Have you ever wondered what happens to people who get lost?
Well, if they’re lucky, they get found by today’s guest.
His name is John Blown, and he’s a North Shore Rescue Search and Rescue operator.
On today’s show John and I talk about why more and more people are getting lost or hurt in the mountains of B.C, what to do to prepare for your next adventure outing, some of the scarier moments he’s experienced and how to properly prepare for your next outdoor adventure.
- Why More People Are Getting Hurt and Lost in the Mountains
- What it Takes to Join a Search and Rescue Team
- The New Kind Of Rescue: Finding People Who Aren’t Exactly Lost
- Stuck for Two Days in an Avalanche Zone
- How a Search and Rescue Call Works
- SAR Training
- The Mindset of a SAR Operator – Do You Have What it Takes?
- How to Prepare for Your Next Adventure…So You Never Need Rescuing
- Why Most People Don’t Survive Longer Than 3 Days
- One of the Most Important Pieces of Gear You Can Carry & a Life Saving Survival Tip
- The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Survive
- The Top Pieces of Gear To Bring On Your Next Adventure
Adam: John, just wanted to welcome you to the show.
John: Thanks, Adam. Thanks for having me.
Adam: Yeah, man. I’m really glad you could make the time. I know you’re really busy. And I think one of the first things I wanted to do was just ask you if you could just tell us a little bit the North Shore Rescue, for those that have never heard about it.
John: Yeah, for sure. North Shore Rescue is a volunteer search and rescue organization based on the North Shore of Vancouver. So our mandate is to search for people who are lost or in medical…if they have a medical issue. So the team was established in 1965, actually it was originally established as a urban search and rescue unit just in case the Russians decided to drop a bomb on us.
But it quickly became apparent that the need was actually in the North Shore Mountains and it morphed into a mountain search and rescue team. Now we have about 50 people on this team, all volunteers. And we do, in the past we’ve done, you know, around 100 calls a year. This past year we did 130 calls and this year already we’re at 100 calls. So the call volume is definitely increasing.
Why More People Are Getting Hurt and Lost in the Mountains
Adam: Wow, okay. So I wanna ask a question about that, but well, I mean why don’t we just get into it? What’s going on? Why is there such a rapid or big increase?
John: Yeah, that’s a good question and something that we’ve been asking ourselves, too. Just anecdotally, for myself going out on recreational hikes, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the last couple of years on the traffic on the trails. Some of my regular hikes that I’ve done in the past were, you know, I would normally only see a few people on the trail, for some reason these last two years I go up there and the parking lot is packed, the trail is packed and it just seems like the interest in hiking and outdoor pursuits in recent years has increased significantly.
As for the reason why that is happening, there’s all sorts of different theories. People are just saying, oh well, they’re seeing it on Instagram and they wanna go try it or social media is, you know, getting more people out there. Or maybe as a society we’re getting more healthy or maybe people are just realizing what’s available in our backyard, which is amazing.
Adam: So yeah, I guess it’s kind of hard to pinpoint what the cause is.
Adam: But man, that’s a dramatic jump. Now, something I wanted to ask is if there are similar organizations in every province and state, you know, across Canada and the U.S.? There must be other people that do what you guys do.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Locally there’s other search and rescue teams, Coquitlam, Lions Bay, Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, Maple Ridge. So each area has their own local search and rescue team, at least in BC. So there’s actually 80 different teams in British Columbia that are volunteer ground search and rescue. And really, I mean, there are in the rest of Canada as well, but British Columbia is responsible for the vast majority of search and rescue in Canada just because of our terrain.
So you can imagine if you get lost in the prairies, it’s dramatically different than getting lost in the mountains in BC. So I think something like 80% of all search and rescue calls are in British Columbia so that’s why most of the team are here and most of the calls are here.
In the U.S. it’s a little bit different. It kind of varies state by state. The police are often involved in search and rescue, and quite often the main responders are police officers responding in helicopters or searching. They do integrate with volunteer teams as well. As well fire does, fire rescue is integrated as well and they use military more often. So the U.S. is a little bit more of a hybrid system where BC is mostly volunteer organizations. We do interface with the military SARTECHs and the Air Force sometimes, but not very often.
The military is responsible for marine and aircraft crashes. So if we have an aircraft, a downed aircraft, which we did last year, we’ll interface with the Air Force and their Cormorant helicopter, but they don’t actually get on the ground search. They just do it from the air. So Canada is a little bit of a different system than in the U.S.
What it Takes to Join a Search and Rescue Team
Adam: Okay, gotcha. Now, I was reading on the site that, I guess, correct me if I’m wrong, but members will contribute sort of based on the skills that they have or developed. So I was kind of wondering, do you have a specific role as a part of the North Shore Rescue?
John: Yeah, absolutely. So everyone comes to the team with different skills and then everyone is expected to meet a minimum standard in all areas of search and rescue. So we’re all expected to have a basic level of first aid, rope rescue, avalanche skills, helicopter skills, tracking, those types of things. And then most people will have specialized in a certain area. If, you know, usually if they come with those skills or they may have specialized once they’re on the team.
For myself, when I joined the team I was into rock climbing, mountaineering, ice climbing. I grew up on the North Shore so I grew up hiking all the local trails. I had taken ice climbing courses, rock climbing courses, mountaineering courses, avalanche courses, first aid courses, so I came in with a generalist skill set, with a little bit heavier on the mountaineering side. Some people come who are just trail runners but they know the trails very well. And then some people come in who are paramedics or doctors. And they’re obviously great on the first aid side but they may not have the mountaineering skills. So everyone comes in with different aspects.
And then that’s the operational side. And then we also have the administration side of the team. So with my skills in digital and websites and social media, I’ve been responsible for the web presence of North Shore Rescue, managing the social media. And because of that, I also do a lot of interfacing with the media and fundraising.
So again, most people on the team have a dual role. We’ve got the operational search side, and then we also have the background admin side as well. And I should mention as well, once I was on the team I was trained in professional level avalanche response as well as higher levels of first aid. We do a lot of our own first aid training and outside courses, as well as rope rescue and helicopter rescue.
So myself, I have specialized in longline rescues. So I’m part of the helicopter longline rescue team, which basically means that there are a certain group of guys on the team who are what we call HEC techs, so Human External Cargo techs, which means we attach a static line to the bottom of the helicopter, either 150 to 250 feet underneath the helicopter, and then we attach ourselves to the bottom that line and the helicopter can insert us into terrain, whether that’s into the forest or onto cliffs or terrain that would otherwise be difficult to access, and then we’re able to access subjects, or if someone’s injured, we are able to put them in a stretcher that we can attach underneath the helicopter as well and longline them out.
The New Kind Of Rescue: Finding People Who Aren’t Exactly Lost
So that kind of rescue has actually, our frequency of doing that has increased dramatically over the last few years just because the nature of rescues have changed. Quite often we’re no longer searching for people. Quite often we have their coordinates from their cellphone or their smartphone. And they quite often, they’ll be in a precarious position, they’ll be on a cliff, and we basically will longline into them and extract them. Or if they’re injured we’ll longline in and provide first aid, package them in our what we call our ARP, our Aerial Rescue Platform, and then extract them underneath the helicopter back to our CG [SP] or LZ, which is our landing zone.
Adam: Okay. So does longlining mean that you don’t, like you’re not rappelling out of the helicopter, you’re kind of just getting towed along below it?
John: Yeah, exactly. It sounds to people like you… We just, we basically hang from the helicopter and we’ll be, you know, flying underneath the helicopter at 4,000 or 5,000 feet in the air, 200 feet under the helicopter, going 100 kilometers an hour.
John: So it sounds scarier than it is although…I mean, that’s one of the reasons why we do a lot of training. We do lots of longline calls, so that’s literally the easiest part of our job because once you’re locked into the helicopter, you just, I call it you’re dope on a rope. There’s nothing you can do. So it’s all about the set up, planning for the mission. And then once you’re on the ground, dealing with the situation on the ground, that’s the actual job. Hanging from the helicopter looks cool, but it’s the easiest part of the job.
Adam: It sounds very James Bond-ish.
John: It does, yeah, it does.
Stuck for Two Days in an Avalanche Zone
Adam: Cool. Something that came to mind immediately, you know, like I’ve been following your Facebook posts and I mean, you’ve got some pretty neat shots when you guys are training, some shots from, I think, aircraft and helicopters and that type of thing. But something I’ve wanted to ask you is like what’s the craziest situation you found yourself in, or maybe the most dangerous situation that comes to mind? I mean, because you guys must get into some pretty hairy stuff out there.
John: Yeah, for sure. Each rescue is different. And, you know, it’s funny what’s your typical rescue and it’s hard to say exactly what it is because…I’m always amazed at the situations people get themselves into. So we’re always wondering, you know, how did you get here and also how are we gonna get you out of here?
You know, there’s definitely a couple of rescues that stick out in my mind. One of them was quite a few years ago. There was a gentleman who was hiking up behind Seymour in the winter with his friend and he took a fall and ended up sliding about 600 vertical feet down an icy snow slope, hitting trees along the way and ended up down at a lake, down the east side of Seymour, they had a lake. And we were able to get two rescuers out to him right before nightfall, otherwise he probably would have died. So he was obviously in rough shape after pin bowling down the mountain off trees and off cliffs. So my job was to get into them and provide backup, provide food, water, shelter, additional first aid supplies. And we were hiking down into the lake area and we were not able to use air support at the time because of the weather.
And during that time, it was snowing heavily and we started to descend down the steep side, the east side of Seymour and Theta Lake. And we were aware that avalanche conditions were bad, but in the few hours that we were in the field, the avalanche danger increased significantly due to the storm and the increased snowfall. So while we were in the fields, we started seeing avalanches come down around us.
And all the other teams that were behind us turned back because it was too dangerous, but we felt, we made a decision as a team, that we felt like, you know, we were already in the field, we had two North Shore Rescue members who were depending on us as well as the subject, and we decided to continue on down into the Theta Lake. We were able to safely access our two members and the subject. And once we got down there, we got to work building, setting up some couple of snow caves, some shelter, food, water, additional first aid supplies. And we ended up getting stuck there for two days because we were unable to leave because of the avalanche conditions. The helicopter was not able to get in due to weather.
So what ended up happening is the rest of our team started to set up a rope rescue system above us. Again, they weren’t able to access us because of avalanche conditions, so some avalanche specialists came down from Whistler and ended up bombing the slopes above us. We were able to get into a safe position and watch all the avalanches come down around us as a result of them bombing the slope.
And during this time the helicopter kept trying to get into our location and the pilot was saying, “Hey, if I’m able to get in, you guys better be ready to move quickly because there are icing conditions,” which means that as soon as he was getting into our elevation, ice was starting to form on the rotor blades.
As soon as that happens and if too much ice gets on the rotor blades, the helicopter can crash. So very serious conditions. So we were at our camp and the pilot came on the radio and said you know, he said, “I see a break and I’m gonna go for it. Get down to the lake as fast as you can.” So we grabbed our subject, and we had explained to him that we might have to move him quickly and it might hurt because he was obviously was not in great shape. But he’s like, he said, “Hey guys, if you can get me in the helicopter, do whatever you can. I don’t care. I’ll scream but don’t listen to me. Just go for it.”
So we dragged him down to the lake. The helicopter was able to get in. They opened the door, they’re hovering, you know, four or five feet above us and we literally, six of us took this guy, he was in a what we call a hypothermia bag, which is like a sleeping bag with handles on it. And we all just threw him, literally threw him into the helicopter. One of our other members was at the door, grabbed him and fell backwards with him on top of him and the helicopter took off.
John: So we, as soon as the helicopter took off, we everyone was there. We started cheering because, you know, we were all flying obviously to hang out there, but we were very concerned about our subject that he had internal bleeding. And you know, obviously there’s only so much you can do in the field, so he needed to get to the hospital to get a full medical and to get checked out by a doctor. So we were very concerned that if he’d stayed longer, he wouldn’t survive, so getting the helicopter in there and getting him out of there was pretty amazing.
So after that happened, we were able to climb up the route that the guys had bombed and we were able to get out of there ourselves. So that was definitely one rescue that sticks in my mind just due to the complexity and the avalanche danger, the bombing the slope above us, trying to get the helicopter in there, the medical issues of our subjects. So it was a fun one.
Adam: Yeah, it sounds like one for the record books, for sure.
John: Yeah, for sure.
Adam: So hiking into that situation, I mean, you know, do you guys think through like, hey, it’s possible that we might be stuck here a couple of days? Do you bring extra food and water and that sort of thing?
John: Yeah, absolutely. In that case, we knew we might be there for longer so we made sure we had our sleeping bags and the rest, and a lot of tarps and some food and our stove. So we were definitely prepared to spend some time down there. In other rescues, you know, I definitely don’t carry my sleeping bag all the time. Like anything, you have to factor in the weight versus the benefit. And so, you know, on each rescue I’ll do a rough estimate of what I think will happen, which obviously doesn’t always happen, but you know. I do it adjust my pack based on information of the call. For example, if we know the location of the subject, we’re going in in a helicopter, it’s a nice day, you know, I’m gonna have a dramatically different pack than if it’s in the middle of winter, I’m hiking in, we don’t know where the subject is. It’s a whole search kind of thing. So it depends on the situation.
How A Search and Rescue Call Works
Adam: Okay, yeah. That’s a pretty amazing story. Now, you know, when get the call, I mean, how does that process work? How do rescuers or how does the team get notified when somebody is in trouble?
John: Yes. So if someone’s in trouble, they phone 911. If it’s a medical call, sometimes it’ll go through BC ambulance. Sometimes it may go through fire rescue. Most of the time it goes through the RCMP or West Vancouver Police. What they’ll do is they’ll say, “Okay, we’ll page our duty SAR managers.” So we have people that are on call and they’re required to answer their phones basically when the police phone. And the police will give them a quick synopsis, and if they can, they’ll patch in the person calling so the person who phoned 911 can speak directly with our search manager. And then the search manager will try and determine where the person is and, you know, if they have any…if they’re in a medical distress or if they have injuries.
Once they’ve done that they…or during the call they’ll send a page out to the team, letting people know that there’s a call and they should stage either at one of the local mountains, or we have search and rescue stations set up in strategic locations on the North Shore. So for example, one of them is at Cleveland Dam. It’s just inside the watershed so it’s gated. It’s basically a Britco trailer filled with equipment and our communications center, radios. And so we drive there, go through the gate, grab the equipment. We have a landing zone right there for the helicopter. The helicopter lands, we jump into the helicopter and go.
Adam: Gotcha. And so let’s say you’re working downtown at your office, I mean, how long does it take for you to get out there and get to somebody if you get a call in the middle of the week?
John: Yeah, for sure. I mean, working downtown can be a little bit of a disadvantage, you know, depending on traffic. If there’s not much traffic I’ll walk home, I’m only a few minutes from home. I’ll jump in my Jeep and I can be there in half an hour or sometimes less. We have an expectation that people will be able to make it to our staging area within one hour. These days, we’re doing a lot of helicopter calls. And especially being on the helicopter team, you know, half an hour seems to be more of an expectation. And if I’m at home, then I can just jump in my Jeep and quite often I can be over in North Shore in 15 minutes.
So most guys do live on the North Shore, and I’m from the North Shore and have lived there for a long time. So my plan is, with my wife, is we’ll actually be moving back to the North Shore in the next year as well. So that will reduce my response times. In the past, it wasn’t as much of an issue because if we’re doing searches, whether you’re 15 minutes or 30 minutes, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. But with a lot of the helicopter calls that we’re doing and medical calls, obviously a few minutes can make a difference.
Adam: Yeah, for sure. Wow. Now, I mean you’ve kind of alluded to, you know, the training that you’ve done. I mean, it just sounds like you’ve done tons and tons of courses. I think you mentioned on the blog that you’ve lost count of the number of courses you’ve done to prepare for this thing. But how long does it take before someone could start actively participating and rescuing people?
John: Yeah. I don’t know if North Shore Rescue is different than other teams, but we throw people into the field pretty much immediately. So we’ll pair people up with someone, with an experienced member, and people will be doing searches pretty much as soon as they join the team. Obviously the search managers know who our new members are, so they may receive a slightly different assignment, and they’re aware of their limitations. All of our members who join do get vetted significantly in terms of their equipment, their past skills. They go through an extensive interview process as well as, once they join, an equipment check. We do some hikes with them.
So, you know, once you’re actually on the team and you’re a member in training, we know you’ve got some minimum set of skills. And most people do come to the team, they are outdoorsy people so if people can’t hack it, you also find out very quickly by throwing them into the field. That’s one way that to figure out if someone’s gonna be a good for or not for the team. Because the investment in money and time that the team makes in all the members is very, very significant. I couldn’t even try to add up the amount of money that’s been invested in me over the last 14 years to the team.
The Mindset of a SAR Operator – Do You Have What it Takes?
Adam: Wow. I guess that being said, what are some of the things that you think people need to bring to the table mentally, physically? What makes a person a good fit for the team?
John: Yeah, for sure. I think one of the, in terms of the things, or things that make people not successful on the team is the inability to work in a team environment. So you know, when you come, you join North Shore Rescue, you’re on a team. You are no longer the sole hiker or individual person who’s heading into the outdoors. You have to work very, very closely with your field team, that’s who you’re actually in the field with, as well as the search managers who are running the search, as well as the rest of the team in general. And for the people I’ve seen who are not successful, that’s what they’ve struggled with.
And the fact that we are run like…you know, a rescue is run through via what’s called the incident command system, which is standard for police, fire, military, this is a very regimented system that has a strict chain of command and everyone must follow all those commands very carefully. And so if you don’t, then you’ll have a very short time on the team. And some people who join think that, you know, this is a volunteer organization. Things are a little bit loose. But that’s definitely not the case at all. So that’s one of things I’ve found some people have had a challenge with.
In terms of what makes people successful, basically I mean you gotta show up. You’ve gotta show up to calls, you gotta show up to training and you gotta put the effort in. So if you’re coming, we have an expectation that people will show up to 80% of calls and 80% of training. And at 130 calls last year, which is almost 3 a week, plus training every Tuesday night, plus at least 1 Saturday a month, plus there’s additional training beyond that, fundraising, administration, it’s a significant time commitment. So that’s another challenge that people have. So you’ve gotta go into it knowing that it’s gonna take up a huge amount of your time.
Adam: Yeah, I mean that’s amazing. I mean, you’re running a company and you’re doing this and then you’ve got all the other things that are going on. So in your life, like what’s driving you to give so much to all of this?
John: Yeah. I mean, I love being an entrepreneur. I love running a company. You know, I’ve got some great managers. And Chris, my business partner has been very understanding and supportive of my North Shore Rescue pursuits. When I first joined, you know, I grew up on the North Shore, I’d heard about North Shore Rescue for many years through the media and what they were doing, and being an outdoorsy person, I always thought it would be a great organization to join.
And North Shore Rescue really lets me contribute to the community and get basically an intrinsic reward versus, you know, business is obviously focused mainly around money. And so North Shore Rescue fulfills another part of my wants and needs as a, I guess, as a person. As well, being part of such an amazing team is very rewarding. There’s some amazing guys and gals on the team that are awesome so having that team camaraderie is awesome.
And then ultimately, no one joins search and rescue if you’re not a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. So you know, I’m like, “I’m gonna go get my fix somewhere, whether it’s rock climbing or snowboarding or skiing or kite boarding. And so I’m like, “Well, I’m going to be out there doing stuff anyways, so if I can do some good while I’m out, then, you know, that’s awesome.
How to Prepare for Your Next Adventure…So You Never Need Rescuing
Adam: Cool, cool. That’s awesome. I wanted to shift the focus just a little bit and talk about the people that you’re rescuing. And there’s been this dramatic climb. I’m wondering why are people getting into trouble? I mean, when I go out hiking, I have a look at the route ahead of time, I bring gear and you bring water, and a lot of the trails are pretty well marked, at least the ones that I’ve done. So like where are people getting into trouble? What’s happening out there?
John: Yeah. I mean the ultimate root or cause of it is lack of education. So I mean, even for me when I was first getting into the outdoors, I had no idea what I was doing. I did a lot of stupid things and I got myself into trouble a number of times. You know, most people on North Shore Rescue have stories like that as well. And so, you know, it’s just people need to do some research before they head out, joining a hiking group or hiking club, taking some courses, reading up. So for me, for example, I purchased a lot of mountaineering books and hiking books and read up myself. I also took up a number of courses. I befriended a hiking or a mountain guide, and obviously that was amazing and was able to learn a lot from him.
I joined BC Mountaineering Club. When I was in the university, I joined the outdoor club and took a number of courses. Obviously I’m very into this, so that maybe a little bit extreme doing all of that. But for your basic hiker, at the very least, doing some reading on outdoor safety, how you should prepare, as well as what you should be bringing, researching your route before you go, looking at the weather and just doing a little bit, you know, even a tiny bit of preparation will make a huge difference once you’re out.
The challenge is that, I think a lot of people, because the mountains are so accessible, they think that it’s a walk in the park, just like going for a walk in southern park. But you know, once you leave the parking lot of the North Shore, the mountains go on forever and you are in the back country. And so people don’t prepare properly, they don’t research their route. They don’t bring the appropriate equipment. People think, you know, it’s sunny out right now so I’m just gonna wear shorts and T shirt. They don’t think that, you know what, in a few hours it’s gonna be freezing on the mountain, the weather can change dramatically. Conditions can change very quickly so we say plan for what might happen, not what you think is going to happen. And I think yeah, really it’s just educating people on the outdoors and what they should do to prepare for it.
Why Most People Don’t Survive Longer Than 3 Days
Adam: Another thing that you mentioned is that most people can’t last more than three days in the mountains, you know, without being prepared. And I was just wondering, like what is it that wears people down? Is it exposure or the fact that they don’t have water? Or is it like typically that they’re injured? Three days doesn’t seem like a long time to not be able to survive, do you know what I mean?
John: Yeah, I agree. And when I tell people that, people are quite often surprised because people have in their mind that you can last, potentially last for weeks out in the wilderness, which you can if you are prepared. If you head out, again, and if you’ve got shorts and T-shirt, or in the winter if you’re just wearing your regular snowboard jacket and pants, and no other equipment, since I’ve been on the team, I haven’t seen anyone last longer than three days.
And the people that we do find at the three-day mark are in very, very rough shape and sometimes they’re not even conscious at that point. So people severely underestimate the outdoors and its exposure. So you know, whether it’s in the summer or you go in the winter, when the sun goes down and you’re in the mountains, the temperature drops significantly. Usually your clothes are wet by this point and so they provide…they don’t really provide much warmth. And if you’re not eating properly and you’re not getting…I mean generally in the North Shore there’s water, but if you’re not eating properly…
And if you’re, usually as well, if you’re lost, quite often people are panicking and running around and spending a lot of energy. And a lot of people, you know, people may fall in the creeks or they’re sweating and they get wet. You know, at night when that temperature drops, you get hypothermic almost instantly. I would say most people that we rescue summer or winter are experiencing some form of hypothermia. You know, depending on the weather, there are occasionally nights in the summer that are quite warm and so they may not be, they’re not warm, but they’re not hypothermic. But that’s, really, that’s only a very short period in the summer if we have a heat wave. The rest of the time, if you’re out overnight and you don’t have a sleeping bag or a tent or a large, puffy jacket, you’re gonna start to freeze and you’re gonna get hypothermia.
One of the Most Important Pieces of Gear You Can Carry & a Life Saving Survival Tip
Even for ourselves, you know…and as soon as you sit on the ground, obviously in the winter if you’re sitting on the snow, you’re gonna get cold very quickly. But even in the summer, sitting on the ground, that actually pulls more heat out of your body than the air because you can conduct more heat through the ground versus the air, and that’s why having a Therm-a-Rest when you’re camping is actually more important than having a sleeping bag…
John: …because lying on the ground, you’re gonna lose more heat than through the air. Yeah, definitely.
Adam: If people don’t have either, I mean, should you try to get on top of some branches or just build a platform or something?
John: Yeah, absolutely. Building some separation between yourself and the ground makes a dramatic difference. The ground will just suck all the heat out of you. So whether you’re sitting on your backpack or if you’re sitting on some kind of branches, obviously the best thing to have is a sleeping pad or some kind of foamy, that will help. But yes, it’s amazing how quickly people get cold. And one of the other things people don’t realize as well is once you start becoming hypothermic, your brain function decreases dramatically and you don’t think clearly anymore. And that compounds the issue of yourself being lost and being cold so you start to lose the ability to fix your problems. So you stop thinking about how am I gonna get out of here, or how can I stop making the situation worse? You may keep moving. You won’t build a shelter or try and…I mean, if you do have something to build a shelter with, most people don’t, and people will start acting, basically start acting like…you start to go crazy.
John: And quite often will get what called paradoxical undressing, so people will actually take their clothes off. So we’ll find a jacket or a tunic or something. That’s at a more advanced stage of hypothermia where people actually start to feel really hot, and so they’ll take their clothes off and they’ll actually strip completely naked. And some people we’ve actually found sitting in creeks in their clothes. They’ll go walk into a creek and sit there because they feel so hot.
Obviously, at that point if someone takes their clothes off or they go sit in a creek, at that point it doesn’t take very long for them to go into a coma and die. And any time we found someone in that state, they’re already dead.
So that’s the thing. It can compound very, very quickly. And people don’t realize that, you know, “One night in the mountains, that’s not a big deal.” If you don’t manage to keep yourself warm, you’re gonna start making some very bad decisions. If at first, I mean, even when you’re warm, you will probably start to panic once you start getting cold. You’ll start making decisions that are worse and worse and worse, until a point where you actually end basically killing yourself, unfortunately. So that’s unfortunately, yeah, why most people don’t last longer than really, than a couple…than two nights out. And that’s how long most people last.
Adam: Wow. I’ve heard about that happening on mountain climbing expeditions, you know, like reading about Everest or watching some of the movies, K2, things like that where it’s obvious they’re dealing with extreme temperatures. Even in those situations, I’ve heard of people just wanting to…or actually, you know, and maybe that has to do with altitude sickness as well, but they’re just pulling off their gear and then freezing to death.
The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Survive
Adam: Yeah, I had no idea so I’m glad I asked the question. You know, part of the whole thing with CIVILIAN STRONG is mental toughness and becoming emotionally resilient and mentally tough, but I never even thought about the fact that it doesn’t matter how mentally tough you are, if you start freezing and you get hypothermic, that’s gonna go out the window, right?
John: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You no longer are making conscious, smart decisions. And you know, if you’re hypothermic, there’s nothing you can really do to improve your situation if you’re not thinking properly. So staying warm is definitely, well you know, and making sure you have the equipment and clothing to stay warm, is definitely one of the most important things you can do, for sure, in the outdoors.
The Top Pieces of Gear To Bring On Your Next Adventure
Adam: So I mean, that leads to an obvious next question which is then, you know, what do you recommend that people bring with them? I know North Shore Rescue has links to equipment lists but, you know, off the top of your head, what are some of the most important things you need to do to be prepared?
John: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, on our website, as you mentioned, we’ve got our what to bring list, which is the 10 essentials. So yeah, you know, you can go take a look at that. But for myself, you know, I take a look at the weather and my trip, what I’m planning on doing, and then I adjust my equipment accordingly. In the summer, obviously I’ll pack a little bit lighter than the winter. But I always carry myself, because I’m a guy and like most guys, I sweat a lot when I’m hiking, I always carry a change of base layer. And I never carry cotton, always polypro. Cotton should never go in the outdoors. So always carry a change of base layer.
I always make sure I have an insulating layer to bring with me, whether that’s a fleece jacket or a puffy. And then a rain jacket as well, which also acts as a wind windbreaker. I always make sure that I have some extra food, some extra water, and a map. Or nowadays I have most of my maps on my smartphone, my iPhone actually, I have an iPhone 6S, and it’s got a standalone GPS so you don’t actually even need a cell signal. I download all the maps of wherever I’m gonna go before I go into that area. So I make sure I have the maps downloaded so they’re available offline and I can use the GPS on my phone and I always know where I am.
Obviously I bring a battery charger, so I always bring a, in case my phone runs, out I’ve got something to charge it up. And because I’m on search and rescue, I carry an extra GPS, which is another phone with all the maps loaded on it in case my iPhone breaks. And I have a GPS watch, and a map, a paper map and compass. So you know, being in search and rescue, you obviously got to be extra prepared for navigation. But now, with most smartphones nowadays, they’re pretty reliable. You know, making sure you’ve got an extra battery pack and you’ve got your maps downloaded. Having an offline paper map is still very important.
And then finally, I should mention one of the number one reasons we get called out is people forget to bring a flashlight or a headlamp. Or they don’t think about it. So, you know, I think that’s probably the number one reason we get called is people just gets stuck in the dark, or it starts getting dark and they lose the trail and they end up getting lost. It’s actually mind-boggling to me when I’m speaking to people, they’re like, “Oh yeah, you know, I’ll still be able to see, in the middle of the forest, I’ll still be able to see the trail enough or I’ll be able to navigate via the moon or something.” And I’m like, “You’ve obviously never been in the middle of the forest at night.”
Adam: It’s so dark.
John: You can’t see your hand in front of your face. Right? So always, always bring headlamp or flashlight and extra batteries because I don’t know how many times I’ve gone into my pack to pull out my headlamp, it’s accidentally been turned on in my pack and the batteries are dead. If you didn’t bring extra batteries, then you’re obviously in trouble. So always bring extra batteries. Yeah, I think those are the main things that people should bring in a pack. And yeah, as I mentioned, depending on the time of year and your trip plan, you’ve got to adjust your clothing.
Adam: Yeah. I’ll make sure that I’ll link to the what to bring list on the site, in the show notes.
Adam: Yeah. That way people can go have a look at that. And there’s some other good resources on the site that you guys have on your site and that you link to, so I’ll make sure that people are aware. Before I wrap things up, I just wanted to ask, is there anything else that you wish members of the public knew about when it comes to the outdoors and hiking? Is there anything, like a method that you’d like to get out there? Anything else that you’d want to say?
John: Yeah. I mean the main thing that we want people to do is research their route before they go, and make sure they have a proper map, make sure they are prepared and bring the appropriate equipment. And leave enough time. A lot of people head out much later in the day and they don’t leave enough time for them to get to their objective and back. We definitely want people to be getting out there and we encourage it, we just wanna make sure that people are doing it safely.
And finally, if you do get lost, if you do have cell coverage, don’t phone your friends first. We find people phone everyone first before they phone 911, and then by the time we talk to them, they’ve got 5% of their battery left, which is a huge issue because if their cell goes dead, we won’t be able to talk to them and we won’t be able to get their GPS location.
So if you’re lost, phone 911 first, don’t phone your friends. And stop moving. So you know, many times people keep moving and it just makes it incredibly hard for us to find a moving target. If you do not want to get found, keep moving, you know, we won’t find you. So just stop moving, phone 911, make sure you got enough battery, conserve your energy, and we’ll come get you.
Adam: And I mean those are all smart tips. I guess one of the other precautions you guys talk about on the site is hike with a partner, right? Because if neither one of you has a phone or if you don’t have a phone, at least you’ve got someone there that can potentially help.
John: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s another, you know, funny thing. When talk to people, people don’t realize that if I go on a hike with a friend of mine and we hike up Hanes Valley or some other area that doesn’t have cell service, and I sprained my ankle or I break my leg, my friend can go and get help. Let’s say I’m alone doing that same hike, I break my leg, if I haven’t told anyone where I’ve gone, or if I’m in an area that’s difficult to access or not a popular area, or if I’m covered in trees or whatever it may be, the chances of me dying because of a simple sprained ankle or a broken ankle are significant.
We’ve had a number of people go hiking on the North Shore alone, they didn’t tell anyone where they were going, they ended up injuring themselves, and they basically laid there on the ground until they died because we didn’t know where to look, we didn’t even know they were missing, in a lot of cases, until it was too late. They didn’t have cell contact because a lot of areas in the North Shore, cell contact is in and out, and if you can’t move, you can’t get into a position to get…you can’t hike up to try and get cellular coverage.
So if you do hike alone, always tell someone where you’re going and your trip plan and when to you expect you back. And if you’re not back in time, you know, tell them to phone the police or 911. Make sure you’re carrying your cell phone. And I would recommend carrying a DeLorme inReach, which is a satellite device, which is a two-way device where you can actually text via…you can connect your phone to it and you can actually text via satellite to people, which is amazing. It also acts as an emergency beacon so if you’re in trouble, you can press the SOS button and that alerts the local authorities or search and rescue organizations.
So if you’re hiking alone, you need to take much greater precautions than if you’re hiking with someone. And I was try, if I do hike alone myself, I always hike trails that are very popular. I know there’s lots of people on the trail. I let someone know where I’m going. I always have my rescue radio and my cellphone as well so I’ve got communication, especially in the North Shore, but if I was playing outside of the North Shore and I was hiking alone, I would take a satellite device, for sure.
Adam: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. John, you know, thanks so much for taking the time, man. I found this really interesting. And I think I had no idea that there were so many people…or like I had read up on North Shore Rescue, but I didn’t realize there were all these other rescue teams. And it just sounds like it’s an incredible amount of training and dedication. So thanks so much for taking the time, man. I know you’re really busy.
And I just find it fascinating that you guys are out there. And I know when I go on a hike, it’s nice to know that there’s some pretty good backup out there in case things go wrong.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, thanks for having me. It was good chatting. And I hope that, you know, if one person takes this and heads out a little more prepared, then I’ll be happy.
Adam: Awesome, man. Thanks so much.
John: Great. Thanks, Adam.