What Would You Do?

9:07 a.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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This question is in regard to the recent hypothermia deaths in the Ozarks as linked---


On my last February trip I was caught in a several day butt-cold rain and mused over the terrible plight of the hikers and so I wrote this in my trail journal while inside a warm, dry tent during a nasty pelting cold rainstorm---

"It's still winter so the rain/wind combo isn't something you want to be out in overnight like that poor father with his 2 sons in the Ozarks.  The rain was atrocious with tolerable temps but by nightfall the temps became grim by falling into the 20F's---a terrible situation to those outside overnight and soaked to the skin."

"In such a scenario one must act quickly and get out of the wind and prepare for the cold, a near impossibility if drenched.  What would I do?  Get out of the wind down the hillside and look for a rock face overhang or a dead tree blowdown and start playing gopher big time by scrapping out dirt and rocks and dead leaves to make a little cubbyhole depression."

"Then I'd stuff it like a madman with dead leaves and more leaves and yet more leaves and bury myself and my kids in the hole.  Also I would remove our clothing and wring them out thoroughly and either put back on if wool or poly but leave off if cotton.  Then I'd leave the kids and gather another 50 lbs of wet leaves and pile them on top of us---no time to make a debris shelter with a pole or a lean-to---ya gotta burrow into a squirrel nest of dead leaves out of the wind with a rock wall or a dead tree trunk to huddle against."

"Nature has a million places for the primitive human to go rodent and find shelter.  We're not stupid and when push comes to shove we will try to survive like a mouse in a rat nest.  The dead leaves have to be in a big pile and you have to be at the bottom of them and you have to curl up together like puppies underneath to stay warm."

"Once the terrible truth hits that you've made a terrible mistake, get busy with a shelter before 2nd and 3rd hypothermia hits.  It's better to be under a crappy shelter by a rock or dead tree holding each other than to be exposed out in the open doing the same.  Humans are nesters by instinct and there are a thousand natural human rat dens all thru the woods."

"It's easy to write this during a butt cold rainstorm while sitting inside a warm tent and it's another to be drenched at 30F and miles from nowhere in the dark.  It's overwhelming and the natural tendency is to curl up, shiver, shake and go.  The will to live gets destroyed."

"Imagine the value of a simple 5x8 tarp---together with dead leaves you stay warm and not newly wet.  There's nothing in nature like a 5x8 tarp unless you find a big hollow log or a large rock overhang or have time to make a debris hut with lean-to stick frame and bushels of leaves.  Leaves become your insulation---fiberfill---look at a mouse nest."

"Here's a lesson for all dayhikers---carry rain jackets and carry tarps, period.  Or a bivy sac."

Anyway, the whole point is this---I'd like to see Grylls or Stroud or Cody pull the same exact event in the same exact conditions drenched with a dip into the 20F's and overnight.  They don't have a tarp or cordage or a saw or machete or knife and they are soaked---just the same clothes the father and sons wore.  I mean drenched and shaking with 1st stage hypothermia.  Now get to work!  Screw the camera crew, screw your cameras---death is 2 hours away and what are you going to do??

11:48 a.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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Given the  scenario, I think you came up with the best solution.  This would be a bit harder, though, in the environment I find myself in most of the time, i.e. the desert.  Granted, it'd be very rare to even find those conditions, but it's not impossible, especially in the Mojave.

I carry a raincoat in my day pack all the time (except  in the desert in the summer).  I never considered carrying a small tarp.  I think I need to reconsider what's in me EDC.

11:54 a.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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The Southeast has a peculiar hateful tendency in the winter to get heavy precip but it's never cold enough to snow so you end up with a butt cold rain.  PLUS, there's this cycle---after a cold rain the precip stops and the temps drop terribly, which is why guys have a soaked tent at night and in the morning everything once wet is now frozen solid.  Poles stick together, zippers won't open, ladder buckles and webbing won't work, etc.  Anyway, most dayhikers don't carry much of anything.

12:06 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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Good advice from Tipi. Go rodent. Not quite the he-man cool factor of the super-survivalists, just smart and effective.

A while back I bought a 5x8 poncho tarp (ID Silponcho) and wondered if I was wasting my money, because I already had rain gear, a tent, and a pack cover. It might be my most valued bit of kit, and I never go out without it. Emergency shelter on a day hike, quick shelter for a break in bad weather, backup raingear as well as extra vestibule space or cooking cover on a longer trip. I still carry a mylar blanket, but if I ever had only one thing, I'd hope it was that poncho tarp.

12:38 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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Sometimes I feel like I need to bring a small tarp like you mention in addition to my ginormous kit just to have something to sit under during a hellish on-trail rain deluge.  Sort of like Patman's golite umbrella.  But will I?  Doubt it as presently I squat in my Arcteryx rain jacket and wait.  A little tarp would be much better cuz it could cover both me and my pack as we wait for the worst of the storm to pass.

1:16 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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Agreed.  I worked in SE Alaska in the cold rain and snow and it never gets any easier.  Rodents know what they are doing.

2:22 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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That was a terrible, terrible tragedy. Hypothermia is nasty and can sneak up on ya. A good self-test is to see if you can touch your thumb to your pinky finger. If ya can’t, yer in stage two and don’t have long… And when yer at that point it can be impossible to zip up a jacket, much less build a shelter or fire.

So, the usual course of action is to keep pressing on, trying to generate sufficient body heat and make it to shelter. I know it was just a day hike, but it was winter, so it was doubly important to carry sufficient emergency gear. If each of ‘em had just a two ounce “space blanket” or maybe an emergency poncho in their pockets we might not be talking about this tragedy now. It doesn’t take much to avoid a situation like this and a feller need not spend a pile of coin. A Dri-Duck rain suit costs twenty bucks and my size medium suit weighs 10.1 ounces. Hardly noticeable it in a day pack. It is light duty gear, but in wet and cold like that it is all that is needed to turn a life threatening situation into a simple walk home walk in the rain. In the Beginners Tarp thread I show how to make a 7 foot by 9 foot tarp that weighs less than half a pound and costs less than twenty dollars. I think it is an ideal bit of kit to throw into a day pack when you don’t expect to have to spend the night out, because you just never know.

But, how would I have dealt with getting caught in the very same situation? No gear, only light clothing, kids I needed to take care of –

I’d have taken the ride back to the lodge that they were offered earlier in the day!

Air Force veteran and his 2 sons die while hiking Missouri trail


Failing that, I’d have simply pressed on, trying to generate sufficient body heat and get to shelter in time just as they apparently tried to do. And possibly died, just like they did. I’m no smarter than the next guy, and stopping to sit in a wet pile of leave is about the last thing I want to do when soaking wet and shivering, and a nice warm lodge is only a short distance away. However, some folk are thinking foul play may have been involved in this tragedy because of this –

retired from the Air Force in recent years and was working with the Defense Department in a job he couldn't discuss, even privately

5:00 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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Most people don't know about debris huts or the insulating value of dead leaves or even wet dead leaves.  It's about all a person has on hand during the Ozark scenario.  It's why I'd like to see the hotsots like Cody and Stroud do this exact test with the gear the father had at the time. 

8:12 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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You should watch more tv tipi. Dual survival did almost this exact scenario a couple of weeks ago, joe teti jumped in a river while caving. He was def second stage, couldnt touch his thumb to his pinky, and his skin color changed. Unlike these poor people he had an experienced adult with him to help him get warm.

9:40 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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"Go Rodent" - Love that analogy. Hey, they lived through what the dinosaurs could not. And then they evolved into... us.

Tempted to make it easy and say I wouldn't have gone out there so blatantly ill equipped & unprepared but.

Before having the emergency situation to deal with, he should have been able to evaluate his situation and the evolving conditions and bailed out long before it got to that point.'

I hate to always go to my diving experience on a board that has nothing to do with diving but it is an activity where you have seconds & minutes to make life changing decisions instead of many minutes into hours. One of the first things we are taught is planning the dive & planning bail out points where, if we've reached a certain marker, and things don't fit the overall equation the way they were planned, I turn around or I can use this wreck/debris/bottom feature as a safe alternate ascent/bail out. You have to play chess out there, look to what is going to be happening three moves from now and know when to turn around or stop and dig in BEFORE you hit the wall.

As for the scenario you present Tipi, I think if I was saturated wet, I would stop and strip naked before doing anything else. People don't understand how much faster you are losing heat when you are wet, even more so than bare ass neked. I've also found that stretching large muscles can really help in letting metabolic heat flow and prevent the spasms that limit your mobility. Legs, back, & chest in that order. Then, given I wasn't smart enough to have the Mylar space blankets, tarp & emergency fire starting materials I take on any and every hike, absolutely, go rodent. Leaves are an excellent insulator. If you can find a pile of decomposing leaves or other organic material, blown into a crevice between or under boulders or trees, the decomposition creates quite a bit of heat if you dig into it. Sitting in the nest, massage your thighs & arms vigarously, it will produce metabolic heat in the muscles your working, hands/arms and frictional heat/increased blood flow in the ones you massage. Aside from that, keep your head straight. Your survival doesn't happen when you get through it, it begins at the first moment that you make the decision that "you WILL"

I have the space blankets in every backpack I own. My son has his own, in his back pack, in case he is separated or has to continue without me, along with everything else he might need if I'm not there. I also have a reasonable size sheet of Silnylon that I carry for an emergency tarp. Weighs practically nothing and takes up hardly any space. Always in my pack.

10:26 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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Tipi, I think you have the best fix for being unprepared. A space blanket is light and easily stuffed into a pocket. I would advocate that stripping naked would work in certain situations. But if it is windy heat loss can occur from evaporation and wearing rain gear over nothing, or even a light windshirt will keep down the evaporative loss. I few simple items in a light fanny pack, could have saved their lives. I always plan, even on a day hike or a few hours, enough gear that I could survive the night. Perhaps not comfortably, but well enough that I won't be near death in the morning.

10:36 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks JerseyWreckDiver for the great post.  You may be right about getting naked and out of your wet clothing.  My experience comes from getting saturated and wringing out my clothing and putting it all back on, but of course I had a rain jacket to conserve warmth.  Wrung out merino is a "warm wet" vs a soaked cold wet.  Plus, getting naked at 20F could be a mistake.

Hotdogman---Thanks for the Belly of the Beast Dual Survivor link as I looked at it and honestly, it seemed playful compared to what I imagine the Ozark crew went thru.

**  First off, Joe and Cody are not getting rained on constantly and the temps aren't dipping into the 20F's.

**  They have head lamps and a space blanket.  Oops, not allowed. The Ozark boys were all soaken wet and without lights.

**  Once they get out of the cave there doesn't seem to be any butt cold wind, a killer over a wet body.

**  Joe and Cody had the ability to get a spark for a fire because it was not pouring down with rain.  Plus, they are 2 experts with decades of experience.

**  I think it's inappropriate to compare Joe and Cody's experience with hypothermia in the cave with the Ozark boys.  BTW, why didn't Joe and Cody use one headlamp instead of both, to conserve fuel?

**  Around minute 14:30 Cody says you need dry clothing, fire and shelter or "you will die."  My point is---I want to see Joe and Cody in wet clothing with no fire or shelter in 25F temps.

**  Plus, Joe and Cody have ample time to stand around and talk about building a fire . . . . and IT'S NOT RAINING.

**  And then they have the luxury of no rain to build a fire and it does not look windy.

**  I never really saw Joe suffering with debilitating hypothermia.  Joe sums it up:  "Fun around the fire."  It became a camping trip sitting around a fire and boiling water with hot stones.  Not my idea of the Ozark scenario.  Not by a longshot.

BTW, here's the Joe/Cody link---


10:29 a.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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How would it be raining at 20 degrees, it would have turned to snow long before that temp. Having 20 yrs in the special forces, joe might be able to withstand the temp extremes better than most people. I dont remember the details, but he was cold ,wet and beginning to be hypothermic. They didnt share a light because its tv, im sure the camera crew had lights. Im not comparing what happened in the ozarks, but you did. They are making a tv show, but the situations they create are modeled after real survival scenarios. They arent alone, neither is les stroud, he has communication with his support team, even if its just a spot. These shows are entertainment, not documentaries. There are things to be learned from these shows, you just have to keep an open mind. Tv is not evil, when watched with some thought and in moderation.

10:45 a.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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Interesting thread....

When I tested the Nemo Nocture for Trailspace (review here), I thought hard about an intentional soaking but was never in a scenario that I felt was safe enough to do so. All of my hikes were solo and many, many miles from my car / or an easy bail-out.

Of course I don't have a support staff like the pro's do....


Tipi and Hotdog man,

I do recall an episode of Dual Survival (with Dave and Cody, before Special Forces Joe joined the show) that was filmed in Big South Fork (a place near me). They did a stranded rafter scenario. I don't remember the temps but Cody failed to make a fire and wound up doing exactly what Tipi suggested: he buried himself in leaves to get through the night.

10:48 a.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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Space blankets are great, especially if you are holing up under forest duff.  Wrap the blanket around you, - against bare skin is best - and pile on the leaves over that.  You'll be God awful cold, but this is your best bet, providing better warmth and shelter are indeed beyond probable reach.


11:32 a.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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hotdogman said:

How would it be raining at 20 degrees, it would have turned to snow long before that temp. Having 20 yrs in the special forces, joe might be able to withstand the temp extremes better than most people. I dont remember the details, but he was cold ,wet and beginning to be hypothermic. They didnt share a light because its tv, im sure the camera crew had lights. Im not comparing what happened in the ozarks, but you did. They are making a tv show, but the situations they create are modeled after real survival scenarios. They arent alone, neither is les stroud, he has communication with his support team, even if its just a spot. These shows are entertainment, not documentaries. There are things to be learned from these shows, you just have to keep an open mind. Tv is not evil, when watched with some thought and in moderation.

 The Ozark scenario was, as mentioned, a cold drenching rain prior to the temps falling into the 20F's---as I noted with the Southeast weather patterns to have winter rains followed by subfreezing temps.  It's almost a pattern you can count on.  Many times I've been in a winter rain at 40F and the cold pounces after the rain and goes south, often to 10F or below.  This would be misery if a person was soaked in the rain w/o shelter and then faced with the cold snap.

I still would like to see a survival episode in these conditions.  You brought up the fact that Joe faced nearly identical conditions in the Belly of the Beast but I just don't see it.  They did not perform in a cold rain and they were not drenched when the temps reached into the 20F's and they had a fire starter and had the rain-free opportunity to make fire.

11:56 a.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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I lived 33 years in the southeast, im very familiar with the weather there. I know the situation wasnt exactly the same, but similar. They have what the average person in the scenario they are acting out. I think that some of it is crap, but they show and use techniques that anyone can learn to do, using what they have on hand. Not the most realistic sometimes, but generally pretty clever. Im not tryin to fight with you tipi, but they should get a fair break.

12:28 p.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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I have enormous respect for Cody and especially Joe as he's a bonafide "beret" (snake-eater) and in another life I would be following guys like him into combat and have no second thoughts. 

As bad as the Ozark ordeal was (and is to the surviving family), maybe we should have a survival show using real-life episodes of mishaps as examples for experts to emulate and see what their solutions would be.  Sort of like Conrad Anker and friends climbing Everest with Mallory's clothing and gear.  In other words, duplicate the same conditions of an ordeal (like the Ozark event) and see what happens, with back up of course.

7:12 p.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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i have a hard time thinking of a television show or dramatization of what happened to this father and his boys.  it's too awful.  I do think people can benefit from the series of errors and misjudgments that contributed to this so it doesn't happen, or does not happen as often, in the future.  i read one article that tried to break down what happened, well after the fact.



-they didn't have clothing that anticipated the weather conditions, either the cold or the wet.  they ran into unusual conditions - a 40 degree temperature drop and 4 inches of hard, cold rain they didn't anticipate.  that would be atrocious for someone who was well-prepared.  however, rain suits, ponchos, and better insulation would have done a world of good for them.  so would a tarp if they decided to 'gopher' as you described. 

-turnaround time was an issue here.  by 2 pm, they were 8 miles from where they started.  in the winter, that doesn't leave much room for error, especially if conditions weren't good. 

-they got lost - which suggests they didn't have GPS and either didn't have a map &  compass or couldn't follow it.  even if you know the trail, you have to accountof the possibility of getting lost. 

-their light apparently failed, so no backup or extra batteries.  makes everything more difficult, makes route-finding in the dark all but impossible. 


8:40 p.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks for the excellent link.  One of my points is to see if we can learn from the event.

9:38 p.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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That link has a lot of good info. I wonder if the rain was forecast before they left, seems like a lot of moisture to have just popped up. A simple weather forecast check might have made all the difference. I didnt realize they were only going half a mile when they started, then ended up 8 miles away. I guess we will never know.

10:42 p.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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I recently read of that disaster.

Tipi Walter i gave you a point i guess for what it's worth on post 1.

Liked that a lot... I could only add the dad should have made a fire if he could have.....  In the scenario you created.

1 that may have alerted someone who may not have liked the idea of a fire..

2 it may have warmed these people, and just warming the ground in a wet cold place can make sleeping on that spot, once covered with dead leaves again warmer than a body can be.

I used this once getting lost hunting. I was hunting not far from home, and I crossed 2 brooks I knew and on my way out lugging track stew I crossed 3 and was very confused because there isn't 3.

And with that i lost my last light..... I knew i had a few moments in the chill coming on it was do something right now of suffer very hard.

I took up a mess of dead hemlock saplings and light a fire in a stump hole of a larger dead hemlock. I had seen in last light that top of this larger dead tree was loaded with more dead tinder and larger branches, and that i knew i could go up and down that tree all night if I needed to.

The first fire was larger and got larger to warm the ground.... That gave me more light and I used that for getting more dead and down hard woods, that went into a pile. Once I thought I had enough I moved the fire raking it to one lower corner of the stump hole nearer the root base which was vertical to act as a reflector.

With that same stick rake I raked duff into the hole where the earth was warmed so as i could lay there and wait for day light, and made it deep enough to get in a bed of leaves. it wasn't much different as camps i made a kid less the new fresh greens I used way back then.

I kept that fire going all night and dozed in fits... When I wet home early the next morning my 1st wife was steamed and simply refused to believe I had been lost in the woods at all.

I did have snacks and had a canteen of bark holding 2 qts of water. I had anything a black powder hunter would have had less a tarp or a bed roll in years of yore.....

This isn't my idea either, anyone who ever saw Jeremiah Johnson has seen it. I am not a smoker either but still I carry a BIC everyday. That goes with a tiny flash light in the modern world and in my other ft pants pocket i carry a watch and a folding knife.. Just std...

12:23 a.m. on March 6, 2013 (EST)
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When I was in my tent thinking about their plight a cold rain was hitting me sideways from a butt cold wind, and I thought about how difficult it would have been for me to even consider building a fire.  It's very difficult to build a fire in a downpour---and since his flashlight died I doubt he could've kept a Bic dry.  In fact, in such a situation I believe a fire would be way down on my list and below the need for a shelter, hence the rat nest example.  But that's just me. 

11:13 p.m. on March 6, 2013 (EST)
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Didn't mean it that way... One step then the next....  Find the shelter, dig in, get a bit warmer, then if you can go for fire.

 The article said the guy was experienced. My take is he was far from that.

No gear, nothing, bad lamp, no redundant lamp, and no fire. It added up to dead x 3.

In NH it rains any time it isn't snowing...  I ride a mc and we say if you don't ride in the rain you just don't ride here.

I can start a fire with my dry bic about anytime i want a fire, but i know where to find good tinder even if it's wet. When i get cold and want a fire it is almost like an explosion. Of course I have access to silver yellow and white birch, and will pull 10 or so dead hemlocks from the ground and ball them all up.

We will never know what happened. No one will. I just hope that Dad was moving around and died on the move... That means I hope he didn't just sit down a quit, but I think that is exactly what he did.

I'ld rather die trying than not trying at all.

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