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M.D. Chris Van Tilburg Weighs in on Rescue Efforts of Missing Mt. Hood Hikers

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

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Author and M.D. Chris Van Tilburg, a member of Oregon’s Hood River Crag Rats Search & Rescue Team, has been participating in the rescue attempt of the two hikers who were reported missing on Mt. Hood last Friday. Van Tilburg and his team were on the mountain all day Sunday before having to retreat due to bad weather. We spoke to him on Monday afternoon:
 

AMK. As of this writing, the two hikers have been missing for more than three days. What should they be focused on right now in order to improve their chances of survival?

CVT. Building a snow cave and hunkering down. It’s all about shelter from the elements at this point, trying to stay warm, and not trying to move about the mountain in foul weather.

AMK. It’s been reported that they have at least one bivvy sack or lightweight sleeping back between them. What should they do with it?

CVT. If they’ve got one, they can share it, use it for a ground pad. They can also stick their feet in their backpacks or use their packs for ground padding. Insulation from sitting on the cold snow is just as important as covering up.

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The hikers packed a bivvy sack

AMK. According to reports, the hikers had planned to come down the south side of Mt. Hood. Have you hiked or climbed this part of the mountain? Is it particularly tricky this time of year?

CVT. I climbed to 10,500 feet on Sunday, and turned around just short of the summit due to dangerous conditions — avalanche risk, whiteout, cold temperatures and high winds. Any time of the year in any conditions, the south climb can be dangerous — even in clear, windless skies.

AMK. Temps are in the low 20s at night. According to media reports, there is the threat of avalanches, which is preventing full-on rescue efforts. What would you advise the two hikers do next – stay put, try to stay warm, or try their luck making it down the mountain?

CVT. Dig a snowcave, stay put, and try to signal rescuers by any means possible.

AMK. The hikers have been outdoors for more than three days; at this stage, what is the biggest threat to their survival?

CVT. Hypothermia and dehydration.

AMK. Bluntly, at this point, how would you rate their chances of being rescued alive?

CVT. It’s really hard to say. We had a group in the 1970s that lasted 14 days on Hood. There are a lot of variables at play. In this storm, lightly equipped, without injury, after 3 days I’d say chances for the hikers start plummeting. If they have a snow cave and a stove to melt snow for drinking water their chances improve.

AMK. What essential pieces of equipment do you advise hikers or climbers take with them before embarking on Mt. Hood or other hikes or climbs during the winter?

CVT. Extra clothing, a bivvy or blanket for warmth or shelter; food, water and a stove to melt snow in; communication and navigation equipment like a GPS, cell phone, mountain locator unit, a transceiver, signaling mirror and rescue whistle; avalanche safety equipment, including a shovel; gear for crevasse travel, including rope, harness, carabiners, russic cords, plastic boots, crampons, ice ax, helmet. It’s a long list and a heavy pack.

Chris Van Tilburg, M.D., is the editor of WMS’s Wilderness Medicine and the author of eight books on the  outdoors. His most recent book is Mountain Rescue Doctor. He lives in Bend, Oregon.

Surviving a January Night in Point Reyes Using My Pocket Survival Pak

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Dear AMK,

I am happy to report that your survival kit helped me to survive an unplanned night in Point Reyes this past January. A friend and I went hiking around Abbott’s Lagoon. At the end of the trail, we walked along the beach. It was an overcast, cold day and we didn’t realize how late it was and so it was almost sunset when we headed back towards the trail. It seemed simple enough to follow the beach along until we saw the trail that went around the lagoon. But we got completely disoriented and were not sure where to pick up the trail. We tried to follow close to the lagoon to pick up the trail but this didn’t work (In the morning we realized that had walked to a much further end of the lagoon.) We were lost. And it was already cold.

Before we left for the hike, I returned to my car to get my hat. When I went back I noticed my Survival Kit, which I usually leave in the car. I bought it after I read about the Kim family who had been trapped in the wilderness, in their car, which scared the heck out of me. I took the kit along with me as an after thought. Afterall, it was only a 4 mile hike and it was on a well marked trail in Point Reyes. I rarely bring the survival gear with me for such a short adventure.

Well, we spend thirteen hours there in the darkness as it was January. It got down to the low 20s. We were right near the ocean so we didn’t have a lot of coverage. Luckily we found a little area that was mostly protected from the harsh wind that was blowing. It took us a long time but we were able to build a fire with your kit and keep it going all that time. It’s amazing how much wood it takes to keep a fire going that long.

The sky was cloudy and at one point it started to drizzle. But that only lasted a little bit. Very early in the morning, the clouds passed and we could see the star filled sky. I’ve never felt such relief! In the morning, we were able to find our way back to the trail. We weren’t that far from it, but who knows what would have happened if we had kept wandering around the night before.

Bringing the kit was a last minute decision. I don’t know what instinct made me do that or what angel was looking out for me, but I am so thankful that I took it. I know that hypothermia in windy, cold weather can set in quickly. And there is no more vulnerable feeling than being disoriented in the wilderness at night. I am thankful that we were able to stay put for the long night and set out in the morning. The tools in your kit helped save our lives. So thank you.

Also, it says that if we use this kit, we’re eligible for a replacement. We used most of the tinder, pencil, duct tape. I’d love to get a replacement!

Thanks for the life-saving kit!

Sincerely,
Tara, Oakland Ca.

AMK Response:

Tara- Thanks for passing this story along to us.  We love to hear that our kits are helping people enjoy the outdoors safely, and it’s great that you were able to stay warm during a very challenging situation.  We’re based in Oakland and familiar with the Pt Reyes area (and its winds), so you impressed everyone in the office by being able to get a fire going in that environment.

I’ll put a package of some replacement supplies together and send it your way.

Thanks again! The Team at AMK

What’s in Your Survival Pack?

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Comment:

I took an Ultralite .5 First Aid kit and added these Adventure Medical Kit items: 1 person HeatSheets Blanket, Signal mirror, Firestarter, & Whistle.

It is compact, fits easily in a pocket and weighs about 7 oz. Plus it looks cool!

My two cents. Kurt

Response:

Thanks for the comment Kurt! Our Product Development team loves to hear feedback from our customers about how they use our products.  Keep the ideas coming….

If you have a story or product idea to share with us, you can submit the info using this form.