Stayin’ alive: Campers learn survivor skills
Children at Carbon County Conservation Camp, front row, Lillian Stein, 11; McKayla Lopez, 12; Phebe Ruch, 11; and Brigid Knepper, 11, yell help at the top of their lungs during a survival presentation by Franklin Klock, a naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Franklin Klock, a naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center, motions during a survival presentation at Conservation Camp at Hickory Run State Park.
Conservation Campers Jack Decker, 11; Christian Priore, 9; and Max Priore, 11, all from Jim Thorpe, check the transparency of a survival blanket during a survival presentation.
Franklin Klock, a naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center, discusses how to make a shelter with things found in the wild.
You’ve been hiking alone in the woods for three hours and it’s beginning to rain. You suddenly realize that the rough trail splits into three directions behind you. You choose one, but as you walk further alone, you realize that you’re lost. It’s raining harder now and getting dark. You run as fast as you can, hoping you’ll come out somewhere near a road.
According to environmental naturalist Franklin Klock, every action described above is the wrong thing to do, and you quite possibly might be jeopardizing your life, too.
Klock spoke to 25 young members of Camp Shehaqua last week about surviving in the wilderness as part of a program sponsored by the Carbon County Environmental Education Center.
Have a plan
Klock, who became involved many years ago as a volunteer for the CCEEC, told the campers that the obvious goal for surviving the woods after getting lost is coming out alive.
“It’s a matter of rescue or self-rescue,” the naturalist said. “The first thing you have to do is have a plan, and you have to stick to it.”
Klock said that it’s also very important that you tell someone where you’re hiking the woods so if you don’t return when expected, this person can come looking for you. The fear factor, however, can make matters worse.
“The brain does weird stuff if you panic when you are lost.”
He told a story about two women who went into the woods and one fell and injured her hip. The other left her friend there and went back to the car, a hike about 45 minutes from the accident. When she returned with help, her friend was gone. She apparently dragged herself in the wrong direction, and she was found seven hours later suffering from dehydration and hypothermia along with her hip injury.
“If you get lost or injured, stay put!” Klock said. “People do dumb stuff and put themselves in more danger.”
Survival means S.T.O.P.
Klock gave the campers the acronym S.T.O.P. for surviving in the wilderness.
“If you get lost, the first thing to do is sit,” he said as he sat on the floor to demonstrate. “You can’t panic and run while you’re sitting and you can take some deep breaths. “You are naturally nervous, but you shouldn’t transfer that to your feet and run. You might even trip and fall and hurt yourself.”
The “T” stands for “Think.” How bad is it really? Did you leave a note or tell someone where you’d be? If so, someone will come looking for you, so stay put.
The “O” is for “Observe.” Check around for sun and for shade. Empty your pockets and backpack to see what can be useful.
Klock spoke about building a fire for a signal and for warmth. Use the sun as an ignition source and anything you can find to start the fire from its heat. He said if you had “money to burn,” it should be used as kindling.
The “P” is for making a plan. Tell yourself you’re OK and sit tight and wait it out. Count rocks and stones to keep your brain busy.
The ‘Rule of Three’
Klock, who laughed about his childhood playing in the coal fields of Lansford, saying, “This is what we did in the outdoors,” defined the Rule of Three to his attentive audience of 8- to 13-year-olds.
“You can survive three minutes without oxygen. Make sure you do nothing that could affect your breathing.”
He then said that you can comfortably survive three hours without a shelter for protection from sun, rain or other weather elements. He emphasized to stay dry from rain or body sweat as moisture pulls heat away from the body.
You can go three days without water. Don’t smoke or eat. That pulls water from your body. Conserve what water you have and conserve energy. If you are getting desperate, drink any water you find. You might get sick, but you’ll need to drink to survive.
The lowest priority for survival is food. You can eat nothing for three weeks. Conserve what you have, but remember that food attracts insects and wild animals.
To signal for help, blow a whistle three times if you have one. Fire a gun three times. Hit sticks together three times or clap your hands thrice. If possible, build three fires to signal aircraft or scrape three areas of grass from a field or make three piles of rocks. Rescuers will respond with two whistles or alarms in return.
For the past 32 years, Susan Gallagher, the director of the Carbon County Environmental Center, has supervised Camp Shehaqua. All but two of this year’s campers are returnees, and many counselors come back each year as well. When asked about the purpose of the camp, Gallagher gave a direct response.
“We get kids outside. We give them experiences they can’t Google.”
The campers are not allowed cellphones or any electronics for their five-day stay in on-site cabins. They will do crafts, build forts, team build, visit Boulder Field, go white water rafting, and hike the Fourth Run Trail, one of the 44 miles of trails in Hickory Run State Park.
Twenty-year-old camp counselor Molly Behan from Jim Thorpe has been coming back to Shehaqua for the past 12 years.
“This camp is my family,” she said. “Every August I get to see the same counselors and campers, and it’s like you never left here.”
When asked what nature means to her, Behan answered philosophically.
“Nature does its own thing. It doesn’t need humans to survive.”
Yet, humans love to commingle with the earth, and as Franklin Klock explained, animals are suited for survival with hair and fur and claws, but humans, without these physical characteristics, need to be resourceful to enjoy and to survive the challenges of the wilderness.