Millions of people go hiking in the National Parks, forests, and wilderness areas of the US and Canada every year. And while most come back with happy memories and photos of the beautiful scenery, others return home with stories of survival. We analyzed over 100 news reports to discover how people get lost in the wild, and the lengths they go to in order to come back alive.
One mistake people make is thinking nothing can go wrong.
George Brown Missing for two days in Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana.Continue
In the stories we looked at, survival often hinges on the ability to find a combination of four basic things: warmth, shelter, food and water. But in the wild, faced with extreme conditions, injury, or unfamiliar surroundings, these basics can be hard or impossible to find. So what tactics did people use to survive?
If it wasn’t for Roxy...
Annette Poitras, aged 56, was injured while dog-walking on Eagle Mountain in Coquitlam, British Columbia. Having lost her phone as she fell, she was forced to stay out for three days, enduring torrential rain with her three dogs. She credits her survival to Chloe the collie and Bubba the pug mix, who took turns guarding her and finding food, but mostly boxer Roxy, who curled up next to her at night, keeping her warm. She was rescued after Roxy’s barking alerted searchers to their location.
The mouth of the cave was still letting a lot of wind in, so I got more pine branches and put them partially over the opening and sealed it with wet snow...
Alan Austin, aged 45, survived two nights in the backcountry of Squaw Valley ski resort in California. When a blizzard left him in a disorientating white out, he skied out of bounds and became lost as darkness closed in. Remembering advice he’d learned as a Boy Scout and seen on TV, he dug a six foot deep cave using his hands and a ski pole, lining it with pine branches for insulation. He spent two nights in the cave on the side of the mountain, before stomping a path through deep snow into a nearby meadow, where he was spotted by a helicopter and rescued.
I was crawling through this dense jungle, licking drops of water off the leaves, and I put my hand on a tree and found something. It felt spongy. And that ended up saving my life.
Gilbert Dewey Gaedcke, aged 41, spent five days lost on a lava field on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii. After a day and a half without water or shade, he started to become disorientated in the heat. He eventually found water by squeezing moisture from moss, deciding that it would be better to risk infection rather than die from dehydration. It paid off. He was eventually rescued after a teenager on a helicopter tour saw his mirror reflecting the sun from the air.
I ended up eating everything that would let me catch it: two crickets, five or six moths, eight or ten large ants, and three or four water bugs.
Greg Hein, aged 33, survived seven days in Kings Canyon National Park. After breaking his leg when a boulder slipped and crashed onto him, smashing his tibia, he decided to dump his gear and remaining food so he could move to safer ground. He crawled and crab-walked for over 1.6 miles over the next five days, eating whatever insects he could find along the way to sustain him. Eventually, he reached a sheltered spot where a rescue helicopter noticed his yellow bivy sack and picked him up.
One of the biggest decisions most survivors had to make was whether to try and find their own way to safety, or stay put and wait to be rescued. So out of the stories we looked at, which option did most people choose?
The main thing was just keep my calm, keep my cool, just keep moving. It's just instinct, I guess, that came out.
Austin Bohanan, aged 18, survived for 11 days in the Smoky Mountains National Park after getting separated from his stepfather on a hike. After spending the night on a ridge, he decided to keep walking. He followed a stream to fresh water, which eventually led him down the mountain, all the way to a creek. There, he saw a boat carrying a man and his daughter, who brought him to safety.
My rescuers said that the orange poncho saved me
Michael Hays, aged 41, was rescued three days after wandering off the trail and shattering his kneecap in Baxter State Park, Maine. After taping up his knee, he based himself near a stream, before realising that he should head up to higher ground for a better chance of being spotted. After three days, he heard a helicopter overhead. He struggled into a clearing in the woods and waved his orange poncho in the air, alerting the rescuers, who lifted him to safety.
Real survival is about good decision-making and mitigating risks. We asked a search and rescue expert what you should do to prepare and survive.
of BigPig Outdoors is a survival instructor, search and rescue team leader and Wildlife Ranger in the Smokies. His diverse outdoor professional experience, spanning over 20 years, includes backcountry law enforcement, wildland firefighting, wilderness medicine and raft guiding.
See the full details of all 103 survival stories below.
103 survival stories were sourced from online newspaper reports about hikers who went missing and were subsequently found or rescued from national parks, wilderness areas and forests across the US and Canada. Data was collected between 15th-17th December 2018.