Sunday, May 16, 2010


The Austin American Statesman has the very lucky story of Merritt Myers, who spent several days lost in a very remote area of the Big Bend National Park and survived. For some reason I am unable to cut and paste weblinks right now, as something has been modified on the home computer that is not allowing me paste links. I'll try to pull out the laptop and post a link later, but it's a great story of survival and a long one and worth a read, so you'll have to go to the Statesman site at and ferret out the story.
I'm so glad Mr. Myers survived, and it details what he did right and what he did wrong. I was very surprised that the article did not include a few suggestions to make survival more likely should a reader end up in his predicament. So I've decided to add a few of my own here.
1. Take a knife and a good pair of gloves
The article mentions that Mr. Myers was able to extract small amounts of moisture from prickly pear cactus, which his mom used to prepare as a child. It also mentions he got hundreds of tiny cactus spines in his hands, legs and ... egads, mouth when extracting moisture from the cactus. It also mentions he had to use a small shovel to slice the cactus so he could chew chunks of it to extract the moisture.
As I'm sure Mr. Myers would agree, having a knife might have made this situation less wearing on his hands, legs and mouth. Also, some sort of small but heavy duty plastic bag in which to pulverize the cactus pieces with a rock to attempt to extract the moisture might have been a good deal. And perhaps a pair of ballistic gloves, the kind made to prevent puntures, might have been helpful in his cactus efforts as well as climbing and handling all sorts of sharp and abrasive rocks in Big Bend.
2. Take a GPS locater with you loaded with the proper maps of the area you will be.
No, not the GPS you bought for $100 for your car to get you to Big Bend, but the kind made for outdoorsman. Thus, not only can you plot your path as you are proceeding, and therefore know where you are at all times, but if you get lost you can use it to backtrack to your original path or to find your way back to a safe area. A common variety is shown in the bottom photo above.
Of course, extra batteries are a must. A GPS is of no use without power. I didn't see a mention that Mr. Myers had a map of the area with him, but since he was lost a map may or may not have helped him find out where he was. In any event, old school tech like a good typo map and a compass are great if the GPS fails. The article mentions he had a compass with him, and that's good, but a map might have helped him locate his position.
3. Rent a satellite phone and/or an Emergency Beacon GPS Locater.
Mr. Myers got lucky. When he took his plunge into a dead end canyon, from which he could nto extricate himself, he wasn't seriously injured. However, had he broken his legs or a hip or his back, he might not have been able to signal help with a fire and with his HELP sign made of rocks. He did have an orange sleeping bag with him, which was an excellent choice to wave at the search helicopter or plane.
A satellite phone is shown in the top picture and an emergency beacon GPS locater is shown underneath. There are many different brands available with many different features.
But for a very reasonable fee one can rent short term a locater beacon that sends out a satellite GPS signal. A bit more expensive but infinitely as valuable would be a satellite phone, to contact rescuers personally. Either device would have been crucial had he been seriously injured and unable to signal rescuers. Again, extra batteries and perhaps one of the solar powered portable roll up panels would be good things to have with these devices.
4. Keep your backcountry plan current with friends, family and the authorities.
Mr. Myers modified his backcountry plan significantly after filing it with park rangers, and did not modify it after he decided to alter his plans. Keep these notifications up to date so rescuers have a basic idea of where you were going so they know where to start looking and more importantly, when to start looking.
I don't mean to second guess Mr. Myers. My Big Bend ramblings have been far less involved than his, but as a younger man I've gotten lost in both East Texas jungles/wildernesses and South Texas deserts on hunting trips. Fortunately, in both cases, I had not only companions and a compass but wasn't nearly as far from civilization as he was and was able to extricate myself fairly quickly.
I'm not a big "go into the wilderness by yourself" kind of guy but I know many folks who are. In this digital GPS day and age, there is no excuse for not carrying a GPS loaded with the proper maps for an area, as well as a rental emergency beacon. Or a knife. Who goes hiking and camping without a knife?
Finally, since the National Parks recently decided to follow the law and allow firearms, another survival topic is why no firearm? Big Bend is loaded with all kinds of critters that can do you harm. Various wild cats, very very large snakes, wild hogs of various types, buzzards and other creatures. A nice S&W airweight revolver weighing less than 12 ounces and chambered in .357 would be a nice friend to have if, while waiting on rescuers, any of these critters decide you'd make a nice meal or you are intruding on their territory.
On a recent visit to the Fort Davis park, during broad daylight in the camping area, we saw several wild mountain lion cubs roaming and looking for snacks. I didn't see momma lion, but I know she was not far away. Although Big Bend is a desert environment, just because man isn't meant to survive there without the proper supplies does not mean wild critters capable of killing you don't live there. Had Mr. Myers had the unfortunate luck to stumble across or into a mountain lions den, and there were cubs involved, it couldn't gotten very ugly and very deadly. Likewise, as the vultures began to circle, had they decided to descend prior to his death or unconsciousness, it would've been nice to shoot a couple of them to give the other vultures something to feed on other than him for awhile. Or for him to have something to eat.

1 comment:

  1. A very well writte post and a nice read. I agree who would go without at least a knife? I carry several and that is just day to day. Not only are there bad animals out there in the wilds of Big Bend there are the human animals also. A good gun is well worth the weight....