Imagine you and a friend are enjoying a beautiful hike. Then it begins to snow and your hiking partner disappears.
Well, that’s exactly what happened to 33-year-old Pavlina Pizova and her partner Ondrej Petr. Pavlina and Ondrej were hiking in the New Zealand wilderness when clouds overtook the area and heavy snow began to fall, making it difficult to see where they were going.
Ondrej slipped down an icy slope and became trapped between some rocks. Pavlina carefully made her way toward Petr before she realized he had died during the fall. She ended up spending the night out in the freezing conditions next to his body.
The next day, Pavlina trudged through waist-deep snow to a hut she knew was nearby to rest and get some supplies. She ate food other hikers had left behind and then attempted to hike her way back to safety. But avalanches nearby made it impossible for her to get very far, so she decided to stay put in the hut.
Lost and Found
Pavlina survived in that hut for 30 days. She was finally rescued after her family became concerned that they hadn’t heard from her. Unfortunately, Pavlina and Ondrej didn’t tell anyone where they were going and they didn’t have a GPS locator, which prolonged the search.
Getting lost in the wilderness can be a terrifying experience — even without suffering the death of someone you care about — and I know Labor Day weekend is a popular time for hiking and other outdoor activities. So today, I want to share some tips on what to do in case you ever find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere.
1. Stay put. Hopefully, you left behind detailed plans of where you planned to go on your trip. If you did, stop moving and make a camp with the supplies you have on hand. The fact is you could walk for days and never find help. You could end up wandering in circles, wasting precious energy and supplies. Besides, a search-and-rescue team will most likely start from your car and work their way from there in a specific pattern, which is why you should stay put if it’s safe to do so.
2. Look for water. Water will quickly become one of your biggest concerns if you become lost in the wilderness. Ration the water you do have and be on the lookout for new water sources. Remember that water flows downhill, so go low. Also look for plants or other growth that are signs of water in the area. And don’t forget to use your ears and listen for the sound of water — you might be close to a water source and not even know it. When you find water, it’s critical that you have the means to filter it. The SurvFilter has saved my life more than once in the wilderness — I highly recommend picking up one of these survival water filters for yourself.
3. Signal for help. Provided you are well-prepared, you should have the tools and the ability to make a fire. This is one of the best ways to signal rescuers. The international signal for help is based on the number three. If possible, start three campfires in a triangle pattern to let people know where you are. Depending on the terrain, try to start the fires on a high ridge so they can be seen more easily.
4. Build a shelter. If you brought a tent, a tarp or other camping gear, set it up before it gets dark. If you don’t have any gear on hand, make a shelter out of whatever is available. Frankly, if you get lost in the wilderness, you need to be prepared to spend a few nights in the elements, which means having a shelter is critical. I can assure you from personal experience that sleeping outdoors without any shelter is miserable and it will make your situation a whole lot worse.
5. Leave clues. Let’s say you make camp but you have to hike downhill to retrieve water. You definitely want to let search parties know where you’re headed in case they find your camp while you are gone. This can be as simple as leaving a note with the direction you left to find water. In addition, you need to ensure searchers in the air can find you, so you should also make a large arrow out of rocks or branches pointing in the direction you traveled.
The key to safety is being prepared so you can deal with any unexpected issues that arise. But if you do ever find yourself lost and unprepared, remember these five tips to keep safe until help arrives.