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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

Backcountry Survival: How to Survive in the Backcountry

There's a backcountry killer on the loose, and it's not hypothermia, grizzly bears, or rockfall. The thing mostly likely to maim you on your next hiking trip is living inside your head.

by: Mark Jenkins


"I wouldn't want someone afraid to cross a river to pop a Xanax on the bank," Auerbach adds. "It could slow their reflexes. And in the case of a bear encounter, you want the bear to take Xanax. Not you."

According to Auerbach, there are only two field-proven ways to prevent or mitigate panic: 1) Understand the psychology and physiology of panic, along with its symptoms and treatment, so you can quickly recognize the symptoms and immediately implement stress-reduction methods. 2) Train yourself for specific, potential panic situations.

Most of us head into the hills with considerable gear and a sizable set of technical skills. We know how to use a map and compass—because we've practiced it. We know how to set up our tent and light our stove—because we've practiced it. We may even know how to splint a leg or identify the symptoms of altitude sickness—again, because we've practiced. But how many of us practice panic? Not enough. And that's a problem NOLS instructor Schimelpfenig is trying to remedy.

"In our wilderness medicine classes, to practice self-rescue, we'll actually chop a hole in the ice of [Wyoming's] Popo Agie River and ask volunteers to jump in," says Schimelpfenig. "It hurts right away. Their breathing and heart rate skyrocket."



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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Leigh
Dec 05, 2013

Well written. It's amazing how much of life and the decisions we make simply comes down to how we choose to breathe.

Dinah Beres
Apr 20, 2011

I think every backcountry hiker and backpacker should read this.

Steve B
Apr 15, 2009

To Chris P-Zwit - What exactly does a college education have to do with someones judgement in an outdoor survival situation? It seems kind of odd that you question someone elses judgement with such a bizarre and off the wall judgement yourself...

Chris P-Zwit
Jan 03, 2009

See the movie Gerry by Gus Van Sant. It uses this story. Fear and ignorance turned into panic and despair which spiraled into confusion and over reaction. Having hitched and hiked America, you have to stay oriented and not wander too far out. These guys barely left the car and freaked out. College educated, but no street or outdoor smarts. What a sad note on "higher education."

Anonymous
Dec 16, 2008

good article, very informative, lots of good examples used to illustrate panic and solutions to it

pat
Sep 11, 2008

It would be nice to kn ow how many pages are in the article before starting

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