Case Study: 1985, Peru. A man is dangling 300ft below his partner on the west face of the notorious 21,000ft peak - “Siula Grande.” He is suffering from a broken leg and his partner as been lowering him down foot by foot in hopes to get to safety, 3000ft below. After two hours of dangling, the rope gives way and he falls 100 ft below, landing on a ledge inside a deep crevice. The climber wakes up and realizes the rope has been cut. Knowing his partner would think he was dead, the climber would now have rely on himself to get out. The climber lowers him self deeper into the dark crevice in hopes to find a way out. Reaching the bottom, the climber sees a slope leading to a speckle of sunlight, 100 feet away. He crawls across the egg shell thin floor of the cavern. Under him, under the ice was another drop into the darkness. The climber slowly reaches the sunlight, breaks the snow above him and crawls out only to see miles and miles of more climbing to get to safety. Following the tracks of his partner left days before, the climber slowly crawled his way to safety over a period of 3 days through snow and rocks, finally giving up laying in a puddle of human waist. Realizing this was the camp’s latrine, he called for help at 2:00 a.m. His faint voice was heard through the howling wind and was rescued by the same man who cut him loose just days ago. So why did the climber survive, were others would have crawled up into a ball and died? Was it a will to survive?
“This will to live, which stems from positive attitude, is what will keep you going and get you out alive, it’s what gets you up in the morning. Its’s what makes you put one foot in front of the other when you’re completely exhausted. Fuel and maintain your will to live and you stand a very good chance of making it home. Lose it and your survival hinges on nothing more that dumb luck.” ( “Survive!” Les Stroud, pg. 39) The brain is the number one thing that will kill a person in any survival situation. With that being said, staying positive about any situation will keep the brain healthy, and in turn, will keep the body healthy. Being able to think rationally will help you stay alive. Without the ability to think clearly and use common sense, your survival rate decreases exponentially and before you know it, you’re lying on the ground in fetal position, waiting to die. The will to survive comes from a deep motivation of wanting to live, with out the want, there isn’t a need. It has been documented that most people, when faced with life or death situations in which there is a possibility that suffering will occur before death, prefer to give up and get it over with. No one wants to continue to suffer if they believe they are going to die. With most survival situations, we are confronted with the loss of hope and the feeling that we will die. It is this attitude that causes most to give up, lay down, and succumb to what they believe is their inevitable fate.
So, what should one do when they find themselves stranded or lost? Number one: accept the fact that you are lost, take a deep breath, sit down and collect your thoughts. If you panic, you die. Panic leads to confusion, and confusion leads to poor judgement. When people are lost, they often begin to run through the woods screaming for help. In cold weather, running is that last thing you should do. Running generates sweat, which works as the body’s air-conditioning system, and will cool you down. As a result, your body’s core temperature will be lowered which can lead to hypothermia and, ultimately, death.
Once you have accepted the fact that you are lost or stranded, the survival can begin. Think back to when you were a child growing up. Did you climb trees, build forts, and run around the woods in awe of Mother Nature? Now that you’re an adult, you’re smarter, and more aware of your surroundings. With this awareness, you’re ahead of the game and on your way to seeing your family again. You don’t have to be smart to survive, you just have be industrious. Think about the basic tools we use at home to make ourselves comfortable and try the best to replicate them--just a sharp rock to cut with goes along way! The key to survival is having a ‘survival mentality.’ One must know and believe they can and will get out of the woods, desert or jungle. With a determined mindset and basic survival techniques, the possibility of encountering a road, cabin or a settlement will increased exponentially. And because of how quickly our population is growing it makes it easier to find safety. There have been many times when I was hunting and came across an old road or cabin in what I believed to be the middle of nowhere.
Understanding that the brain is the first thing that can kill a person, as mentioned before, we are in turn increasing our awareness of our body’s reaction to the situation. Improving morale is key to a healthy mind, and a healthy mind is key to a healthy body, both of which we need to live. It’s important to never doubt yourself or your training. Doubt can lower morale, lower the will to survive, and cause us to make mistakes. Hope and religion can also help to ease the mind. Also, physically protecting your brain from heat and cold can be just as important. Failure to do this can result in an injury to the brain, causing the survivor to make poor judgements. Morale improves with comfort and satisfaction. But what makes a person comfortable during survival? Think back to the basic items we have every day: heat, shelter, water, food, safety, and my favorite, bedding. These 6 basic comforts will increase morale, health, and survivability. Also, think about what satisfies you. Small accomplishments can help ease the struggle of doubt and fear. Building fires and shelters often evokes a feeling of accomplishment and relief. The warmth and light from a fire strikes a primitive cord inside us all and can make one feel at home.
“True students of survival, and life, recognize that their inner worlds must be brought into order before their outer experience of life follows suit. If your mental and emotional worlds are filled with fear, doubt and chaos, how can you expect to have happiness and the calm feeling of centered self reliance in your life? The feeling and activity of true self reliance comes from within you and cannot be bought. Being able to consciously project confidence, to truly feel it, is fairly easy when you have your bases covered.” (“When All Hell Breaks Loose” Cody Lundin, pg. 27) Having the right mindset will help you in everyday life. Having a calm and centered demeanor will help you meet any challenge with a clear state of mind. This mental clarity is advantageous to any situation, be it wilderness survival or daily tasks. Staying rational and sane may be challenging, especially in recent years with the fall of economy and turmoil around the world.
Everyone has challenges in life, regardless of their social station. In the urban environment, people are struggling financially to provide basic comforts for themselves and their families. In recent years, reports of suicides due to financial woe, have gone up. ChinaDaily.com reports “Statistics showed that the suicide rate increased from 11.0 in 2005 to 11.2 in 2006 in the US. The rate has fluctuated since 2000, ranging from a low of 10.4 suicides per 100,000 population in 2000 to a high of 11.2 in 2006, with a mean rate of 10.9.” (“Bad economy blamed for high suicide rate in U.S.”, Xinhua) Of those statistics, two groups emerge, those who killed themselves to end the pain, and those who killed them selves for the life insurance for their families. Both share the same characteristic, they lost hope, they lost the will to live. If these people were thrown into a wilderness survival situation, they would most likely be dead within 24 hours. The reason being is because there would be no will to survive. In their mind the big question would be, what would be the reason for surviving? Giving up would certainly be easier.
In essence, being aware of your mental state, is one of the most important factors in living though any harrowing situation. Once you are aware of what is happening to your body physically, you can then mentally prepare your self for whats ahead. Lets face it, having to survive is not fun and is very taxing. The best way to survive anything is with a positive attitude and believe it or not, a sense of humor. This goes for life in general as well. Each day we wake up with some sort of fear, whether its paying the bills, driving to work, or pleasing the boss. In order for us to survive we must accept and over come fear. One day some of us may be put into the real life or death situation , and then you have a whole new set of problems and finding food, water and shelter would just be the basics. In order to emotionally survive the wilderness, you must have a healthy mind to begin with. If your not surviving your daily life, how would you survive the wilderness? “ I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. and when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see it’s path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ( Frank Herbert, Dune, Bene Gesserit litany against fear)