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Under the warm, brilliant sun, Oregon’s winter weather may fool you into thinking all is well in the great outdoors – it turn’s out, that’s not always true:
Jim Peters is a survival pro – a search and rescue volunteer for nearly 25 years – who said that the folk he’s found had one thing in common: they forgot to ask, “What if?”
“What if a twist my ankle? What if I have to stay out overnight?” noted the longtime S&R volunteer. “What if I should need a shelter or a way of making a warming fire – would I know how to do it in the cold?”
Peters added that the answers demand preparation for the worst that Mother Nature serves up, even if it’s just a day of family fun in the snow.
For example, would you know how to seek simple shelter?
Peters acted quickly when I put him to the that test – he scanned the trees – specifically, the tree wells that the deep snow had created.
“There – see that natural little cave in there, he said as he pointed to a nearby spruce tree with its branches bowed low from the weight of fresh snow.
“You can crawl right in there and could probably rest in there just the way it is.”
Peters said that a “tree well” with branches bent low keeps out overhead snow and protects you from energy-sapping winds.
“Plus - there’s a lot of needles down here on the ground - really thick and spongy – excellent to sleep on. I won’t be sleeping on the snow.”
He pulled a lightweight tarp from inside his daypack, unfolded it and laid it across the ground. “This will keep me from getting wet and if there’s a little bit of wind that does come thru here, this will help block it too.”
Peters said that the “right” clothing is critical for staying warm too. He insisted that you should never wear cotton, (it won’t wick moisture away) but you rely on a base layer of polypropylene or other synthetic wear.
“It has a wicking property about it that pulls moisture away from the skin into your insulating layer of clothing – and for that I use thick fleece.”
Peters wears a waterproof shell over the fleece because it also blocks the wind. He added that you not forget a hat too for if your head’s left uncovered, up to half your body heat can escape.
“Keeping your ears covered is as important as fingers and toes because when they get cold, it starts to affect your attitude. You want to have a positive mental attitude.”
Attitude means attention to preparation and that equals energy conservation.
“You don’t want to spend a lot of time building something that takes a lot of effort and energy,” said Peters. “You want to save your energy as much as possible - find something Mother Nature already started. That’s the way to go.”
Sharon Ward is another search and rescue volunteer who partners with her dog, “Seeker,” to find people who get lost in the outdoors.
She said that when people head for snow country, anything can happen: “Often we’ll get someone who has gone out for a fun day in the woods and a foot or two of snow comes down and they can’t drive out. They’re stuck!”
And when the sun goes down – getting stuck takes on a whole new dimension.
“If it’s dark,” said Ward, “there are many dangers – you could fall in a creek, fall off a ledge; we’ve had people who walked straight off ridges at night – so at night it’s very dangerous to travel in the woods.”
Ward is a big believer in carrying essentials to help you make it thru a night or two – items that are packed away in your rig - like water…in a shatter proof lightweight container of plastic or aluminum.
She added that you should carry food; even as simple as nuts and raisins or other high-energy food.
Don’t forget a whistle to signal for help, a lamp or flashlight with spare batteries, a knife and some source of heat.
”I always bring hand warmers in the winter, added Ward. “They are wonderful and inexpensive and you can put them in your boots or mittens to warm you up.”
She always carries a small first aid kit and keeps everything in a small daypack or fanny pack – stored away in the vehicle. If you leave the car on a hike, you can take your essentials with you.
“If you do these small things, you’ll be well on your way toward surviving your time should conditions change and you get stuck.
Search and rescue experts agree it’s “the little things” added together that could make a big difference in your ability to survive an unexpected turn of events.
You should also check the weather and be sure of the forecast, leave a note with someone – a friend or family member – that says where you’re going and when you expect to return – and pack some survival essentials and keep them in your vehicle – either in a daypack or fanny pack.
All of this may just help you get through an emergency in the great Oregon outdoors.