I would have at least thought to bring along a blanket.

    • Jarhead Survivor April 12, 2013, 10:38 am

      Oh man, Irish! I laughed like hell when I read your comment.

    • rush2112 April 12, 2013, 10:42 am

      LOL! I was thinking that too. Poor guy. made quite the impression on the young lady i’m sure!

      • irishdutchuncle April 13, 2013, 1:42 pm

        yeh, and getting rescued a day before she was, probably didn’t help.

        • Hotchick April 28, 2013, 7:40 pm

          They should have just used their campfire app to keep warm. Brilliant idea– we’re lost, so let’s climb the mountian!

  • Mike the Gardener April 12, 2013, 10:09 am

    I could not help but laugh at your checklist, because it is so true … I can’t tell you the number of times I saw a news story of someone experiencing a bad ending due to lack of preparation, and thought, why didn’t they have this with them, or that with them … your list reminds me of the things I say to myself when watching those stories.
    Great post!

    • Jarhead Survivor April 12, 2013, 10:47 am

      Hey Mike – I’m just giving voice to what everybody’s thinking. Thanks!

  • Edward April 12, 2013, 11:25 am

    I picked up on this story last week. It was also said in that story that they were only about two miles from a shopping mall. Rather revealing about the survivability of most people in a grid down scenario.

    • Jarhead Survivor April 13, 2013, 7:37 pm

      Hey Edward – I didn’t see the part about them being close to a shopping mall, but two miles in the wilderness when you’re tripping might as well be 200 eh?

      I agree with your last sentence whole heartedly.

  • Waterboy April 12, 2013, 1:30 pm

    They could have stayed home and played video games, like usual.

  • Hawkeye1944 April 12, 2013, 6:02 pm

    Bottom line scouts, BE PREPARED !

    • lmassie April 13, 2013, 11:20 am

      Prepared people seldom get lost. Lost people are seldom prepared. Ever hear of anybody getting lost with a pack full of gear they know how to use? Lost as in “I have no clue where I am or how to get somewhere else”.

      • fubar April 15, 2013, 2:14 pm

        shit happens, this book has two stories; one guy who thinks he’s a ‘prepared wilderness’ guy, but in actuality he’s just a hiker, and the other a seasoned canoeist, outdoorsman, Eagle Scout, falls and hits his head, gets disconnected from his group and is hopelessly lost for 4-5 days, at one point he was less than a mile from people. He survived by entombing himself in a tree using branches for insulation. he had nothing with him.
        Did i mention he was lost in Minnesota? even with guidebooks, the other guy got lost because a big storm had closed all the trails he thought he was on..

        sorry, long winded. good book.

  • D'ja'c April 12, 2013, 6:20 pm

    Yogi Bera? When does the book and movie come out? BTW been lost, don’t like it!

    • Jason April 13, 2013, 2:15 am

      “Hey Yogi, do you want your pizza cut into 6 slices or 8?”
      “Better make it 6, I don’t think I can eat all 8 slices”

  • Joe Simpson April 13, 2013, 1:06 am

    Having been in Scouting as a Scout and now as an adult leader I use and Teach this:
    “The Boy Scout Handbook lists “The Scout Outdoor Essentials” which are 10 items that generally are needed on hikes and outings.” They are:
    (1) Pocketknife,
    (2) First aid kit,
    (3) Extra Clothing,
    (4) Rain gear,
    (5) Water bottle,
    (6) Flashlight,
    (7) Trail food,
    (8) Matches and fire starters,
    (9) Sun Protection and a
    (10) Map and compass.
    When you are packing, these are a great place to start, and then add additional items based on the particulars of the location, duration and situation. I don’t doubt that if we all thought for a little while, we could maybe replace something on that list of 10 Essentials, with something that we consider to be more important or useful, but overall, I think that those 10 are a good start. All of these fit in a small “fanny pack” or the small hydration packs.
    And I agree “Be Prepared”

    • Jason April 13, 2013, 2:12 am


      I want to commend you for stepping up & becoming a leader with Boy Scouts. Mentoring & teaching boys skills that can be applied in many areas of life is truly awesome. Thank you for giving yourself to help boys in your area become men, what an excellent use of time.

    • Jarhead Survivor April 13, 2013, 7:43 pm

      That’s a decent list, Joe. My nephew is a scout and I set him up with a nice backpack and camping kit and he loves it. He’s really into the camping thing right now (he’s 11) and when we get together I always have him build the fire with the firesteel and knife I gave him. It gives him a good sense of accomplishment when he can build a fire out what’s around us. We spent the night out in my cold weather tent this winter – his first winter campout – and we had a lot of fun out there. I’m always teasing him about going ‘squatchin’ too, so we have a lot fun talking about different things.

      I agree with Jason, thanks for getting involved with the kids.

  • Pineslayer April 15, 2013, 12:20 am

    That story is weird. I am guilty of carrying 20-30 lbs of gear just taking the dogs for a walk. I’d add one item to the must have list when going hiking, TP. Makes the gals happy too. They will never make fun of you again when you are prepared for pottie time.

  • JL April 15, 2013, 1:24 am

    The biggest problem : lack of common sense! I swear I did some really stupid stuff when I was young but this boggles my mind. I take water everywhere I go, growing up in southern Arizona you need to. I would be fine with just the stuff I keep in my purse!

  • SingleMom April 15, 2013, 6:05 am

    What bothered me the most about this situation was the number of posts under the news articles that seemed to feel that this was an acceptable occurence. By all accounts, these kids were near numerous streams and waterfalls, but they didn’t bother to drink any water. Too many of the posts I read said “Oh, they couldn’t do that! The water might make them sick!” I’m sorry, but if I have the choice between getting sick or dying, I’m going to drink the water whether I can purify it or not!

    • Jarhead Survivor April 15, 2013, 7:58 am

      SingleMom, you can make a most excellent point. True, if they drink the water they might pick up a nasty bug like giardia; however, if the alternative is dying from dehydration drink the water. Chances are good that you won’t get sick immediately and thus will have a window of time you can use for survival activities. I don’t know mountain streams in that area, but here in Maine I have drank fresh water from mountain streams and been ok.

      The only time you DON’T drink the water is when it’s salt water. That will kill you quite fast.

      • Ray April 15, 2013, 8:59 am

        I understand the fear of the ground water. Here in Ky. much of the ground water is heavily contaminated with mine run off fecal coliform , giardia, HEP,”A” and other nasties . Drinking it without filters ,boiling AND treatment is to die. Some of the run off from the oil drilling is VERY radio-active. Some is just full of H2SO4 and heavy mettle. Bottom line is you have to know the place to know if it’s safe to drink the water.(or in some places like old strip mines and oil patches to sleep/hike there at all. Some of the old oil rigs are radioactive as hell, That’s WHY they shut them down)

    • Hotchick April 28, 2013, 7:46 pm

      They didn’t think the water could be drank because it wasn’t in a bottle.

  • irishdutchuncle April 15, 2013, 10:07 am

    something else I didn’t notice at first: she said she thinks they fought off some kind of animal.
    they should probably get started on some anti-rabies treatment, until they’re sure it was part of the “dream”.

  • smokechecktim April 15, 2013, 2:40 pm

    I was on this search and his explanation of where they were was completely wrong, which caused everyone to be searching in the wrong area. The girl was so out of it she had been eating dirt and the first team couldnt give her water because of the condition of her mouth and throat. The list of what they did wrong is absolutely unbelievable. JH’s list is just the start. Also a deputy trying to reach her was seriously injured in a fall. On the other hand people like this keep me employed.

  • Jasper April 15, 2013, 9:14 pm

    “I’m just pointing out that if you take drugs and go out in the woods eventually bad things are going to happen to you.”

    I resent this comment. Some people need drugs to survive. If they don’t take them they will die. Sick of people saying drugs are bad without the qualification of “illegal drugs” that have not been prescribed.

  • ORRN on LI April 15, 2013, 9:25 pm

    Where did you hear ‘rocket surgeon’? Made me chuckle as I spend 12 hours a work day in the OR with some them there rocket surgeons!

    • irishdutchuncle April 16, 2013, 8:51 am

      that’s because they skipped too many of their Brain-Science classes.


Leave a Comment