Today my guest is fellow Dreamspinner author, Penny Hudson. She’s not only talking about her new release, Winter’s Risk, and giving away a copy–she’s brought some wilderness survival info that could save your life one day.
Thanks so much for visiting, Penny!
What do you do when you’re lost in the wilderness? How do you not die? I’m
far from an expert, but I’ve learned a few tidbits over several decades of hiking and camping…and getting slightly turned around before miraculously finding the trail again anyway. Eventually.
At the core of the story, Winter’s Risk
is about the constant danger posed by Mother
Nature. Don’t be misled by the beauty of the mountains or the majesty of an old forest. Forty-five years ago, people walked on the moon and returned home safely. Today, people still
walk into the woods and never walk out again.
|What a neat little side trail! It’s not on the map, but it’s right here…
So what’s your next move once the trail has vanished, night is falling, and then you hear
something-is that wolves? Are there wolves in this area? Oh god, I’m lost, I’m going to die-
STOP RIGHT THERE.
Do Not Panic.
Find a scorpion-free place to sit and have a think. Do not panic. Sip some water. You’ve got a camelbak or a canteen, right? Stop panicking. Panic will kill you faster than anything. Panic will convince you to ignore your good sense and do something fatally foolish. Panic will send you running in the direction you think the trail is, and get even more lost than ever. So don’t panic.
Calm down and get cozy.
What happens next depends on what happened before you ever set foot on the trail.
I don’t ever go out alone, and I’m reasonably certain I could hike to the boundaries of
the local wildlife refuge if I was completely lost. It’d take me all day, but I could do it. Unless I tripped over my own feet, fell, and bashed my head against an extremely inconvenient rock.
I would become a sad story on the news, and the moral of the story would be don’t go
Being lost with a friend isn’t as terrible as being lost alone.
Even with a friend along, before you go out on the awesome hiking trip, tell someone who
cares about you when you’ll be off the trail and headed home. ‘I’ll see you at work on Monday’ isn’t good enough.
Then, tell them if you don’t call/text by four o’ clock Sunday (or whenever, plan to be
back well before dark) call the park and say you’re overdue. If there’s not a manned ranger station or visitor center, then call the local police. Research this info and give them the phone numbers before you leave, along with where you’ll park and what trail you’ll
If your car is in the wrong place, it’ll tip them off you might’ve gone down Deathmarch
2 – Experienced hikers only instead of Ancient Whispering Oaks – Easy/Moderate as you intended.
Nobody wants to call the police unless they know for a fact something is wrong. Give that
person–your lifeline–specific instructions on what time you’ll be off the trail and who they should call in case it doesn’t happen. Tell them you won’t be mad at them if you barely miss the deadline and the cops meet you in the parking lot. It’d be embarrassing, but if you’re out in the middle of nowhere with a broken leg then you don’t want your lifeline fretting that maybe you just forgot and they’ll give you a couple more hours before they call
Do you have any maps? Yes, if you’re somewhere big enough you might get lost, you
should have a map. Most parks give away maps on the information brochure. Are there any waterways marked? Any roads? Can you figure out which way they are? Or suppose you don’t have a map, then what?
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. So does the moon. If the sun is above you
and you can’t tell which way is which, then jab a stick in the ground in a sunny spot so it casts a shadow.
Remember where the very tip of the shadow falls. In this picture I lined it up with a wrinkle in the rock. If it’s after noon, the first shadow will be west. Wait at least fifteen minutes.
The shadow will move. Put a rock on the edge of where the shadow is now. For the Archer fans out there...all we’re concerned about is just the tip. Then lay a stick across where the shadow tips were.
It’ll make an east-west line. Remember if it spells ‘WE’ then north is above the
I had to stand on the south side to get the picture, but you can see the rocks in the middle, and the direction stick on top of them pointing west and east.
Depending on the terrain, this might not help you at all. It doesn’t matter which way
is west if there’s fifty miles of uninhabited forest in every direction. But there’s usually roads somewhere nearby.
Just as an example, say there’s a highway that runs east-west across your entire state
and you know for a fact the campground you started hiking from is two miles south of the highway. If you head north long enough you’ll find the highway. If you can keep yourself going north.
Most people don’t walk straight. People tend to drift the direction of their dominate
hand. Figure out which way you need to go and then pick a particular tree or rock in the distance that is exactly the right direction. Walk to your landmark. Now when you’re moving left and right around bushes, trees, and sleeping rattlesnakes, you’ll stay more-or-less on
But if there’s no landmarks, and there’s no convenient road/river/city limits you can
head toward and you have no idea how to get back to familiar territory–this is the hardest thing to do–but this is what you need to do. Stop moving.
Stay where you are.
You told somebody when you should be back, and they’ll call the police if you’re not. Of course you did, you read this post! Also a good reason why the check-in time shouldn’t be after dark. You aren’t that lost. You think you are, but you’re not. Yet. So sit down, get
comfortable, take inventory of your granola bars and avoid wiping with poison ivy.
Visualize the area like a tic-tac-toe board with your car in the center square. That’s where the search and rescue people are going to start looking. If you keep wandering around aimlessly, you’ll walk right out of their search grid.
They have to search all nine squares. If you keep wandering, the search area becomes exponentially larger. They might not have search dogs. They might not be able to tell your trail from every other person who’s been tromping through the woods this season.
There might be a kid lost somewhere and the kid is going to have the priority on the search dogs and horseback teams. So don’t make it harder for them to find you.
Believe me, they will be delighted if they locate you in thirty minutes because you realized you were lost, and didn’t waste hours wandering aimlessly.
Suppose check-in time has come and gone, and night is falling. Hypothermia kills. Stay warm and stay dry. Wear wool, not cotton if cold temperatures are expected. Even if you don’t plan on being out overnight. Pick a spot to camp out of the wind. There’s a lot of
different ways to improvise shelter. Entire books have been written about it. My personal favorite shelter is a small, ten-foot tarp I keep in my camelbak. It squishes down flat, doesn’t take up much space, and with a few short pieces of rope (or shoelace) I can tie it to something and get under it.
It’ll keep the rain off better than any improvised tree branch creation I saw on TV.
If you have to sleep out, try not to lie on the bare ground. It’ll suck the body heat right out of you. There’s probably some sort of greenery you can pile into a crude mattress. If you don’t have a hat, find a way to cover your head to conserve body heat.
To build a fire, or not to build a fire?
That is the question.
As the joke goes, fire keeps you warm two ways. You can build a huge fire and stay warm running for more fuel, or you can build a little fire and stay warm by standing over it.
But a fire will help you get found.
Do not burn the woods down, but remember that scene in the Fellowship of the Rings when hobbits craving second supper built a fire on the side of a hill and then the ring wraiths found them? Aragorn was right, their fire was visible for miles. Try to find an elevated area if you can. Unless you’re hiding from ring wraiths. Then don’t.
I think a lean-to fire is the easiest one to build. Clear away all the leaf litter down to the bare dirt until you’ve got a spot several feet wide. Then look for a big branch, and loads of little stuff, from teeny-weeny up to the width of a finger. Lay the big branch down in your cleared out area and pile the little stuff up against it. When I say little, I mean tiny twigs, chunks of bark, and dead grass. The scientific name for it is ‘tinder’.
There’s my tinder up against my log and scattered around is the rest of my fire-building sticks. Next, lay slightly larger pieces across the tinder like a little lean-to shed roof.
It’s only going to take maybe a minute for those little twigs to burn away. So the next step is to add another layer of slightly larger sticks, the pencil-sized twigs which are actually called ‘kindling’.
In theory, the tinder will burn long enough to catch the kindling. Just keep feeding slightly larger pieces into it and let it grow. If you jab a big stick at a tiny flame, it will probably go out instead of burn. You’ve gotta ease into it. The biggest sticks–wrist-size and larger–are called fuel and don’t add those until the kindling is burning nicely or you’ll smother your fire.
If you want to carry tinder with you, Vasoline rubbed in cotton balls will burn easily, if you want to dedicate a small mint tin or some other waterproof, pocket-size container to an emergency fire kit. Don’t forget to include lots of waterproof matches and the striking part from the matchbox, or a good lighter. Camp stove fuel tablets are another good choice that will burn long enough to get a fire going.
On the left is a camp stove fuel tab. They’re supposed to burn for about ten minutes. On the right are three cotton balls rubbed with Vasoline. It burned high and hot for about…three minutes.
If you’re still there the next day, DO NOT leave the fire until it’s cold enough you can run your fingers through the ashes. Check all the ashes. Coals can smolder for hours. If I was actually going to light the campfire I would’ve done a better job clearing away all the burnable bits on the ground so my fire stayed where I put it.
In Winter’s Risk, the survival issues faced by Alex and Martin are slightly different from what I’ve written about above. They’re both extremely experienced with the outdoors. They’ve both got proper warm clothes. As a park ranger well used to rescuing wayward hikers, Alex knows all the tricks. But between the grizzly bear and the snow storm, it will take every bit of his wilderness first aid and survival training to keep Martin alive.
Winter’s Risk by Penny Hudson
Veteran park ranger Alexander Doyle is tracking a nuisance bear when he runs
across obnoxious environmentalist Martin Ramirez. He and Martin have clashed before, when Martin and the protestors under his leadership ended a plan to expand the network of paved trails and improve accessibility. Given a choice, Alex would rather face the bear.
When the dangerous grizzly attacks them and Martin is gravely wounded, his only chance of survival is Alex’s determination to keep him alive through the night. But they’re stranded miles from any hope of rescue with the year’s first snowstorm coming in fast.
You’ve been such an
attentive audience, have an excerpt!
In this scene Alex Doyle is hunting a killer grizzly bear, but instead finds his least favorite hiker. Obnoxious environmentalist Martin Ramirez, organizer of protests and destroyer of important projects. Personally, he’d prefer the bear.
Alex’s lip lifted in a sneer. Fancy finding him all the way out
here. For a moment he forgot he was trailing a bear that had already
killed two people. He called out to the other man.
“It’s a little out of the way for a protest, don’t you think?”
He was gratified to see Martin jolt and drop his expensive camera.
Pity he had a strap around his neck, and it didn’t plunge all the
way to the bottom.
“What the hell?” Martin spun around and snapped right back,
recognizing him immediately. “Doyle, it’s a free country. I can
hike and take pictures if I want to.” He sounded rather petulant
for a man pushing fifty, but he still acted like it was the 60s. Go
flower power and all that crap.
Alex rubbed his shoulders against the tree, idly scratching his back.
“I’m not after you, you big twat. Have you seen a grizzly? Two
yellow tags?” He didn’t expect Martin to do something as
civilized as help him, and he wasn’t disappointed.
Martin paused, considered his answer, and then jutted his chin out
and glared. Alex had two decades of experience dealing with tourists,
summertime volunteers, cheating boyfriends, and random idiots. Like
the idiot standing in front of him. He knew he was about to hear a
lie even before Martin answered like sugar wouldn’t melt in his
“No sir, Mr. Ranger, sir,” he said sweetly. “I haven’t seen
anything bigger than a bird all day. Can I assist you further, Mr.
“Don’t fuck with me,” Alex snarled, and walked to meet him on
the edge. He could still see the girl’s mangled body if he closed
his eyes. He jabbed a finger toward Martin’s chest, disgusted that
he had ever bothered to ogle him from the treeline. It just wasn’t
fair that someone so useless could have such a nice ass. Martin
looked down at his finger and raised one perfect eyebrow.
“I don’t have time for your bleeding heart—”
The sharp crack of a stick breaking in the forest interrupted him.
“Shut up,” Alex growled, even though Martin wasn’t talking at
that moment. He wheeled around to face the woods, rifle ready. “Just
shut up. It’s here.”
Winter’s Risk is available from Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and Kobo.
To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of Winter’s Risk to a randomly selected commenter once the tour ends. To enter, just comment on this post. The giveaway is open until July 21st.
A complete listing of blogs on the tour is available at my blog.
I hang out on twitter @AnyPennyH
and chatter about beer and movies as often as books and hiking. I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it.