Surviving Your Next Hike
Iíve been hiking for more than forty years, and,
boy, are my feet tired. But in all that time, Iíve never had a
serious problem. As someone said, most adventures start with poor
planning. Perhaps I am too careful, but adventure often means
discomfort and trouble. Before every hike, I learn about where Iím
going (maps, guides, reviews), make sure Iím bringing the right
stuff (survival gear, water, and especially food), and share the
plan with my wife. Well, usually.
One time I didnít plan. I was visiting the
Presentation Center above Bear Creek Open Space. On a whim, I asked
for a tour of property the Center had recently sold to Mid-Peninsula
Open Space. Sister Toni was volunteered. She was wearing culottes, a
lightweight shirt, and thin shoes.
Sister Toni did not appear to be a seasoned
hiker. She is shorter than my wife, and spent most her life as a
nun. It seemed obvious that our hike would be short. I didnít bother
to bring my pack, water bottle, or even my cap. I would take a few
pictures to capture how the park looked, but nothing more.
Starting from the intersection of Summit and
Bear Creek roads, we walked deeper and deeper into the canyon. The
trail became steeper, narrower, and finally faded out in a jungle of
brush and fallen trees. Although we talked about going back, going
up the steep hills was daunting, and we were still curious. What was
beyond? Where would we come out?
Although we wanted to go west, the trail took us
east until we emerged from the forest into a large meadow. It wasnít
long before we could see the Presentation Center, several miles and
several canyons to the west.
Sister Toni said that she remembered a trail a
little west of a now-abandoned Jesuit vineyard. We found the
vineyard, but the grapevines had given way to six-foot-high
greasewood. We plunged through the thick, high brush for half an
hour. Where is a machete when you need one? When we stopped to rest,
we shared our snackóa few pieces of sugarless gum.
We finally came out of our little jungle, only
to find our way blocked by a deep ravine. Then we found a faint
trail headed south. Sister Toni said that she remembered this trail,
and in a mile or so, we were back at the Presentation Center, cold
drinks in hand. It was then she told me that she had last walked
this trail over thirty years ago.
Yes, it was a little adventure, but it shows the
value of planning. Water, a map, and perhaps a little food would
have made us far more comfortable.
Even after this lesson, I knew that I didnít
know that much about survival training. Hiking solo is a great
experience, but what if? What if I fell, was attacked, or got lost?
What if I ran out of light, trails, or worse, food? Thatís why I
signed up to go on a survival hike with Greg Meyer, sponsored by Los
Greg Meyer has adventured on seven continents,
survived glaciers and rainforests, and been marooned for days on a
desert island. He saved his child after a rattlesnake bite out in
the middle of nowhere. He has led nature tours around the world, and
even in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He led our survival class,
including once-neighbors Tony and Ann Andrews, through Castle Rock
State Park, and down to the headwaters of the San Lorenzo River. It
was chilly, which was good, because we talked a lot about the need
to keep warm.
According to Greg, if you were lost overnight in
the Santa Cruz Mountains, especially in winter rain, you would need
shelter within three hours, water in three days, and food within
three weeks. So while a water bottle and sandwiches are helpful,
they arenít as important as the tools and materials necessary for
How do you keep warm? Greg says begin with the
right clothesóan inner layer of long underwear or tights, an outer
layer of a polyester shirt, an insulated layer in the form of a
poly-filled jacket, a windproof nylon jacket, a stocking cap,
sunhat, and gloves. You might not wear all this, but it would be
safer to bring them.
How about a poncho or a reflective emergency
bag? Youíll look like aluminum foil but will feel warm. Greg
cautions against wearing cotton. Polyester and wool are much better
on a rainy night.
Walking sticks improve your balance, especially
in rough terrain or when crossing streams. They also give you
protection against critters. We are lucky that there are few
dangerous predators in the Santa Cruz Mountains. (Greg says that you
are more likely to be hurt by a deer than a mountain lion.)
As a non-smoker, I often forget matches or a
lighter. Either one is faster than rubbing two Boy Scouts together,
and they take up less room. A ball of cotton lint from the dryer
around a core of petroleum jelly makes a good firestick. A small
knife and some light rope will help you create a shelter.
Getting lost is probably the most frequent
problem. If that happens to you, Greg suggests remembering STOP. S
stands for stop and sit. T stands for think. O stands for observe.
And P stands for plan. The main idea is not to panic. In many
cases, it may be better to wait for help, especially if you have
told people where you are and when you will return. In other
situations, you may have to walk yourself out, but avoid
bush-whacking cross-country. According to Greg, you can walk faster
and longer on trails than through the brush. Also, be sure to
consider topography. A long walk by trail may be better than a short
but difficult battle up hills or through undergrowth. When hiking, a
straight line isnít necessarily the fastest way between two points.
Youíll be easier to find in an open space on a
higher slope. A whistle, signaling mirror, and flashlight could help
you signal searchers.
Smaller emergencies happen more often. Be ready
with map, compass, duct tape, moleskin, anti-itch cream, a topical
antibiotic, pain reliever, sun protection, and medicated towelettes.
Toilet paper and resealable bags enable responsible hikers to carry
out used paper. (Greg says that animals will dig up used paper.)
Things you probably wonít need: big knives and
guns (too dangerous to you), snake-bite kits (not effective), cell
phones (unreliable), computers (too heavy), radios (too annoying),
and Xbox games (unnecessary unless you are a pre-teen boy).
In fact, you may never need to plan, think, or
carry all this stuff, but when you do, it will be worth it.
See you on the trail.
For more information about Greg Meyerís nature tours,