What Would You Do? Wilderness Emergencies

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wilderness emergenciesMost wilderness emergencies are avoidable, but, if you spend enough time in the outdoors, one will likely come your way. What will you do? Studying scenarios and reports is a one way to sharpen your outdoor leadership skills.

Canoe guru Kevin Callan is the author of 11 books, including the Paddler’s Guide series and The Happy Camper. He shares his extensive experience as a wilderness guide  instructing college-level courses in Advanced Wilderness Skills. He recently shared questions and answers from the final exam in this article in Explore Magazine.  Each question is a  scenario a guide may encounter leading groups in the wilderness.

Here are two of the scenarios (read others at Explore Magazine) I’ve linked to ‘what really happened’ in each case . Before you read the answer think things through. Did you decide on the same course of action or something different? Let me know in the comments.

(The SPOT personal locator beacon  is a gadget that sends one-way messages via satellite. If you want to know more about satellite phones for wilderness travel see this post)

Scenario 1 : Lost Campers
A group of paddlers are running a northern river in Manitoba. It’s 7:00 p.m. and the cook announces that supper will be ready in less than an hour. The rest of the group is done all their chores so they decide to hike up to a nearby hill behind the campsite. No one brings a map, compass or flashlight. There didn’t seem to be a reason to do so.

It’s 9:00 p.m. and no one has returned to camp. Yelling produces no response. It’s quickly getting dark. The cook has a whistle, flares, SPOT Personal Locator Beacon, satellite phone, GPS, map and compass. A campfire is burning.

What really happened



Scenario 2: Should We Stay or Should We Go?
A group of kayakers are paddling the north shore of Ontario’s Lake Nipigon. They only have two days left in their scheduled trip and have organized a boat shuttle to pick them up at a designated spot on the lake.

The problem is, the weather has turned nasty and the group has been wind-bound for two full days — putting them way off schedule.

Some party members want to push on no matter how bad the wind and waves are — they have to be back at work and can’t afford to be delayed. Others don’t want to pay extra money for the boat shuttle to return, or to perhaps come looking for them, so they want to continue as well. A few in the group try to have everyone stay put — safety first. You are equipped with flares, map and compass, but no satellite phone or SPOT.

What really happened

Kevins’ books on Amazon

One of my favorites books by kevin is Dazed but Not Confused: Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer
Read my review
Listen to Kevin on Podcast 50
An essential reference for guiding youth on high adventure trips is the AMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership
Listen to the author, Alex Kosseff, on podcast 68
Read my review

Scenario 1 : Lost Campers  –  What really happened:
The group didn’t find camp until early the next morning and had to spend a night in the woods. The cook blew a whistle but the group never heard it. He also built up the campfire but the group didn’t see it. When the sun came up, one of the lost campers knew that the sun rises in the east. The river was running north, and they were camped on the west side of the river. So the group walked towards the sun, found the river, and eventually found the campsite (a few minutes before the cook pushed the 911 button on the SPOT).

Scenario 2: Should We Stay or Should We Go? – What really happened:
They stayed put until the weather improved and were one-day off schedule. Their loved ones were worried at first, but glad they eventually arrived safe and sound.

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