Do not die on the mountain
When I was a little kid I was taught if I was really good I would never get sick, never grow old and never die. I also was taught not to believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Well, my Father died from cancer and my sister is battling cancer and, as the kid in the movie says, “I see dead people.” I, too, have seen dead people, and someday I will be one of those dead persons. It’s OK, we all die. It’s part of life. I just don’t want to die too soon. That’s the reason I don’t smoke, weigh 400 pounds, and why I try to exercise daily. I want to live as long as possible and be as healthy as possible. I had some students a few years ago say, “You probably want to die on the mountain fighting some incredible storm.” I responded, “Are you kidding, I want to die a very old man, who made smart decisions on the mountain.” One way not to die on the mountain is to know what to do if you must spend an unplanned night out. Either you’re completely disoriented or you’ve underestimated how long the trip will take, and now you face the prospect of spending a night out: a night not planned for – without a tent, sleeping bag or stove. What are you going to do? Are you going to keep moving in the dark? Are you going to build a fire? Are you going to build a shelter?The night may be less comfortable than staying at the Hotel Jerome, but will be more comfortable than you might think. Your state of mind concerning stress will determine how tired you will be in the morning. Sleep will be possible depending on temperatures, precipitation and your ability to release anxieties. Planning to stay out for a night begins at home. Let someone know your trip plans, your route and your return time. This person will initiate the rescue when you fail to return. Next, make sure you’re prepared to spend a night out. For any season in the mountains, you should have a ski hat and gloves, a waterproof top and bottom, an ensolite sit pad and extra clothing. A two-foot square sit pad will add to your warmth immeasurably.Once you’ve come to the realization you’re spending the night out, you need to pick a good location. It’s imperative to get below treeline, so use any remaining daylight to do just that. Once you’re below treeline, look for a large spruce tree with branches near the ground; the ground around the trunk will remain dry even in the heaviest of rains. That is exactly where you’re headed – for dry ground next to the trunk. You will have to burrow through the branches to get there. If it’s mid-winter, you may have to slide down the tree well. Now, pull out the sit pad and dress for the night. Even if you feel warm, put all of your layers on. Cooling will begin rapidly. Pull your hood up, put on your sunglasses, unlace your shoes and place your feet inside your pack. (Don’t remove your shoes and socks even if they’re wet, unless you’re putting them on the belly of a companion for re-warming.) Now is a good time to eat and drink any food you’ve brought. The question comes up: Should you build a fire? The main purpose of a fire is to boost morale and to signal. Campfires take a lot of energy to build. If you build a fire, keep it small so you can control it.This will be one of the longest nights you’ve ever experienced. When you chill down, get up and walk around your tree. Don’t go anywhere – just walk around the tree until you warm up. If you can sleep, do it. You will wake up if you get cold enough. Many survival manuals go into detail about shelter building, fire making and countless other survival strategies. They make great bathroom reading. Keep things simple. The above method of surviving the night will work, and you’ll have an entertaining story to tell.Oh, and yes, my daughter and I happily believe in the Tooth Fairy.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.
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