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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Survival Philosophy; A Prepared Mind

Many a trip to the high seat has long pauses when you can contemplate the state of the nation or a million and one other subjects. My mental calisthenics today had me weighing up the immeasurable value of an agile mind and the ability to improvise in a survival situation.

The circumstances of your arrival in the wilderness will have a lot to do with it but even then, the unexpected can always play a part, together with a generous helping of Murphy's law, in turning the best planned and most thoroughly equipped expedition, into a living nightmare which could be life changing or life threatening.

Imagine a well planned hunting trip in New Zealand, the right kit and the right people, with the right attitude and preparation, all in a spectacularly beautiful place. The light is fading in the high country and the last rays of sun glint on the snow. Time for camp, time for food and time for rest, so you set down the rucksack and start to trample the snow flat and hard for your camp and turn around just in time to see your rucksack with all of your kit tobogganing down the glacier to a place where time and daylight will prevent it's recovery before a long cold night on the hill with your wits and the contents of your pockets to survive on!

Geoffs rucksack at Sealy Tarns in New Zealands Southern Alps. The landscape is beautiful, but stark, without that rucksack what kind of night would you have ? 

Now that is right up there with the 'worse case scenarios' but that kind of thing can happen and there are documented cases of hunters faced with a bleak or even hypothermic night on a mountain, shooting something (like a cattle beast) and sleeping in the body cavity after removing the guts. Now that couldn't happen to me where I shoot, because if I could find cattle, I could find the gate! Furthermore, I don't shoot anything that's big enough to crawl inside of and I'd need 3 or 4 to get enough hide for a bivi and by the time I did all that the sun would be coming up anyway!

But the cases where someone may be dumped in the wilderness by tragic circumstance are somewhat different, here, improvisation may start even before you reach the ground, let me explain.

For many years I worked as a flying instructor and of course, part of that process involved teaching fledgling pilots how to land if the engine quits and of course where! Murphy and his gremlin accomplices have dictated your next few priorities, they passed the baton to gravity and you are headed down, hopefully with enough height and therefore time to plan a reasonable approach and get the aircraft down in as few pieces as possible.

G-CEKO Robin DR.400-100 Cadet (9667957152).jpg
A Robin DR400; one of the types aircraft I used to instruct on.
"G-CEKO Robin DR.400-100 Cadet (9667957152)" by Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The common response from a newish pilot was, "there aren't any spaces big enough!" My response was, "it's because you're looking for one the same size as the one you took off from" Improvise! If push comes to shove, a football pitch will do, you won't be able to stop but you can use the goal posts as a brake, put the fuselage between the posts and let the wings and the goal posts work out the rest, simples!

In this simple, well fairly simple, example, you have the benefit of having someone look for you almost immediately, being shot down of course, is quite a different matter, you may not want to be found (certainly not by the guys who shot you down as we already established that they hate you!)

For some years my training and determination to live undetected, escape, evade and fight on, led me to have useful but very difficult to locate stuff sown into my combat jackets, normally around seams and buttons to make them harder to feel if searched and they were only the very most basic items, it certainly wasn't going to turn the experience in to a vacation, just gave me a few things that I wouldn't have to find, make or improvise (snare wire, fishing line and hooks, compass and blade). I was till going to have to improvise A LOT!

I think the real skill of improvisation is to see things differently and flexibly, compared with the daily norm, let's make a short list of examples so as not to turn this article in to war and peace.

Airfield could be anywhere from a football pitch to a lake bed to a patch of trees with tops at the same height to a piece of open water, some of these options are clearly better than others!

Car wreck could be source of shelter, battery power, fuel, wire for cordage, glass for cutting and signalling, seat belts for splints or strapping, seat fabric for water filters, windscreen washer bottle for fuel can, washer pipes for a siphon etc etc.
Light aircraft similar range of resources.

Parachute, miles of cordage, hammock, bivi, signal panels, water filter, fishing net, strapping, bandages, clothing, stretcher.

Skinning knife may have to look like glass, bone fragment or flint.

Dinner may have to look like a scrawny dead animal or a handful of berries or grubs.
You have the general idea now, so do some mental exercise a of your own and see what you can come up with.

There was a case of a young man lost in the snow on an immobilised snow mobile and probably going to freeze to death, he dropped a match in the fuel tank of the machine and lit up the area, he was soon found by the search party and he's alive. This was a pretty expensive rescue flare but what price do we put on life? When your options are limited, explore them all!

Be safe in the wild!

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