Wilderness Survival Skills
Photo by Tammy Trayer
No matter what the circumstance, having useful wilderness survival skills is a must when going into the backcountry.

My husband, Glen, and I live in a remote area of northern Idaho with our son, Austin. We hunt every year to harvest our meat. Our firewood is foraged from spring to fall and we spend our spare time in the wilderness. We know that Mother Nature is not always kind and practice our survival skills all the time, especially if we might get lost. More than once we have utilized those skills in order to survive. The latest experience occurred last fall when Glen (aka the Mountain Man) and his father went hunting.

Leaving Home

The Mountain Man and his father left for a day of hunting in October of 2016.

Because our area is so vast, unforgiving, and cell service is iffy, we have a protocol requiring that everyone who leaves the house share their intended destination and provide a rough idea of the time they intend to spend there. With this information, we always have a starting point if something goes wrong and they get lost.

The men left the house at 6:30 a.m. and took the canoe to drop in the river. They intending to float while elk hunting. I knew that would take them all day. They planned to cover a 17-mile section of the St. Maries River. Glen has had a lot of experience canoeing, but typically he and his father for hunt for elk on land. This hunting trip was a bit different because it involved water. This adds additional elements of surprise and risk of getting lost. Normally, when one of us hits the woods, the other knows the terrain, but not this time.

The day went by, and when the men did not arrive home at 8 p.m., it was not a big deal. My mother-in-law and I just figured they had gotten an elk late in day. Both men are extremely well versed in the wilds. The Mountain Man has spent most of his life in the woods practicing his survival skills. He has guided hunts and pack trips in the backcountry of Wyoming. My father-in-law has also hunted, trapped, and spent as much time as he could in the outdoors. We knew they could take care of themselves. Several years back they had hunted elk in Colorado and shot one at the end of the day, then spent the entire night packing meat.

Growing Concerns

When midnight rolled around and we had not heard anything, concern started to set in. We thought they might be injured. Never doubting their abilities, I took the dog and headed to the place where they were to exit the river. When I got to the truck it was dark and eerie and the river was calm and empty. It was not a comforting feeling. I continued my search via a road that traveled along the other side of the river.

Although the river was not accessible along the road, I had a pretty good view in the dark. If they were traveling the river wearing headlamps, I’d see them. I was also watching for their campfire. On a rainy night Glen would probably sleep in a shelter he had built from materials in his surroundings and a fire was keeping them warm, but felt I had to make an effort to find him.

Everything was wet and it was drizzling while I was searching; then it began to pour. The road was not good and I had left cell service and homes miles behind so I decided to turn around. Glen had always said that if he didn’t return from a trip I was supposed to wait three days before starting to search. I always told him that he was crazy.

Vacant Truck

At 3:00 a.m. I drove home in a downpour. Morning came fast and we rode into town, arriving at daylight. The parking lot where the truck was parked was otherwise vacant. The water was still and covered with fog. My phone rang and a deputy asked whether we had heard anything yet. When I informed him that we had not, he met me by the truck. We went to meet the sheriff. My mother-in-law and son stayed with the truck in the event Glen and his father showed up.

The sheriff was a bit upset. My Facebook post during the night asking for prayers apparently caused him problems since people wanted to search for the men. He was afraid this would cause more people to end up missing. Our friend Ryan, who is well versed in the ways of the wilderness and capable in the wild, had gone looking on his four-wheeler that morning. I assured the sheriff that Ryan was the only one I knew who had done so. After the sheriff asked me what I wanted to do, we decided that if Glen and his father did not show up by noon, we would send in search and rescue.

Seeking Help When Lost

I went to the sheriff’s office again, but was unable to get buzzed in so I stopped at the ER to ask if one of the staff would contact a deputy. They were kind enough to oblige. If there is a will, there is a way, I figured; you just need to keep trying.

As I suspected, the deputy said he would not send out any search parties until the men had been missing for 12 hours. Also, it needed to be daylight so others would not be put at risk. I told him about Glen’s knowledge of the outdoors and that he always has enough food in his pockets to sustain him for at least three days. When the men left in the morning they each had a dry bag full of extra gear and two sets of clothes.

I knew that Glen would attach the bags to the canoe so if the canoe did tip over he would still be able to get his gear and it would be dry. They would be fine as long as one of them was not injured. Both could keep a fire going in the wet weather. They had sidearms and their rifles, and Glen had his full pack with all the standard gear. The temps were in the low 50s, which was a blessing, but hypothermia could still be an issue.

Safe and Sound

The deputy and I then traveled the same road I had traveled in the wee hours of the morning, looking for any movement on the river. We drove roughly 9 miles up the rough road and hiked out on a train trestle over the river, thinking we might see something. We did not, and headed back to the truck. The weather had changed and the day was sunny and bright, but I can’t put into words how my body and soul were fighting the “what ifs.”

When we got back, the search and rescue members, the sheriff, and the deputies were all forming in the area of the truck. They were waiting on several other people when a call came in. Not 10 minutes after I had left the train trestle with the deputy, Ryan had located Glen and his father on the train tracks and had taken them home to warm up and eat.

Skills to the Rescue

Shortly thereafter I spoke to Glen on the phone. They were not injured, only tired and wet. About 2 miles into their 17-mile journey they hit shallow water. This astounded me, given that we had just experienced nearly a full month of rain. Because of the shallow water, he had had to pull the boat through the water for the day. It was a grueling task. My father-in-law was hiking the steep terrain along the river’s edge. At times they went 20 to 30 minutes without seeing each other.

When it began to get dark, they hiked with their equipment to a higher elevation, set up camp, then tried even higher ground to see if they could get a cell signal so they could let us know that they were OK, but no such luck. They stayed warm and dry. I had driven looking for them in a downpour and they were on the other side of the river where it had barely rained! They had indeed created a shelter and started a fire. They had a spring nearby and were able to boil their water to make pine needle tea. (Did you know that there is four to five times more vitamin C in pine needle tea than in fresh squeezed orange juice? It is also high in vitamin A and is an expectorant that thins mucus secretions and can be used as an antiseptic.

Glen and his dad say were not lost but we treated it as if they were. They were worried because they knew we would be worried about them. Things just did not go as planned and it was a long and very tiring 28 hours.

This article is from the Spring 2018 issue of The New Pioneer magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

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