NBC News 	Nov. 17, 1999
A walk in the wild, where one wrong turn and suddenly youíre lost ó stranded. Youíd be surprised at how often it happens and how quickly nature can turn deadly. Your survival could depend on the decisions you make. Would you know how to survive?
Each year the National Park Service alone conducts more than 6,000 search-and-rescue operations. And each year, about 120 people who get lost or stranded never make it back. "The first thing we need to do is keep your body 98.6," says Cody Lundin, who runs the Aboriginal Living Skills School in Prescott, Ariz. "Thatís key." Sudden temperature drops can happen almost anywhere in America. Thatís why Lundin says the first thing you should do when youíre lost ó before making fire, signaling for rescue, even finding water, is find shelter. "The main thing is to wake up alive the next morning," he says.
Lundin says you can last three or four days without water and three or four weeks without food. But death from exposure can come in hours ó even minutes. So find a spot to sleep. Lundin says look for a flat area thatís relatively high. It will stay warmer since cool air sinks. Rocks not only block the wind, but suck up heat during the day, and radiate it at night, staying as much as 10 degrees warmer than the air temperature. To make a bed, before settling down for the night, look around. Snakes, rodents, scorpions and insects could be in the area. The grass makes an excellent base to keep the earth from absorbing your body heat at night. "We need some sort of vegetation thatís got some dead air space which acts as insulation," says Lundin. Cat-tails and dry grass make good blankets and can be found in almost every state in the union. In bunches, they help keep the bodyís natural warmth from escaping.
THE SEARCH FOR WATER
The top priority is finding shelter. But at some point, you may need to find water. "Where does water go to?" asks Lundin. "It seeks the lowest spot, right?" And life tends to follow water. So to find water, look for concentrations of plant life and listen for insect and bird noises. Follow the sounds of the insects and the greenery, and a stream. Should you drink water in the wilderness if you have no way to purify it? If you desperately need water, youíre going to drink it, says Lundin, because even if itís contaminated, you wonít get sick for a couple of days. And hopefully youíll be rescued before then. "The little bugs that are going to get you sick are invisible to your naked eye," says Lundin. "Most bugs that get you sick have an incubation period of several days." You can also disinfect water with iodine tablets or by boiling it.
But in order to disinfect water, cook food, or even send a signal for help, youíre going to need fire. "Twig at a time," Lundin says. "Never ever take fire for granted." Since making a fire is challenging, Lundin recommends carrying three sources of fire on three different parts of your body. "Iíve got a lighter in my jacket and matches in my shirt and pants pockets," says Lundin. Once made, donít leave the fire though, unless youíve dug a pit to keep it from spreading.
SIGNAL FOR RESCUE
The ultimate goal of any survival situation is to get rescued, and fire is one of the best ways to signal for help. The fire, built up enough, can be seen for miles. If you canít start a fire, use what you do have. For instance, a lid found on the ground can reflect light, to get a pilotís attention. In this case, trash becomes a potential life-saver. If thereís a plane directly overhead, donít stand straight up. "If youíre standing up and a planeís overhead," he says, "itís not seeing as much as if youíre down here."
Of course, a little planning before you take a trip into the wild can make all the difference. "Bring at least a gallon of water for every day youíll be out. And bring some warm clothing, even if youíre only going on a day hike," Lundin says. Itís also wise to bring a cellphone, but it might not work where youíre going. You should always tell someone where youíll be and when you expect to get back, so they can notify the authorities if youíre not there.
If you do get lost, remember your "stay put and look for shelter" priorities. Donít keep wandering. Signal for help. Hunker down and look for shelter. Then, look for water and try to signal for help. If help doesnít arrive, keep looking for water. Lundin says itís essential to scout your surrounding area. And stay positive. "Out here if your attitude falls, youíre going to fall with it," he says. "So keep your spirits up, be aware of whatís going down."
Aboriginal Living Skills School
P.O. Box 3064,
Prescott, Ariz. 86302