If Rocklin mom Dana Michael has it her way, her son Cody would give up this whole hiking thing.
Cody Michael, 23, was rescued last month by a Blackhawk helicopter after spending three days lost along a high Sierra trail with his dog Bauer.
In her words: “I hope he bags the whole backpacking thing after his experience.”
It’s unclear whether Cody Michael will oblige.
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If she can’t force her adult son to give it up, the next best thing: making sure he and others are have the tools and skills to survive an expected night in the wilderness.
“You go though what I went though and you start thinking about other kids,” Dana Michael said.
With the goal of helping others avoid getting lost in the woods, The Bee sought advice from various survival experts and sought lessons from his experience. Michael declined to offer a detailed account of his 72 hours lost in the woods:
What happened to Cody Michael
Michael became lost in the middle of a planned one-night excursion to the Upper Loch Leven Lake and back. When he didn’t make it home May 16 as expected, his family contacted the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. In a Bee story shortly after his rescue, Michael said he got lost on the partially snow-covered trail and then – with his cellphone battery drained – tried to find his way back to civilization.
While it was reported Cody Michael was an experienced outdoorsman, it was actually only his third overnight hiking trip. He’d done the trail before with his father, but it was his first time on this trail alone. If you didn’t grow up in the woods, Thomas Coyne, the lead instructor at Survival Training School of California, suggests people consider investing in survival training.
What went right
Whether its a day hike or a multiday trip, hikers need to give a responsible friend or family member their hike plan. The start point, destination, planned route and return day is extremely valuable information should one become lost in the woods, said Lt. Kevin Borden, who oversees Placer County’s search and rescue team. Cody Michael’s family was able to help Placer County initiate a timely search because they had this information.
Michael aided in his rescue by signaling for help. He used duct tape to spell “Help” on rocks. He also lit a small campfire at night and waved his colorful poncho to signal for help once he heard a helicopter overhead.
Michael had much of the gear survival experts suggest for adventures in the forest. He had a tent, sleeping bag, a water purification system, some food, and a fire starter. Those provisions put him in better position than most people who get lost in the woods, Borden said.
Map and compass are essential gear
“We recommend having a map and compass and know how to use them,” said Spenser Halterman , a senior outdoor school instructor at REI sporting goods. “Having something in your pack and not knowing how to use it is not going to do you any good.”
Michael had a map, but didn’t have a compass or a GPS locator. It’s one thing to follow a map when you know where you are. It’s another thing to be able to identify your location based on terrain features and to be able to identify which direction is north.
To hike out or not
Coyne said there is no one right answer on whether it best to “hug a tree” and wait for help or to keep hiking and try to rescue yourself in a survival situation. If rescuers know your hike plan (where you started and where you’re going), it makes more sense to stay put, find a clearing and signal for help, he said.
“If you start hiking around, you can make it harder to be found,” Coyne said.
If, on the other hand, rescuers are unlikely to know your position, he suggests heading for the closest road.
“Positivity” No. 1 key to survival
Keeping your head on straight is the No. 1 tip from survival experts. Panic is the killer of lost hikers. If you’re lost and nightfall is coming, don’t be afraid to bed down for the night, Coyne said. Running at night is a good way to break a leg or fall into a crevasse, dramatically increasing your chance of death. His German shepherd Bauer and his religious faith are two things that likely boosted Michael’s morale during his ordeal.
REI’s 10 Essential Survival “Systems”
- Navigation (map and compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter