When a group of hikers set out early one Saturday they never would have imagined the fate that awaited two of them. Later that day, Gabrielle Wallace and Eric Desplinter got separated from the group. Before rescue, the couple spent five days in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Their planned 4 hour route through Cucamonga Peak is roughly 7 miles from Mount Baldy. Desplinter and Wallace lost contact with their group around 10am. After the experienced hikers didn’t return as expected their friends reported them missing.
An exhaustive search of an area spanning almost 19,000 acres began immediately. The volunteer search party from 6 counties could not find the pair. The rugged area 45 miles from Los Angeles is treacherous and in mid-April still covered in ice and snow.
Early Thursday morning, an aviation crew spotted the pair in the Cucamonga Canyon. A search party followed their footprints straight to a campfire, and the lost hikers. After 5 days in the wilderness the duo was finally rescued.
Desplinter, a veteran of the National Guard, was very prepared for the hike. His preparedness allowed the pair to survive in the harsh conditions over 120 hours. Are you hiking as safely and prepared as you should?
One of the most fun parts of hiking is exploring new areas.
Being unfamiliar with the area though can also be one of the most dangerous parts of hiking. After their rescue, Eric Desplinter said:
“We just lost the trail,” Desplinter said. “I had a little bit of a slip on, going to the peak of Cucamonga peak. Decided we wouldn’t go back up the ice and snow, but that valley was more treacherous than we thought.”
It is imperative you study the area hiking in before setting out. Review any maps or trail guides available and make sure it well defines your route. It is also a good idea to set a rally point and bearing in the event your group gets separated.
Luckily Eric and Gabrielle were hiking with a group of friends. They could at least point rescuers in the general location of their lost friends. Finding the pair in the 30 square mile area was like finding a needle in a haystack, but it could have been worse.
Even when you are hiking with a group, you must let someone where you intend on going. Starting/ending point, how long you plan on being out and when you plan on returning are all good details to share. Providing as much information as you can will make your rescue easier and quicker if you get lost.
Eric brought along a LifeStraw and this one item is one of the most emphasized items in their survival. Had it not been for this device, they may have died of dehydration or at the least consumed harmful liquids. There are a few categories to consider when you pack your gear that will aid you if you are in a similar scenario.
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Getting dressed is universally one of the first things we all do as part of starting our day. Any time you are planning a trip in to the wilderness it is crucial that you dress for the occasion. Consider your destination and the weather and environment you will be in.
Is it hot? Is it cold? Does the weather fluctuate during the day? Is there rain in the forecast?
It is a great idea to always plan space in your bag for extra socks and a lightweight rain jacket. If the temperature spectrum swings from morning to night, dress in layers or bring a jacket. Your footwear must also match your location and could easily be the most important article of clothing.
An adult can go 21 days without food. With that said, food is fuel for our bodies and even during the most routine hike you need to refuel as you go. As always, it is a good idea to plan for situations less than routine too.
There are a plethora of products on the market designed for camping and hiking. They are high in protein and usually are very simple to prepare. Well packaged and easy to pack in any backpack regardless of size.
If you will be near water, fishing kits are a great way to prepare for unexpected long stays in the wild. They are compact and when used can provide healthy nourishment to your body.
Gabrielle and Eric would not have survived without the LifeStraw in Eric’s bag. The time you can survive without water shrinks from 21 to around 3 days. Even though you may be in an area with seemingly endless amounts of water, it is more than likely not safe to drink.
You can carry a canteen and a few bottles of water but after that your options become limited. That means you will have to find water if you become lost and spend more time out than you planned for. Do not drink from any source of water in the wild without purifying it in one form or another.
Water purifying tablets are easy to use and pack. LifeStraws and other similar tools have become very common and are also easy to pack. As a last resort you can also boil water before you consume it, but first you need a fire.
The center of any camp is the fire. This stems from the importance of fire and how many uses it has in the bush. A good fire will warm you, cook your food and as mentioned above even purify the water you drink.
To avoid more primitive methods, bring fire starting tools with you. Fire is too important to your survival to rely on rubbing sticks together or magnifying light. Matches, lighters, ferro rods etc are all small and must-pack items.
Better yet, the more the merrier. Pack a backup and a backup to the backup. You will be glad you did.
Whether you are on a short day hike or spend a few unplanned days out like Eric and Gabrielle did, injuries happen. Having what you need on hand could be the difference between life and death. Like food, there are first aid kits designed with hikers and campers in mind.
Joint and muscle injuries are also a possibility when hiking. If your first aid kit does not contain wraps or bandages for wrapping add some in. If an injury compromises your mobility, it will make it difficult for you to do what’s needed to survive.
Along with a good first aid kit, you must also take into consideration skin care. The effects of the sun on your skin set in quickly so sunscreen and chapstick are a necessity. Insects can be not only a menace but a threat, bug spray should be in every pack.
Knowing where you’re going and how you will get there is the first step of most journeys. Once you have established getting there you plan your return. What if circumstances change and your plan is no longer safe or the route no longer exists?
Regardless of the size or type, a compass takes up very little room in your bag. Even though it is small in physical form, the size of its importance if you become lost is huge. With a little planning beforehand a compass could be the primary tool that leads to your escape.
Before you leave your house look at a map. Regardless of the trail or its direction you can always find an exit direction. You should also identify landmarks that will be useful when setting a travel bearing.
Hiking is an amazing hobby that will allow you to spend more time outdoors and aid in your physical fitness. You will rarely find yourself in danger, but if you do it is crucial that you are as prepared as possible. Therefore you must take all the supplies with you each time you head out.
Before you head out on your next adventure, take account of your gear and double check that you pack what you need. Eric and Gabrielle were very lucky, and it was a miracle they were finally spotted the way they were. Use their story and stories like theirs as a guide and hike prepared or don’t hike at all.