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Backpacker Magazine – October 2013

Survival A to Z: Escape

Just run! 5 life-or-death scenarios when flight trumps fight.

by: Trent Knoss


wildfire

speed  50 mph+

victims* 35/year (U.S.)

In the past decade, wildfires in the U.S. have increased dramatically to 60,000 each year, burning an average total of 7.2 million acres. Fires move with dominant winds, but even without assistance, they can spread at 14 mph—about the top running speed of the average person. During daylight hours, rising warm air pulls blazes upslope in a candling effect. At night, cooler air forces it back down.  

escape plan Bodies of water, swamps, sandy beaches, and treeless gravel washes offer the safest cover. Avoid grasslands and meadows. Head upwind—fast—if possible, but if you’re cut off, aim for a rocky, non-vegetated area. Cover your face with wet wool or cotton to filter out some smoke, and stay low to the ground.


moose

speed Up to 35 mph

victims 15-25 injuries/ year

Snorting, stomping, and pinned-back ears are clear signs you’ve wandered too close to one of these 1,000-pound behemoths. In spring and early summer, female moose will aggressively defend their calves, so stay back at least 75 yards. Male moose become belligerent during the fall rut when they’re establishing dominance. In Alaska, moose are responsible for more injuries than grizzly bears.

escape plan Most moose charges are bluffs, but you don’t want to wait around to find out if it’s serious. Run away as fast as you can, keeping at least one tree between you and the moose as a buffer. Be prepared to climb at least 12 feet up a tree if the beast pursues.


avalanche

speed 80 mph+

victims 25/year

The most destructive slides form on pitches angled between 30 and 45 degrees. Measure slope with an inclinometer or estimate it using ski poles: (1) With two poles that are equal lengths, stand one vertically on the snow (don’t drive it in) and use the other pole to form an inverted L. (2) Lower the level pole straight down until the end is touching the snow. (3) If the level pole crosses halfway or above on the vertical pole, you’re in the avy zone. Learn more at backpacker.com/avy

escape plan If you’re near the edge of a slide, move laterally onto a ridge or grab a tree. If you’re caught, “swim” downhill, then cup one hand over your mouth to form an air pocket.


rockfall

speed 45 mph+

victims 2 deaths and scores of injuries/year

Rockfall is a common cause of backcountry injuries. Human-triggered slides can occur at any time, the result of an errant step that loosens already unstable stone. Avoid hiking in the “fall line” directly beneath other hikers. Natural slides are most common in early spring, when melting ice releases hunks of rock.

escape plan If rocks start tumbling, stay on your feet and run laterally out of the fall line while protecting your head, or dash behind the nearest large boulder. If you’re on a narrow ledge with nowhere to hide, take a wide stance for balance and glance upward so that you can dodge the most dangerous projectiles.


flash flood 

speed 12-30 mph 

victims 49/year 

Half an inch. That’s all the rain it takes to trigger a deadly wall of water in the Southwest’s slot canyons, where bone-dry, narrow terrain funnels deluges as tall as 15 feet in a matter of seconds. Flash floods are most prevalent in late summer, when afternoon thunderstorms are common and the soil is dehydrated. Avoid canyons if rain threatens, and never attempt to cross a flooded area.

escape plan Check canyon walls for bundles of sticks and other debris that indicate previous flood levels. You need to hike or climb above that high-water mark if a flood surprises you. No luck? Seek shelter behind a fixed rock or wall, in order to avoid the full force of the current.


* Fatal incidents, unless otherwise noted.



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