Friday, December 08, 2006
Surviving in the snowy wilderness

CNN Correspondent Rick Sanchez burrows into a makeshift shelter in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

I took a blow-dryer to my feet last night. It was one of those super-duper ones that painters use to dry their canvasses. No matter how close I put it to the underside of my feet, I didn't feel any heat, not a bit.

My feet were frozen from trekking through the Rocky Mountains. I was out there for an hour-and-a-half. I maybe walked a mile. James Kim walked between seven and ten miles during his ordeal in the Oregon wilderness.

I was wearing a jacket, boots not fit for the snow, gloves and a hat. No mountaineering gear of any kind. Just the kind of stuff someone might wear while driving. James Kim was wearing sneakers, a couple of shirts and a jacket, but he reportedly had no hat.

Last night in the wilderness, I found out firsthand just how dangerous extreme conditions can be. The temperature was in the teens; our elevation was 8,500 feet.

At the suggestion of survival experts, we tried different techniques to see what works in those conditions and what doesn't. We tried making a shelter of last resort by literally burrowing four feet into the snow (see picture above). We tried using a candle to keep our car heated.

One thing we learned is how important it is to be prepared, because as I found out, when one is 8,500 feet up in the Rocky Mountains and the temperature is dropping into the teens, it is too late to look for the kinds of items that could save your life.

Here are a few things that Ken Brinks, a ranger with the Colorado State Parks, suggests keeping in the car at all times:
  • Blanket
  • Candles
  • Matches
  • Flashlight
  • Fluorescent tape (even just one piece of orange tape can be spotted by a helicopter)
  • Shovel
  • Water
  • Couple of candy bars (but not chocolate -- chocolate can dehydrate you and so can, say, salted nuts)
  • Coffee can to hold the candle (and melted water)
  • CD to use as a reflector in case you see a helicopter
But the most important thing you can do, Ken says, is to tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to get there. If nobody knows where you are going, nobody knows where to look for you. Just like a pilot would, you gotta file a flight plan.
Posted By Rick Sanchez, CNN Correspondent: 5:06 PM ET
Hey Rick~
You are a brave soul to expose yourself to the elements for us! What great lifesaving information you blogged! I did not know that chocolate can dehydrate, I did know that chocolate is poisonous to pets. I agree that the most important thing you can to is to tell somebody where you are going. This is important no matter where you go! Thanks Rick for the vital information. Now, get inside and sit by the fire and warm your feet! Have a cozy week~end! ; )
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 5:38 PM ET
Thanks for the survival list; now I won't have to worry about going for a joy ride in snowstorms. I love snow! I do have a blanket in the trunk of my car and food. Although I don't think a case of chicken bouillon, 5 lb bag of sugar and 3 boxes of oatmeal was what they had in mind. I was surprised no one mentioned the shovel until now; often you can remove the snow from around the tires if you get stuck. I was surprised also that they didn't recommend some type of ice melter or even kitty litter for traction. I have 50 lb of Prestone Driveway heet in there. Not because I planned for an emergency, I just couldn't lift a 50 lb bag out of the trunk!

Great job Rick, next time it's Anderson's turn. It's not fair that he always gets the scary assignments, hurricanes and war zones! Ahhhh!
Posted By Anonymous Christina, Windber, PA : 5:53 PM ET
It is quite tragic to what extent people are prepared to go to survive. James Kim did a heroic thing and for the days that he was missing, I followed the story wholeheartedly, rooting for his return. Somewhere in my heart, I was almost desperate to see a "Cinderella Story" in real life, as the owner of the lodge called it. In my head, though, I knew he wouldn't. Hailing from St. Petersburg, Russia, I know all about the cold and just what it can do to you if you're not prepared for it.

I send my condolences to the Kim family. Kati, your husband was not ordinary man. He was the last of a dying breed - a hero.
Posted By Anonymous Jane, Kendall Park, NJ : 6:06 PM ET
James Kim was simply ill prepared for the journey and placed great risk on his family. Hero worship does not apply here. He was a hero only to his family and to those who don't realize that hard fact that his consequences were a result of the decisions he made. Sadly, his decisions cost him his life. Staying alive through this ordeal would have make him a hero to all. Rest in Peace, James.
Posted By Anonymous SSgt Acosta, Camp Pendleton, CA : 6:54 PM ET
Hi Rick, How do you manage to get these survival assignments? I know I am old but it actually scares me when you put yourself in these kinds of dangers. Use a stunt double!! Take Care.
P.S. Thanks for the useful info.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Stage Brooklyn, MI : 6:55 PM ET
I'm sure it's better to be safe than sorry, but that's a lot of stuff to carry. With a car full of kids, christmas gifts, a dog, and 2 adults space is not always available. Although snacks, drinks and cd's are in most cars, I'm afraid a shovel might not be a realistic addition.
Posted By Anonymous Jess, Paris, KY : 9:19 PM ET
Hi Rick,
I live in a rural area and yet I never would have thought about keeping fluorescent tape or a shovel in the car. And a CD. Great advice. Thanks for the info. I've certainly been guilty of taking backroads and not telling anyone what route I'm taking. I think I'll change that habit now. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 10:31 PM ET
has anyone remember the movie ALIVE it is a true story about the plane crash.
the passengers in that plane are the RUGBY TEAM from Uraguay to Chile and crashes in Andes for 72 days. they're stranded also in very cold snow no one thought that someone will survive in that kind of weather. but some of them survive it!

there was a point that they eat the flesh of a human so that they can survive.
Posted By Anonymous Jemillex Bacerdo Chicago, IL. : 11:08 PM ET
I think telling someone where and when to find you beforehand is vital but we must learn to dress for that sort of trip. Landmarks and emergency phone lines is a must at such an altitude.
Posted By Anonymous israel, raleigh, nc : 1:04 AM ET
Why didn't the authorities use dogs to trace the path taken by James Kim? They are used frequently in our rural areas to find lost persons.
Posted By Anonymous Edie Young, Roseburg, OR : 1:41 AM ET
I noticed on tonight's show you had a hat that could have covered your ears & that it appeared your jacket was not fastened all the way up. These are small but crucial steps a person can take to preserve core warmth & avoid hypothermia on the extremities. I think that would've been a good point to show.
Posted By Anonymous Myra Ross, CA : 3:46 AM ET
It is so important for people to be prepared for emergencies. This list is a great idea, and once you've put it in your car, you basically don't have to think about it again for years. Same thing at home-- spend an hour putting together a box with some food and water, pet supplies, flashlights, emergency radio, batteries and perscription medicines. The Kim story is such a tragedy-- and so preventable. Stay safe, everyone.
Posted By Anonymous E Felter, Pittsburgh, PA : 9:39 AM ET
This story brings out so many conflicted emotions - sorrow for the family, certainly, but sadness for our society, and a bit of anger at the media as well.

I'm sad we're so disconnected from the natural world that we expect to lead our lives, uninterupted by anything, least of all a change in the weather, and are shocked when a storm gets in the way. I'm sad we have to be told to carry a few extra supplies on winter road trips. I'm sad no one has drawn parallels to Jurassic Park, where each character has his/her own element, and flounders outside of it, because a heroic act and a tragic death of a talented, charismatic Internet editor were apparently preceded by a lack of the common sense to turn around before it was far too late. The most important thing for survival is not the equipment or supplies, it is the instinct to say 'This is wrong. Turn around, now.' I'm sad because the media cannot say this without generating a firestorm of critisism.

I'm angry at the media for keeping this front and center when there are so many things wrong in the world, drawing us in with the hope of a miraculous rescue, because these stories are good for ratings. I'm angry at myself for clinking in too often for updates and reading every account, even though my heart knew the outcome the moment it was announced that the family was safe, without the father.

I'm sorry we have to paint this story in black and white, the hero and the blamed, when there are many shades of grey in between.
Posted By Anonymous K. Leffler, Portland, OR : 1:38 PM ET
I think one thing people fail to keep in mind is that when going on road trips with children and infants they must take the CHILDREN in consideration FIRST while planning their itinerary and schedules. It's wise to avoid starting out late or being on the road late at night, especially in remote places,where the weather conditions can be harsh. It is extremely necessary to check weather forecast for their destination and if conditions seem to be unfavorable, it is a good decision to spend the night where they are and continue the next morning. It is never a bad idea to turn around and try to find the main highway exit if it is missed, even if it delays the trip(better late than never). And again, if having children along, ALWAYS think of possible emergency scenarios(when you have children along every little thing is important) and be prepared, after all it's the children's well being and safety that NEEDS to be considerred because when they are under our care, WE ARE RESPONSIBLE for them and for what happens to them as a consequence of our good or poor choices.
Posted By Anonymous Ana, San Francisco, CA : 3:03 PM ET
Mr. Kim was not in the Rockies; it was not nearly as cold where he was. It usually takes multiple bad decisions to get into big trouble in remote areas. Such as: driving in bad weather; driving at night; driving too fast or while distracted; not turning around when things get hairy; entering a remote area with a decrepit vehicle, or with your gas gauge near empty; driving on unknown roads without a GPS, or without extra batteries for the GPS; not carrying enough food, water, clothes and blankets; taking big risks with kids in the car; walking across country rather than on the road; trying to walk at night. How many of those things did Mr. Kim do? If you want to know how extreme his situation was, ask yourself how many other humans he saw in the nine days he was in the car. No drivers, no off-roaders, no game wardens. Zero. He had gone where almost noone needs or dares to go in the winter.

It is crucial for inexperienced travelers to know how isolated these places are, especially in bad weather. There are no people, no cellphone coverage, often no CB or ham radio communication. The only thing that works fairly reliably is satellite phone. If you go there, you are on your own, to a degree that you may never have experienced before in your life. You had better be ready.

I love to drive the logging roads of Oregon, and am often there in the summertime. They are still dangerous, but much, much less so than in winter. I am a risk-taker, but I stack the odds in my favor by being properly equipped and avoiding big gambles. I have turned around and retreated from danger many times, even in summer. In spite of my experience, I do not go on the logging roads in the winter, ever. And that is my advice: if the situation gets scary, get out of there. Do not try to clear the road of rocks and snow. Turn around, swallow your pride, find a motel.
Posted By Anonymous Gene Mirro, Portland, OR : 10:49 PM ET
Great coverage of how to survive in the snowy wilderness. There are several products I found that will be a very useful life & death survival tool. The Rescue Laser by GreatLand Laser in Alaska and the Astro Aimer by HoTech Corp. Their devices can signal the search helicopter with an effective long range laser beam (green or red). And the Astro Aimer even has both flashlight and laser signal capability all in one unit. When I read the Kim's tragedy in the Oregon snowy wilderness, these products came to my mind where they can signal the helicopter at day or night and get rescue days earlier when the search helicopter is out in the region searching. Check out their websites for some additional true rescue stories by the users of these products. &
Good work on your coverage providing great information to us how to survive in the snowy wilderness.
Posted By Anonymous David, Diamond Bar, CA : 2:52 AM ET
Haven't heard any info on keeping your window down when burning candle, oxygen supply, also in WY, blowing snow can seal windows cutting off oxygen supply
Posted By Anonymous Kent Taylor Sheridan Wyoming : 6:51 AM ET
The government should be more responsible to take care of dangerous roads. Taking one wrong turn on a road should not be fatal to any American.
Posted By Anonymous Claudia Schaefer, Athens, GA : 7:15 AM ET
I have been lost in the Rocky Mountains several times. When I am faced with the choice of continuing in the direction which got me lost or backtracking, I always go with the latter. I believe that the superhuman energy Mr. Kim expended would have been enough to get him to safety had he gone back toward the highway. Also, staying on a road beats bushwacking by a factor of 10.
Posted By Anonymous Doug/Tijeras/NM : 9:51 AM ET
Hi Rick,

I really appreciated you showing us how to get out of a car that is sinking in the water. I have always had a fear of that happening to me, I don't know why. Until I saw your demonstration I would have never imagined that the window would be the only way to get out OR that the power windows can still open underwater as long as the key is in the ignition. I always thought opening the door would be a viable option. Now I know better. These survival reports are a valuable thing.
Posted By Anonymous Karoline, Burbank, CA : 10:05 AM ET
Rick, this was a very informative report that you did. I am very impressed with your work and that you actually spent the time out in that wilderness to experience it yourself which enabled you to provide us with your own insight and valuable information.

Thank you! Keep up the good work.
Posted By Anonymous Missy, Fairfield, Connecticut : 11:44 AM ET
What a Heart wrenching tragedy, especially when one takes a look at the map of his trail now revised to place the Kim's stranded car at the Black bar Jeep trail fork off the BLM logging road.

What did he have with him to help his navigation? What can be done to prevent such future tragedys? Something deserves to emerge from this that bears his name, perhaps a new gadget, some kind of locator or survival chip in cell phones. Perhaps a new law or service.

Also "Big Windy Creek Drainage" is a terrible name for a place that such a courageous man has fallen. It should be promptly renamed James Kim Creek from here on as James Kim is indeed a hero.
Posted By Anonymous Trace Gomez, Taipei, Taiwan : 1:39 PM ET
It's sad that Mr. Kim made the mistake that cost him his life. He thought he was doing the right thing, the good thing, but the chances of he and the searchers converging were less likely with him moving about.

It's psychics and common sense that one moving object will eventually run into a stationary object, but two moving tagets are not going to come together. His intentions were to save all four of them, but the irony is that his mistake lost one of them. It's sad that we have to learn our lessons by others' mistakes. I pray that God gives his family comfort and peace in their hearts forever.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - chicago IL : 1:45 PM ET
in response to the list of surviving
in the snowery wilderness I would like
to add keeping these things in a water
proof backpacking backpack is ideal
because of the size and the water proof
and the hiking back support could be
needed in all kinds of situations.

Now I think it's time that We American
people should start seriously paying
attention to our ability to really join
forces and think about our brotherhood
and surviving where do we start.
Posted By Anonymous Robin Manhollan, Vallejo, Ca : 3:24 PM ET
Surveying your survival kit i find found there would have been a few items i would have added. I have worked in a youth wilderness camp for 8 years and am a former marine.
By all means include a stout knife. A kbife of this type can cut wood for fires and shelter and perform many other tasks. Second on my list is a few large 20 gallon trash bags, these can be rigged for shelter and stuffed with dry leaves make an excellent sleeping bag. Some kind of cord and wire should be included. Parachute cord is best as it can be unspun for threads. Wire can be used for simple snares to catch small game. I'd include a few needles and some fishhooks and perhaps instead of candy bar bars some enrgy bars and a few freeze dried meals that renstitute with water. another must would be a detailed National Geodetic survey map of the areas you are traveling, these can be found in any good camping store. And dont forget your compass.
Posted By Anonymous Brett, Oriskany, VA : 6:16 PM ET
I can't believe you would do that, just to see "what it feels like, etc", even though I guess it's important?! Maybe not?! I hope you write a report or some kind of research journal to be published!!

Great ideas and Good list of items (although salted nuts would probably not be one)

be safe rick!
Posted By Anonymous deepa, buffalo,ny : 7:20 PM ET
Thanks for researching and even testing what is helpful in such an extreme situation, it is not enough that to watch James Kim's Story...maybe if we all learn from it that it won't happen again...Maybe preparation is prevention...
Posted By Anonymous allie, Cleveland, Ohio : 9:38 AM ET
Way to get ratings off of of someone's tragic death. Had Mr. Kim's funeral even been held before you ran this garbage?

Joel - Boston
Posted By Anonymous Joel, Boston MA : 12:25 PM ET
The suggestions for survival and supplies are good for a day trip but completely inadequate for survival in the cold that would have kept someone alive a longer period of time.

Snow covering roads in the mountains will not allow a person to tell which road is paved or which one is a main road; Anyone who has driven in Oregon knows that you can travel long distances without seeing a road sign or other indicator. Snow will cover your back tracks and you will become lost.

You don't want to "just survive", you want to be comfortable. Emergency supplies in your trunk for snow country should include (in addition) 1.) 1 or 2 below 0� sleeping bags (cost $45 each (Coleman) 2.) 2 - 1/4 gal. propane torch tanks ($15) 3.) cb radio, wires to hook to battery & antenna ($100) 4.) plastic bags to use as a simple rain coats by cutting holes for head and arms and a plastic sheet with twine or rope ($2) 5.) Oatmeal ($3) 6.) extra socks and other clothing in case you get wet, warm water proof boots warm hats, gloves + several pairs of $1 cotton gloves. 7.) small cooking pot & spoons 8.) 2 rolls of toilet paper and 2 towels 9.) candles ($2) 10.) adequate number of pillows.

Trying to start fires at high altitudes and in wet forests has to be experienced. You will run out of matches trying. If you are lucky to be near a pine snag, look for pitch wood or light the entire pitch pine for a help signal, fir also has pitch that weeps from around branches that can be collected to help start a fire, but nothing can beat a light weight 2 dollar propane bottle.

A camping "break down" .22 rifle ($95) for birds, squirrels or deer, pack saw ($15), knife ($15), and small back pack ($25) would add to carrying small sticks to your fire.

You do not want to learn the hard way that this is not over-kill. I have lived in Oregon since 1964, being cold and miserable is not fun; and can be, as shown here, as very deadly.
Posted By Anonymous Richard Taylor, Ashland, Oregon : 1:46 PM ET
Please do another segment on decisions to drive on with motels nearby - especially (1) late at night regardless whether in unfamiliar territory, and (2) with kids.

Add to kit:
knife, long cord, &compass.
Posted By Anonymous EJC, Athens GA : 5:04 PM ET
Hey Rick, I know you didn't learn that from your time in Miami. If you can, I guess most others could too. Thanks for the tip. Nice to see you on CNN.
Posted By Anonymous Alexis Guillen, Miami, FL : 2:13 PM ET
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