Saturday, July 12, 2014

INFORMATIVE: When things go wrong

This article is more of a retrospective than anything else. The Informed Preppers spent a day recently traversing a rainforest in both an attempt to test our mettle against a new type of terrain and also to test some new gear that we'd recently gotten a hold of.

However, during our trek, something went quite wrong and nearly had disastrous consequences. Because of our training and discipline, things turned out alright, but let there be no mistake that a very large portion of us making it out ok came down to luck, and so it inspired me to write this article to pass on our experience to you.

So we traveled a long way from home to reach our destination, a very large, remote, Australian rainforest in an undisclosed location, and we proceeded to travel beyond the public areas and get in nice and deep. Our plan was to follow the land along a creek we had seen on the maps until we found a nice place far away from roads and buildings to set up a camp for the day.

For this trek, we had packed the following gear each:

1 - A decent knife (for me it was a Kabar Classic, full size) and decent strapping to hold it on.
2 - Spare batteries
3 - Navigation gear (lenstatic compass and pace counter)
4 - Face towel (rainforests make you sweat... Hard...)
5 - Rain poncho (we were expecting foul weather which never actually occurred)
6 - Decomposing toilet wipes (these go much further than toilet paper, and still decompose correctly)
7 - Spare socks and underwear (like I said... Sweat...)
8 - Ointment kit (Insect repellant, burn cream, antiseptic, etc)
9 - Paracord (kept on a Spool Tool, which I highly recommend)
10 - Large shemagh
11 - Jetboil portable cooking system (which we have recommended many times before, and do again)
12 - Spare shirt, ranger rolled for size
13 - Larger towel
14 - Ratchet straps for sleep system (which I'll go into later)
15 - Head torch
16 - HEADSOX tactical edition
17 - Giggle hat with in-built mosquito head netting
18 - Steripen Sidewinder

Then there was our food kit:

1. Freeze-dried meals
2. Freeze-dried smoothie (fantastic as a morale treat when you make camp)
3. Beef jerky (protein is one of the most important nutrients you can have in a survival situation)
4. Cutlery
5. Jelly babies (small, easily distributable sugar hits for energy)
6. Fruit & Nut bars (long lasting, natural energy. Fantastic for marathon stints of hiking)
7. Candy (great for an extra energy kick when you've just got that last bit to go)
8. Energy drinks (when you absolutely have to move and nothing else works)
9. Collapsible bowls

Not shown:

- Jungle hammock
- Ground sheet
- Full medical and trauma kit
- Full medicine kit
- Inflatable pillow
- Guy ropes
- Basic survival kit
- Bandana
- Small Gerber Scout folding knife

All of this was stored in a new pack which I was field-testing on this trip.

So we set out and things went quite well. Due to the treacherous terrain we couldn't always find a path along the side of the creek, since it was in the base of a deep valley, so it required us to perform several water crossings to get to more agreeable terrain.

Every so often, however, we got to walk through some beautifully straightforward rainforest, with even flooring which was densely packed, good spaces between trees and not too much foliage. After going through the thicker parts of the wood, it was heaven to move through these parts of the rainforwest

We came across several waterfalls on our journey, and if you've ever had to climb a waterfall, you'll know they can be difficult and treacherous at best, but climb them we did through the use of good teamwork and careful analysis.

We quickly learned that the things that the 70kg (150lb) Burt could do weren't quite as easily achievable by myself at 100kg (220lb), and vice versa, but we followed a system of "on point/off point" and helped each other where needed. I cannot stress enough how important this is during a team exploration. Stick close to one another at all times in unknown terrain and use each others strengths to counterbalance each others weaknesses. This can make the difference between life and death, as you'll soon read.

So eventually we reached an impasse. A waterfall which was quite simply just too high to climb without some serious thought put into it. By this stage we'd come quite a long way into the forest and were about ready to start looking for a campsite. Looking to the sides of the valley we were in, we noticed that the ground was quite sturdy and there were plenty of trees and other strong flora to be able to climb the valley wall, and so we decided to climb up and get out of range of the creek, as a large storm was predicted and we didn't want to set up camp on or below the level of the risen waterline.

The going went well for about the first 150 feet up the face, but after that, the ground started getting looser, the trees further spaced apart and the face of the valley wall steeper, to the point where it was now like a shallow cliff face. What had looked like a much smaller climb was turning out to be incredibly difficult and dangerous to traverse.

We made it about another 50 feet up the cliff when suddenly the worst happened. As I raised my right foot off the cliff face to take a step, the right-hand shoulder strap of my bag broke free and snapped, causing all of my bag weight to swing left violently around the waist strap. This momentum spun my entire body and slammed me side-on into the cliff face, making me reach out both hands and feet to try and dig in as hard as I could, but it was too late... The ground beneath my feet crumbled under the sudden movement and I began to fall.

As I fell, however, I saw a large, thick tree vine hanging down and I grabbed it. After sliding a couple of feet down it, I managed to stop falling and just hang there for dear life, arms extended and all my weight supported by my hands. The earth was too crumbly for me to get a foothold, despite my best efforts. At this point, Burt was able to work with me and reposition the vine so that I could pull myself up to safety. After a quick field repair on the bag using paracord, we decided to climb down and find another place to camp. During the climb down, Burt slipped on a large log and - to save the log from falling on him and crushing him - had to throw himself awkwardly down a drop of around 12 feet. Luckily, however, Burt is a natural tumbler and he executed the fall perfectly.

We made it out with little injury, and there is only one reason for that: luck. Things could have gone bad quickly, and it's a minor miracle that they didn't. A small amount of basic climbing gear and some time taken to plan our actions and there would have been no problems. Of course there is no way to negate risk entirely, but minimizing it is the first step of a long, healthy life.

So let our experience teach you that preparation is the key. The right gear, the right skills and a cool head will get you out of most situations you will find yourself in. Be prepared and you won't need to be scared.

- CumQuaT

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