Johnathan Dobbins, Steven White, and Shawn Hood, of South Carolina for legitimizing my lesson plans. Poor planning, poor gear selection, and poor skills almost bought them a ticket to “Land of Frozen Corpses”.
To summarize, these three hikers started up the steep “Shuckstack” section of the Appalachian Trail in the rain, while a cold front was approaching from the west. Heavy packs, cotton clothing, and the five mile uphill slog took it’s toll, so by the time the snow started falling the men were exhausted and four miles away from the nearest shelter. Planning on staying in the AT shelters, the men had no emergency bivouac gear and had to use their sleeping bags to rig up a shelter and a propane torch to burn anything they could, including their extra clothes for warmth.
Here is their story and a great first person account on video: http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20140104/NEWS01/301040024/Rangers-rescue-stranded-hikers-Smokies
We all learn from mistakes, and I have made my fair share. I started to pick apart their ordeal, piece by piece, but instead have chosen to narrow it down to three simple points to better prepare yourself:
1. Train and prepare for injury. In this case, hypothermia and potential frostbite were the “Main Event”.
2. Train and prepare to be caught out in inclement weather overnight, with minimal gear. Rescue efforts were initiated when they made the call at 1800. The responding Rangers were not able to reach the trio until 0830 the following morning. If they had not been able to use their cell phone, the story would have taken a somber turn.
3. Train for an immersion/saturation scenario. Having your clothing completely soaked in cold weather, whether it is from sweat, rain, or falling in a creek, is a serious threat to your safety.
In hindsight, following the above plan would have taught the trio about proper planning, gear selection, and the skills needed to overcome those challenges.
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