Saturday, October 18, 2008

Safety Propositions: Injured on a Mountain

My friend Dave sent me a link to this CNN article about a climber, Derek Mamoyac, who survived in freezing conditions with a broken ankle for five days until he was rescued.

According to the article he drank from streams and ate centipedes and bugs to stay alive which explains how he obtained food and water. I know centipedes are poisonous, but apparently most species are only mildly poisonous, according to this eMedicine entry.

While bugs don't sound very appetizing now, if you get hungry enough, they might be delicious. Captain Scott O'Grady survived for six days largely subsisting on ants while evading capture by Serbian forces.

The most important part of survival is the will to survive. When life shits on, you have to shrug it off and keep fighting back.

If you only carry 3 items for survival, I'd suggest:

  • a sturdy knife
  • a lighter and/or firestarter
  • several plastic bags


Small plastic bags can be used to collect snow and then put in between layers of clothing to melt, generating drinkable water. Never eat snow if you can avoid it, it consumes too much energy to melt it internally.

Large plastic bags can be emergency sleeping bags or ponchos and can be used to make solar stills in arid areas. I've seen recommendations to carry orange 55-gallon drum liners in your emergency kit, which seems like a good idea.

You should be carrying plastic bags when hiking anyway to collect your trash and pack it out.


I always recommend a first aid kit, and not just one that has band-aids. Get some 4 inch by 4 inch pads at the very least to control bleeding.

For broken bones, a Sam Splint is a great thing. They're a bit bulky, but just throw them in the bottom of your pack if you're going hiking. I've cut a large one up with a multi-tool before to make a smaller wrist splint before. They also come in small sizes for finger splints.

How to carry a first aid kit has been an issue that I've struggled with in the past. I try to pre-place them. So I've one in the car, one at work, one under my bed (in a fanny pack), one in my search & rescue kit, a small tub of sundry supplies, and I've recently added a Blackhawk Omega drop-leg medical pouch to my kit which I like to wear when I work with power tools or go hiking.

That may seem a bit obsessive, and it is. But I think it never hurts to have too much first aid gear... although Sarah has been grumbling about the overflowing disaster hutch recently, so I may have to re-think that opinion.

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