Monthly Archives: April 2013

Improvised Floatation Devices

Encountering high water or swift water on spring hikes isn’t uncommon. Warmer temperatures are causing winter snow to melt, so streams, creeks, and rivers are gushing. I just wrote an article for the Survival Skills website titled “How to Make Improvised Flotation Devices,” which offers information about how to use items such as clothing, deadwood, plastic bags, empty containers, and other items as floatation devices.

I wanted to add a few additional demonstrations here; these either expand upon the ideas I share in the article or offer additional information. This video, for example, demonstrates one version of a plastic bag floatation device:

And this demonstration shows how to use a tarp and pine needles to make a floatation device sturdy enough to support a heavy man’s body weight:

While improvised floatation devices might not have the durability or buoyancy of manufactured life jackets or other high-quality personal floatation devices, it’s good to know how to make them in case you need something to help support you when you need it the most.

Want more information about how to make your own floatation device?
See my article on the Survival Skills website:
“How to Make Improvised Floatation Devices”

Throw Bag Success

throw bag-the approachIt’s (finally?!) spring here in the Vail Valley. Even though the snowfall this year wasn’t exactly epic, we got a few good spring snowstorms that will make an impact on this summer’s rivers, streams, and creeks. As temperatures are on the rise, people are out on their bikes, and hikers are getting back out on (currently muddy) trails.

Swift water encounters may be dangerous at this time of year, especially, as unsuspecting hikers may not have planned ahead to cross bodies of water swollen with spring snowmelt. Waterways that are barely flowing in the fall may be treacherous to cross at this time of the year. Therefore, it’s important to check on local conditions before going out and to plan carefully for any potential swift water crossings by carrying rescue gear such as a throw bag and a personal floatation device.

I wanted to share some images of a successful throw bag rescue; even though this one focuses on a rafting situation, I thought that it would 1.) get you excited for upcoming rafting and kayaking, or 2.) remind you how to use a throw bag in any situation, or 3.) both 1.) and 2.).

Above right, there’s the raft on its approach (notice the foaming rapids and squirrely-looking boulders).

Now…dropping into the hole:

throw bag-the hole

Whoa! Getting sucked in:

throw bag-getting sucked in

Man overboard!

throw bag-man overboard

Rescuers get the throw bag to the swimmer, ASAP:

throw bag-swimmer w rope

Rescuers hold their ground, and the swimmer swings to safety:

throw bag-rescue

Want to know more about how to use a throw bag?
See my article on the Survival Skills website:
“How to Rescue a Swimmer with a Throw Bag”

Quotable: Rebecca Lerner’s Dandelion Hunter

Title: Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness // Author: Rebecca Lerner // Publisher: Lyons Press // Pub. Date: April 2013 // 224 p.

Dandelion HunterI recently read Rebecca Lerner’s Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness and wanted to share some quotable moments here. In this book, author Rebecca Lerner takes on a weeklong challenge to eat only the wild, edible plants that she forages from the surroundings near her home in Portland, Oregon. At first, she fails in this quest after only a few days, but then she learns a lot from the animals (including people) in her surroundings and tries again with renewed commitment, skills, and success.

I found Dandelion Hunter to be an inspiring and engaging read. Learner writes with a humorous style, and she also includes relevant historical details for context. While the book isn’t a practical how-to primer about how to forage for edible plants in your surroundings, it will inspire you to get in touch with your inner hunter-gatherer.

Quotables from Rebecca Lerner’s Dandelion Hunter:

“No matter how many chemicals we invent or how advanced our electronic gadgets become, our flesh remains as biodegradable as dirt and leaves.”

“Every time I learn a new plant, the world expands.”

“Some people have fantasy football teams. I have a fantasy apocalypse team, a crew I want in my corner if society collapses, taking electricity and grocery stores with it.”

“If nature is conscious, then Earth is not merely a web of mechanically reflexive predators and prey but something much more magical than that: a vibrant, interdependent collective of living, thinking beings that extends everywhere across the planet. It’s alive.”

“Conventional agriculture can be like a dominating boyfriend who forces his girlfriend to change to meet his specifications. Foraging is like a sweet one who loves her for exactly who she is.”

“Foraging…leads us far beyond the limits of dualistic frameworks like human versus nature or city versus wilderness.”

“We find the wilderness within.”

“…in our torrid embrace of technology we have forgotten that the natural world is just as magical–maybe even more.”

“The dirt on which we walk is made of stars. Dig under the pavement and you find the bones of saber-toothed tigers.”

“Every wild plant is a link to what once was and to what could be. It’s all here, still. We have only to remember.”

Want to know more about Rebecca Lerner’s book?
Read my book review on the Survival Skills website:
“Review of Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness”

Photo © Lyons Press.


John WayneIf you thought that quicksand was a made-up terrain trap only encountered in old, overly sensational Western movies…then you’re mistaken. Quicksand is a real threat, but it kills people only rarely. A few tragic quicksand deaths have occurred in the past few years as people have gotten sucked into sinking sands on beaches, and I also just read about a tragic case in which two teenage boys were killed by quicksand that had pooled at an excavation site.

Quicksand can occur anyplace where the conditions are right. Basically, fine sediment and water are the key ingredients. When water cannot escape the sediment, it creates a soupy mixture that can’t support weight. Quicksand can occur in standing water or water that flows upwards, such as a spring.

You’ll likely recognize quicksand before you’re fully entrenched in it. But just in case you decide to dive right in, as Bear Grylls does here, you’ll need to know how to escape quicksand:

Want to know more about quicksand, how it works, and how to survive a quicksand encounter?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“How to Survive a Quicksand Encounter”

Photo © Flickr® user erjkprunczýk.

Springtime Hazards and Swift Water

simplon pass bridgeIn the mountains, springtime poses several potential terrain hazards including unexpected snow slopes, rockfall, mudslides, and swift water. It’s lovely to hike along a bubbling alpine stream; however, in the springtime creeks, streams, and rivers can rise quickly after speedy thaws and rain storms because the soil may already be saturated by water from snowmelt.

Many times, I’ve been thankful for bridges just where I needed them when hiking near swiftly moving water. While hiking in Switzerland, for instance, I encountered an elaborate system of bridges and hiking paths engineered above this swift water in the Gondo Gorge:

simplon pass water

And closer to home, I’ve encountered a swiftly moving Boulder Creek in Boulder Canyon:

boulder canyon spring

Luckily, my friend Deb and I were equipped with climbing gear on this day since we were planning on crossing Boulder Creek to rock climb.

boulder canyon tyrolean

We just put on our climbing harnesses and rigged up a sweet way to make this tyrolean traverse.

Crossing swift water isn’t always so simple; neither are the other challenges that hikers face in the spring.

Want to know more about how to survive spring terrain challenges?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“Survive Springtime Terrain Hazards”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.