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Backpacker Magazine – March 2014

Out Alive: Six Days on a Ledge

Alone and distraught, a canyoneer fights to survive until help arrives.

by: Joshua Prestin

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As Wednesday became Thursday, I started to fear that rescue wouldn’t come. The lemon had gone rancid in my tea and I couldn’t get it out. My lips were parched because I only allowed myself tiny rations of water. My clothing sagged off my frame. I needed a contingency plan. I tied webbing pieces and my static rope together and tossed the line down over the edge—hoping it would hit some rock structure I couldn’t see, a possible way out. Twice I did this, and twice, nothing. It was like being trapped all over again. 

Friday brought the fifth hash mark next to my name. I could hardly make spit in my mouth. When I sat still the only sound I heard was my stomach’s growl. I was down to my last sip of water, but refused to drink it. I knew I should have, but I couldn’t bear the thought of being without something to drink.

The sun had already set when I heard the chopper. Without time to build a fire, I stood waving my “HELP” sign and shouting, but my efforts couldn’t escape the canyon’s dark and din. Hearing that sound fade into nothingness sank me lower than any previous point. I slept. Late Saturday morning the helicopter returned. They’d seen my brother’s body below, and this time they saw me, too. I downed my last sip of water in celebration and readied myself for a somber trip out. I was joyous to be rescued, but it was a joy unfulfilled. I left a lot in that canyon. 

Key Skill: Use Your Pack As a Survival Tool 

Many packs come with emergency whistles on the chest strap—blow this often to attract help. Use the top lid (if waterproof) as a bucket to collect rainwater. Cut the padded backpanel off to use as a sleeping pad for your torso, or stuff it inside your shirt for extra warmth. The high-denier fabric of your pack body cuts wind, and can be altered into sleeves or windproof panels to keep you warm. Metal struts and ABS plastic backboards make excellent splints for broken bones (see page 43 to learn how).

Never Forget Double-Check Your Gear 

David and Louis taped the center of their rope, but the marker had moved after repeatedly sliding through equipment while they descended the canyon—giving them a faulty distance reading for the last rappel. Check your equipment religiously.

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