While many enjoy the activity of survival backpacking, most people just enjoy hiking or backpacking as a casual sport. There is a special joy that comes from being out in the wilderness, enjoying the splendor of nature, the marvel of creation, and the excitement of the unknown. It’s because of that excitement that it is called an adventure. Most of the time it’s a relatively uneventful experience to go hiking, camping, backpacking, or hunting. Most of the time, the adventure is limited to our comfort zone. Those who do participate in survival backpacking are always ready, trained keenly for whatever may come their way. But for those others, it’s a lot more laid back and that’s what makes it so dangerous when something goes wrong. There are those times, however, when the adventure is more than we could ever imagine, when the excitement is precipitated not by the unknown, but by danger, life-threatening danger, when the experience suddenly becomes all too real. When this happens a day out for a hike, or a weekend of camping becomes something more, it becomes a struggle for survival. Let’s take a moment to look at five of the most harrowing survival stories that we have ever heard. These individuals didn’t know when they set out from the safety of their urban world that they would be fighting for their lives a few short hours later. They managed somehow, through strength of character, resolve, training, and preparedness to live to tell their tales. More so, we can learn from them and maybe, just maybe we can be so lucky if one day, unexpectedly, we are thrust into a similar situation where we have to struggle to survive.
The Strange Attack at Dismal Falls
David Stephen Wingfield and his dad were no strangers to camping and hiking, they had been doing it since David was old enough to join him and his dad had been going to the woods with his brothers and his own father since he had been old enough to start his journey to manhood. At first, they didn’t give any mind to their mid-August camping trip to the deep woods of Dismal Falls, Virginia. It was going to be fun since David was going to be returning to college for his junior year in a couple of weeks, and a coworker of his fathers, Kyle, would be joining them. This would not be a common camping trip though. It would be a struggle for their lives when they would be attacked in the night. Was it an animal, was it the return of a lunatic who had stalked the woods two years prior, or was it something even stranger than they could have ever imagined? Read the whole story here.
The Dangers of Strangers
Ricky Megee was on a simple cross-country drive through the Australian outback on his way to a new job when he decided to pick up a small group of hitchhikers to save them from the dangers of the open desert. Little did he know that he would awake a few hours later, naked, wrapped in plastic, and with dingoes scraping at his back. Alone, nude, and in the middle of nowhere at night, he had to find a way to make it to a main road, and along the way fight off animals, and unless he moved fast the scorching sun which would be on him in less than 8 hours. He didn’t make it to a road, in fact, he wandered through the outback for more than 70 days before he found a note of civilization. Living off of frogs and snakes, which he killed with his bare hands and using “humpy” tents make from leaves and sticks, to stave off the sun, he survived. He managed to make it to a remote ranch where he found help. He had been drugged by the hitchhikers, robbed, and left for dead. Luckily, he had been trained in wilderness survival as a youth, and he was able to rough it.
Alone & Scared on the Ledge
Some survival stories have a happy ending, some have endings that are not so sunny. Such is the case of Joshua Prestin who watched as his brother disappeared down the side of the cliff. It was a simple repel, but something went wrong. Louis’ rope slid out of the sling, Josh looked over the side to see if he was OK, but he could see anything through the fog below. He called out till his voice failed him, but there was no response. He was alone, night would fall soon, and he was on a ledge little more than 8 feet wide. All he had was one rope, a few matches, and medkit along with some basic foodstuffs and a handful of basic climbing supplies. He would have to figure a way to get out of this on his own, and if possible, get to his injured brother. At the core, he had to survive for five days, till the family realized they were not returning as planned and wasn’t sure how that would happen. Through determination and will Josh had to survive and find out if his brother was alive. Read the whole story here.
The Gremlin Special
One of the most famous survival stories of WWII is that of the Gremlin Special and its passengers. One would think that being in the military would prepare you to survive in even the roughest of conditions, but there is a difference between surviving in a combat environment where things have been thought out to a degree and having to survive when suddenly everything goes wrong on a routine operation that isn’t supposed to be dangerous. That was the case on 13 May 1945 when a U.S. Army Air Force cargo planned crashed into the side of a mountain on a routine supply run in Dutch New Guinea. Out of the 24 passengers and crew, only three survived, but somehow, they managed to stay alive on their own for more than 42 days. They had the help of friendly tribesman who not only nursed them back to health, but shielded them from the dangers of cannibalistic tribes in the area known for gang-raping and torturing their captured victims. They used their training to make their way out of the crash site to the safety of a nearby village, a trek which took four days alone, with no food and only local source water that they were unsure of the safety of.
Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, Now You Do!
Perhaps one of the most interesting stories of survival is also a remarkable story of vindication. Lt. David Steeves was a top-notch U.S. Air Force Pilot in the 1950s, but it wasn’t his impeccable flying that made him a household name. The pilot was ordered to fly a highly classified new fighter jet prototype from San Francisco to Craig, Air Force Base, near Selma Alabama on 9 May, 1957. Not long after he took off, he disappeared from radar and following a search which turned up nothing, was unjustly accused of stealing the jet to turn it over to the Soviet Union, himself defecting in the process. It was believed he was a traitor. Until, of course, the following July when he walked out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and flagged down a pickup truck passing along a highway. He was malnourished, wearing only his flight boots and his government-issued tighty-whities which were all but threadbare. Once he was back to civilization the recounted the story of how an engine component of the experiential jet had exploded not long after takeoff. He had been forced to eject as the plan itself exploded into millions of pieces only a moment later. He parachuted down into the mountains where he landed hard and was knocked unconscious. His flight suit was shredded by the trip through the tall pines, and he was bleeding from several deep abrasions. He tried for two weeks to find his way to a road, not eating the entire time and fending off wild animals with sharp sticks and his sidearm, at least until he ran out of ammo. Finally, he had managed to make his way to a ranger’s cabin where he found some simple supplies and fish hooks but no clothes or blankets. He survived for a couple of weeks till his wounds were healed enough to try to hike.
A Father and Daughter Outing Turned Deadly
Johan Otter and his daughter Jenna a vibrant and beautiful 18-year-old, were out for a day of fun in nature as they visited Glacier National Park in August of 2005. This wasn’t a survival backpacking trip, like Johan enjoyed occasionally on his own, this was a celebration of Jenna’s recent high school graduation, and a last chance for them to get together for an outing before she headed off to college the following month. Their day consisted of splashing in creeks, watching and filming birds and other wildlife, and taking in the spectacular scenery of one of the country’s most beloved natural treasures. But the day took a dark turn when they encountered the one situation every backpacker dreads, an animal attack. In this case, they were not just dealing with any animal…they were face to face with a wild grizzly bear. After rounding a corner, Jenna found on the other side of the 20-foot-tall Boulder the bear and its two cubs. Johan stepped up and took the brunt of the animal attack, being knocked unconscious and separated from his daughter. A second attack was as brutal as the first, and left him virtually incapacitated, leaving his daughter to now get him to safety and medical attention. Read the whole story here.
Time is Running Out
Other times an animal attack is so sudden that you might not even have time to think about it before it’s already happened. Such is the story of Lorrain Johnson, 50, who didn’t realize when she woke up that day that she would later be playing a game of beat the clock with her own body, but that’s exactly what happened. She had always heard that a rattlesnake will give a loud warning by shaking its tail before it strikes, but on this day, 23 April 2010, at 4 p.m., that warning never came. While backpacking in Franklin Canyon Park, just north of Los Angeles, the viper, camouflaged in the trailside brush, leapt out and attacked. She had stepped directly on the tail of the snake without realizing it. As she looked down stunned, watching her attacker slither away, she knew that she didn’t have much time. Being of slight stature, only 5’4”, it didn’t take long for the toxins to begin racing through her system. Her body started to shut down, the Mojave Green Rattler had that had bit her packed a serious punch and it was a long way back to help. She made it, but had to be resuscitated twice on the way to the emergency room by paramedics. Her experience and skills as a hiker, let her survive this unfortunate chance encounter with one of the deadliest snakes on the planet, right in the backyard of a massive urban landscape. Read the whole tale here.
When Juliane Koepcke board LANSA flight 508, she was aware that her flight might experience some turbulence. There was a weather system in the areas, but she didn’t give it any mind, she has a veteran flyer and was used to plans flying through rough weather. What she wasn’t expecting was that her plane would be hit by a massive lightning bolt that would damage all systems and cause the plane to break apart in midair. She soon found herself tumbling through the air, head over feet as she hurtled toward the earth, toward the Peruvian rainforest, that was below her. She was still strapped into her seat when the chair was cushioned by the jungle canopy, she had a rough ride to the jungle floor, but somehow managed to land with only a broken collar bone. After she regained consciousness and got herself to her feet, she managed to find a stream that she followed for nine days, carefully plodding through the forest till she reached a small village where a peace Corp team got her to safety. She was the only survivor of the flight and most of the other bodies were never found.
Now That’s A Real Great Escape
Slavomir Rawicz was a Polish officer who had been, along with several others, sentenced unjustly to a Siberian work camp. He had no intention of spending 25 years in the dreadful place, stripped to his underwear, living on bare rations and working himself to death for war crimes he had not committed. Instead, he and six others managed to secret away some clothing and then escaped from the camp. They began their arduous trek, one that would take them more than 4000 miles through rough terrain, covering The Gobi Desert, The Siberian Tundra, and finally though Tibet and over the Himalayas, until they reached British India where they were able to get asylum, and assistance getting back to Poland eventually. The trip took more than 9 months, and the men had only the things they were able to scavenge or find to survive with. Miraculously, they all managed to make it to India, and went on to have productive lives once reunited with their families.
A Hairline Between Life and Death
We have all seen videos of the destructive and unstoppable power of an avalanche, but Conor Lodge, 22 and Adam Herman, 24, know firsthand what it is like to live through one. The two men, along with their longtime friends Rich and Tristen were hiking down Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, and were passing through Tuckerman Ravine when the foursome decided to split up so that each pair could journey at their own pace and enjoy the passing of the day in their own way. They had decided that at the fork in the trail they would meet up once more to finish the journey down as a group. It was a good plan until the ground decided to flatten out beneath the feet of Adam and Conor. All of a sudden, they were being spilt down the mountainside in a blur of white. When it was over, Adam could see a boot sticking out of the snow. The force of the impact had taken it off his foot. He was soon found by Adam, who seemed at first unscathed, except for the fact he had no idea who Adam was. The impact had concussed him, and he was suffering from concussive amnesia, a condition which Adam, in his experience, knew would pass in a short time as long as he could keep Conor awake. Soon the two were having to wait it out as they hoped Rich and Tristen were getting help as fast as possible. “I’m at peace with dying,” Conor said to Adam as they waited in the snow, but this was not a day to die and they managed to stay alive, with a massive concussion for Conor and a broken arm and fractured back for Adam, till they could be rescued. Their fall was estimated at more than 800 feet, but through friendship, they managed to survive. Read the whole tale here. These stories of survival show that no matter how badly the odds are stacked against us, no matter no insurmountable the obstacle may be, that you can overcome and endure if your will to live is strong enough. Proper preparedness and training can also go a long way to helping you survive even the most dangerous of situations. The important thing is to keep your wits about you, stay focused, and above all else never give up.