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The Top 9 Survival Stories of 2015

As the curtain closes on 2015, we reflect on another year of human strength, resourcefulness, and courage.

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Battling hunger and delirium with a compound fracture

A rockslide splintered solo hiker Gregg Hein’s leg, leaving him stranded in the Sierra Nevada. Hein fashioned a splint from a sleeping pad, trekking pole, and nylon webbing. Unable to carry his pack, he left it, food and all, behind and crawled down the mountain on three limbs. Hein survived on insects and lake water for five days before rescuers were able to find his shelter under a bright tent fly.

Drifting off to sea

Safety experts recommend wearing bright clothing to increase odds of being rescued. And if you’re adrift in tropical waters and your apparel isn’t bright enough? Try your birthday suit. A rogue wave snatched up American youth minister Greg Barnes while he was hiking in Guam. After a rescue chopper passed him by – twice – he realized his blue shirt was camouflaging him. A horizontal snow angel maneuver in the nude finally helped them spot him.

Grabbing a bear by the tonsils

Let the record show: grizzlies aren’t morning people. Hunter Chase Dellwo stumbled on a napping bruin while hunting for elk near Choteau, Montana. The bear attacked, clamping its jaws around Dellwo’s skull. Fortunately, the hunter remained calm and recalled some advice his grandmother had passed on about bears’ gag reflexes. He shoved his fist straight into the maw of his attacker, and the bear choked and retreated. As for Dellwo? He’s on the mend and remains graceful in victory: “Don’t blame the bear,” he says.

Facing down whitewater and a night the jungle

A cyclist without a bike is a hiker. And a hiker without a map or boots? Some might say S.O.L. Mark Lyons started out with food, a mountain bike, and a pair of shoes, but he lost all three when he slipped off the Ruta de los Conquistadores racecourse into whitewater. A mile-long spin cycle carried him deep into the jungle where he spent 30 hours fighting injury, exhaustion, and torrential rainfall until he was able to find a road.

Surviving 66 days at sea

Boats and bones break alike when the Atlantic’s temper roars. Louis Jordan’s boat capsized in a storm off the coast of South Carolina, leaving both his mast and shoulder fractured. Jordan survived for more than two months by putting out buckets for rain and trailing laundry in the water to net curious fish.

Saved by the American flag

Tiffany Finney and Kenny Pasten set off on a day hike to plant an American flag on top of San Gorgonio in the San Bernadino mountains. But mother nature wasn’t playing around: a sudden blizzard dumped two feet of snow on the pair, stranding them in sub-zero temperatures. When rescuers found Finney and Pasten, their body temperatures had dipped into the 80s, but they were conscious. Their secret? They dug a snow cave, huddled under a sleeping bag, and wrapped themselves in the stars and stripes.

Stranded with a broken leg

Experienced elk hunter John Sain had fallen into a gap between two logs and snapped both shin bones in his right leg. He knew the situation was dire and was contemplating ending it when a deep resolve to live welled up inside him. Sain crawled for two and a half days, dragging his body several miles to a trail where motorcyclists found him and called for help.

Falling 1,600 feet—and walking away

Twenty-five seconds doesn’t seem like a long time. But when you’re falling down a mountain, it’s an eternity. Professional skier Ian McCintosh took a spill down a steep backcountry line while filming for Teton Gravity Research in Alaska, and fell 1,600 feet. His first words upon landing? “I’m okay!” Experts said his avalanche pack and correct body positioning saved him. It might not be an experience he wants to repeat, but it made for one hell of a video.

Banding together after the Nepal earthquake

Some survival stories aren’t solo displays of human will but group efforts. The response to Nepal’s devastating earthquake in April was one. (You can be part of the recovery, too: most of Nepal’s most famous trekking routes are repaired and ready for visitors, who are bringing in much-needed cash.)

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