Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Didn't Mom Tell You To Be Careful?

First, don't court disaster. Bleed your lizard at every opportunity.

Essentials for Wilderness Survival, Part 8: When cracks form.

The key thing to know about first aid is that you need a kit for it. There is no such thing as a Swedish Army Knife for first aid, with a blade for this and one for that, already built in. Nope. You have to carry a bunch of stuff in a box and then if you see a problem you have to take out your box and improvise.

This can be annoying, to say the least. Especially if you're easily confused.

You know, science says we can only hold seven things in our heads at a time, and that's after extensive training. No one has ever figured out how to train backpackers, so they come in at around two-and-a-half things on a good day. Less if they're hungry, and you know about hungry backpackers, right?

Maybe this is one reason you don't hear about bleeding backpackers limping into every town. They're easily confused — often about how to get the first aid kit open, and after that, what to do with all the weird crap in crinkly wrappers rattling around inside, and by then it's curtains. Or they just swear for a while, try to eat a few of the better-looking things in the kit, and just get the hell back on the trail and walk through it. If you can survive early-season mosquitoes, the rest is mostly minor-league anyway.

But if it is going to be curtains, well to be honest, probably no one cares, except you, right? But if you really, really want to, go ahead and try something. It might keep your mind off things until it all goes dark, and at least you'll be out of everyone else's way.

OK, what you might have to deal with:

  • Dangling skin.
  • Infections.
  • Gushing blood.
  • Etc.

Some ways to avoid the side effects of dangling skin, infections, and gushing blood, and etc.:

  • Stay home. You've heard this advice before. Maybe it's time to listen.
  • Hike with a friend. If something bad is going to happen, you automatically have a 50% chance it'll happen to the other guy.
  • Get a first aid kit in the official colors of green with a white cross. This might scare off a few evil spirits (can't hurt to try).
  • Carry stuff inside the first aid kit. You never know what might be handy, so take it all.

But what to bring? What kind of stuff? Will it cost more than five bucks?

These are all valid questions, so here are some tips on what to get.

  • Airway, Breathing and Circulation Hardware.
    • Eh. You're a backpacker. You didn't get way out in the boonies without breathing, so you're probably OK. You know how. Skip the pocket mask and face shield unless your stove explodes a lot.
  • Drama injuries.
    • Avoid high-maintenance, over-emotional companions. Anyone who wears stage makeup to eat a ramen supper, for example. Then you won't have enough of these injuries to worry about. And anyway, it won't be you who gets hurt.
  • Trauma injuries?
    • Not too sure what that is. Bring some stuff anyway — anything that seems medical-ish. And so on. Look for the crinkly wrappers and buy that.
  • Personal protective equipment.
    • Gloves.
    • Goggles.
    • Surgical mask.
    • Apron.
    • Anything you can play doctor with on a rainy day.
    • Condoms too, I guess, if you're with close friends.
  • Instruments and equipment.
    • Well, if you're an ultralighter, this would be tweezers (plastic, cut down).
  • Medication.
    • Aspirin.
    • Freeze-dried beer.
    • Muscle relaxant (see previous item).
  • Cost
    • If it's over five bucks, flip a coin. Heads — buy ice cream instead. You deserve it. Tails — buy beer.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Smith Creek May 2001 - Part 1

While scouting for a Memorial Day trip.

With my first 3 megapixel digital camera, a little Kodak. First up, the lahar flats a short distance above Lava Canyon. Looking west toward the cinder cone, temporarily lost in clouds.

To the northwest, across more of the lahar. The Ape Canyon Trail skirts the near edge of the background ridge.

View east. Mount Adams is behind the background butte, and to the left (north) of it.

First view of Smith Creek valley.

Parking lot in that location. Used as a campground by elk hunters in the fall. At least it used to be. I don't know if you can even get there any more.

Choice. There used to be a killer-fine footbridge here. Then a winter storm came along and washed away both the east and west approaches, leaving the bridge inaccessible. It was helicoptered upstream half a mile or so.

A look upstream. The first several times I hiked through here, the bed of Muddy Creek (shown) was only 50 or 60 feet across.

View from stream level.

Looking back down Muddy Creek. There is a temporary footbridge barely visible to the right.

In those days, the valley of Smith Creek still had remains of a road running through it. In 1996 it was great walking. By 2001 there was little of it left. Last time I was there, around 2006, the whole area was nearly impassable (on foot).

Another view of the the bridge supports and the footbridge.

Smith Creek. This was actually a great year. Mid-May. Fantastic weather, though some of the roads were still snowed in (but open a week later for the Memorial Day weekend). I've been out in that area as early as April 30 one year (around 1997 or 1998), when everything was accessible. Not so for the last decade or so.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Snuggling For Survival

A hole of your own.

Essentials for Wilderness Survival, Part 7: Nesting.

You may ask why you might want to build a nest in the woods. Here are some reasons you might consider:

  • Have a quiet place to lay your eggs.
  • Ensure privacy while changing your underwear.
  • Hide from UFOs and avoid distasteful probing episodes.
  • Because it's fun — like building a fort, but cozier.
  • Practice your outdoor fung shway skillz away from prying eyes.
  • Stay warm, sleep, remain alive, go home again.

Most people pick the last option. It's the lowest common denominator, like GoreTex jackets, or titanium sporks, and pretty much everyone understands how remaining alive works. After all, it's the core of wilderness survival, and you have had the way shown by such TV slime molds as Gear Bylls and ManSurvivor, so how hard could it be?

Well, kind of. Getting sponsors is not that easy any more.

Once upon a time, if you had any kind of idea at all, you got on TV. Big appliance companies and tobacco companies and personal hygiene companies and car companies were climbing all over each other to throw money at anyone who could stand in front of 10,000-watt kleig lights for half an hour and smile at a camera lens and not croak, because TV was new and exciting and more fun with live people than dead ones, even if their only talent was standing there and toothing mindless grins at the camera.

Nowadays you get air-dropped down onto the east branch of Upper Desolation Creek, in the never-visited far corner of Bleak County, with only your clothes, a knife, and a video camera. You stay for ten days, and if and only if the footage is OK (which you have to shoot yourself), and you come out alive, do they let you do another episode. Presuming you haven't had to eat your own foot to stay alive.

And even those niches are now full.

But what about more normal people? Like people without sponsors or video equipment? How do they cope without shelter in the wilderness?

Well, most of them die, but you don't have to, even if you don't get a contract or your own chain of SurvivEquip™ stores, featuring Gear Bylls Survival Stuff by ByllsGear® with that distinctive orange BS logo.

Some tips then...

  • For maximum safety, never go hiking.
    • If you never go outside, you never need any special skills.
    • Also, you never get lost as long as you have cab money and know your own address.
  • If you go hiking, don't go far.
    • True fact: Most people never walk anywhere — there's probably a reason for that, right?
    • It's best not to get out of sight of your apartment or condo. (Recall that Out of sight, out of mind saying? Don't be the one they forget!)
    • City parks are usually safe, in certain seasons, at the right time of the day, if patrolled by armed guards. Use yours.
    • If you tire of your own city park, try other cities.

But if the worst happens, and you go too far, and you can't find your way home again, then what?

  • Gather sticks. You can always find a use for sticks, but only if you have plenty, so make a stack of them.
  • Likewise, scrape up a big pile of leaves. Dry leaves make great insulation, so be sure to get lost in the fall.
  • Save up twine. To tie things together. Start when you're young so you have plenty by the time you go missing.
  • Don't panic, but prepare to face death calmly.
  • Keep your wits about you — you will need them if you survive. (Remember — you'll be dealing with agents, talent scouts, TV producers, and lawyers, if you're lucky.)

Step One: Stand by the road and throw sticks at passing cars to gain the attention of helpful drivers. If this doesn't work, then heap up your remaining sticks, and cover that mound with dry leaves. Now you have a home.

Step Two: Eat a hearty supper. Since food gives you energy to shiver all night, it's a good idea to eat a lot. Have someone drive you into town where you can get plenty of greasy, calorie-rich food, then go to bed right away.

Step Three: If something crawled into your hidey-hole before you got back, try reaching a compromise with it. Promise not to snore if you can just sleep on one side of the shelter — something like that. If all you hear in return is growls and snorts, it's probably not your lucky night. Start over with more sticks and leaves, but if it's already daylight by now, screw it. Forget about all that sleeping in leaves crap and just go home.

Step Four: If you did manage to get into your shelter, or part of it, go ahead and shiver all night, but be glad that at least it isn't raining. In case it starts to rain, swear. It probably won't hurt, unless you make enough noise to disturb your nest-mates. If so, you may be toast, or a complete breakfast. Give your ass a fond farewell kiss.

Step Five: Assuming that all went well, you made it home again. Now the real work begins. Right away, create a web site and start your own survival school. Maybe you'll even get your own TV show, if you can make enough dumb mistakes and survive them in a telegenic way. If you need tips, check out how Gear Bylls and ManSurvivor did it — they aren't getting any younger so this may be your chance. As a last resort, develop multiple personalities, go on the Jerry Springer show, and get into a fight with yourself. There's never enough of that on TV. It's a new category. They call it reality.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Walk This Way

Keep your gimbals lubed and you'll do fine.

Essentials for Wilderness Survival, Part 6: A compass — couldn't hurt, could it?

First, before you can get any help out of a compass, you have to know what one is. A compass is a thing with parts. But even before parts were invented, there was geomancy.

Geomancy sounds fancy but it was only an early way of trying to get home after slipping into the woods to do some business. Sure, go laugh, but in the olden days most of the world was deep creepy forest all full of beasts and worse stuff and civilization hadn't been invented yet either, so going out of sight was like taking two steps and then boom, you know, you were surrounded by eighteen or more varieties of spooky stuff and there was this weird scratching noise over there behind a rock, and that random howling that seemed to go on forever.

Given that, and you were only out there to maybe empty your bladder and skedaddle back home to snuggle in for the night, you wanted to be sure you'd get back, even though life then was nasty, brutish, and short, and included a lot of fleas and stinky things, and unsalted rutabaga sandwiches was all anyone had to eat (raw).

So they tried geomancy because they had dirt, and that was all it needed. You'd look at little scratchmarks here and there, or toss a handful up in the air to see if anything interesting happened, and then head off. All too often it didn't get interesting, unless you got devoured.

In other words, things did not work that well.

Then someone put a fridge magnet on a stick, which was OK as far as it went, but so what? Who's going to stake their life on what some fridge magnet is doing when there's lots of dirt all over and it gives the same answer? So that idea languished for quite some time until this one guy bought the idea of North from a couple of ancient out-of-work Chinese Fung Masters who needed a few coins for beer money one evening.

The Chinese guys already knew all about compasses and how to use them to get cat hair off the sofa and figure out which direction South was, but that was partly why they kept going off the map and bumping their heads, and why they always had cat hair on their sofas no matter how much they carried on with that fung business.

North however, turned out to be a really good deal.

People got excited about North, went all over, shared it far and wide, painted a little red N on every stick-mounted fridge magnet they had, and before long one of them boldly used his to chase off in a boat before ramming an island in the Caribbean and proclaiming that he'd found Japan. You probably heard of him.

Think what this technology can do for you now that it's been perfected.

If you ever needed a gizmo that pointed at stuff, then a compass would be a good bet. Compasses now have precision parts and are quite technical to boot. The most important part of any compass is, of course, the Direction-of-Travel Arrow. Every decent compass has one. To use the Direction-of-Travel Arrow, first point it the way you need to travel, and then go there. The more often you do it, the better you get to be.

As you stomp around following your arrow, the Dial Ring acts to provide a fine-tuning option. This allows for either minor or major course corrections, achieved by rotating a thing called the Housing. Doing this makes you change direction, but you only need to recalibrate like this if the Direction-of-Travel Arrow sends you walking into a bog, a fen, a marsh, a swamp, or possibly an unpleasant shrubbery.

Some high-end compasses also have a built-in magnifier which helps in noticing those small details, in case you have trouble recognizing landmarks along the way.

The original fridge magnet? Long gone. Now they use a Needle. This is a magnetized and sharpened piece of metal that pokes into alternate dimensions as you go, always searching for the Way. (Known to the Chinese as the D'oh! — possibly a holdover from ancient Fung rituals, you think?) The Needle, however, and the Direction-of-Travel Arrow don't always get along. In fact, almost never. They frequently disagree. Sometimes they fight. You should be prepared for this. Keep your Third Eye open.

Other compass tips:

  • Buy a good map (One with squiggly colored lines.)
  • Magnetic deviation is illegal (In every country except Texas.)
  • Walk in circles (To become familiar with your surroundings.)
  • Practice (Don't stay a Magnetic Dip forever.)
  • Don't get lost (Should be Step One, shouldn't it?)
  • Follow a bearing (Usually recognizable by the fur, but look out for mama.)
  • Memorize the Cardinal Directions (Don't know what Protestants do with this one.)
  • Drink beer (Makes you feel good during times of stress.)