Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lost in the Wild

Illus. credit:

Lost In The Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woods, by Cary J. Griffith (pub. 2006 by Borealis Books, St. Paul, MN., 302pp.

The book tells of the experience of two men who find themselves lost in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Both make it out alive through the efforts of search parties. One spent six days without food and only about a half cup of water a day from melted snow. He was discovered only after he had written goodbye letters to his family on tree bark.

The two stories are about the experiences of Jason Rasmussen and Dan Stephens. The first revelation is that both men were experienced and skilled. Rasmussen decided to take a short hike around an established trail. Nothing could be simpler, but he disappeared. Stephens was a guide taking a Boy Scout group from Chattanooga up a paddling route. He became separated from the group, slipped on a rock, struck his head and became disoriented, and disappeared. The author leads us through their experiences.

The book not only tells two stories, but relates a lot of information of value to every paddler and camper. There are dozens of valuable lessons to be learned. Sometimes even those who know the lessons just need to be reminded of them. One lesson I learned as a professional mariner. A ship is almost never lost as the result of a single failing. The loss is almost always the synergistic result of a chain of failures or events that were ignored at the time as irrelevant, or insignificant. Synergism is a product that exceeds the sum of its parts. In other words, those insignificant, seemingly unrelated elements combine to create a catastrophic and unmanageable, perhaps unrecoverable, incident. In both of these cases you will find yourself repeatedly thinking, “Wow, he should have known better.” Those little oversights, little things that could seemingly be taken for granted, would suddenly combine to put both men in life-threatening and unrecoverable situations. Success, even survival, is found in the details.

Another lesson appears when Dan Stephens greatly complicated their situation by allowing himself to get separated from the group. There’s an old saying that refers to navigating your way with a group. “It’s always better to be wrong together than right alone.”

You follow each man through that sudden realization that they are lost in the wilderness. They have lost critical equipment, made poor decisions, become hypothermic, suffered thirst and then dehydration, have had to fight panic, then starvation. Along the way, you will uncover the many lessons that could allow you to survive in similar situations. For example, what are the three elements most critical for survival, and in what order are they prioritized? Reading this book will answer this and a lot of other critical questions, while at the same time being a great adventure read.

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