How the Rules of Hiking (and a LifeStraw) Saved a Pair of Hikers Lost in the Wilderness

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Two hikers were found alive on Wednesday after spending five days lost on a California mountain, and there are things we can learn from their experience.

Gabrielle Wallace, 31, and Eric Desplinter, 33, had not been seen since Saturday when they didn’t return from a hike. Two friends initially set out with them, but turned back because they felt the conditions were too dangerous. When the pair didn’t return that evening, their friends reported them missing.

They survived, not just because they got lucky, but because they followed the basic rules of hiking survival.

A rescue team found the lost hikers after five days of searching.

The pair was located in Cucamonga Canyon – about 20 miles from their starting point – after a search team found two sets of footprints and alerted a helicopter search unit, which spotted the missing hikers’ camp fire.

The search area was vast – 19,000 acres, steep and covered in several inches of snow, reports CBS.

“The search team alerted the command post and provided coordinates for the Sheriff’s helicopter, 40King, to fly over the area. The aviation crew spotted a camp fire and could see two subjects and believed they were the two missing hikers,” officials said.

The helicopter lifted them out of the canyon with a hoist rescue and they were flown to the Mount Baldy Fire Station, where they were reunited with their families, reports CBS Los Angeles.

“The hikers were stuck in between two waterfalls about 20-to-25-feet high on each side,” the Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter. “The helicopter’s rotor blades and tail rotor were about 10 feet away from the trees and rocks. A great job to ALL ground and aircrews for their dedication.”

Both of the hikers are doing just fine now.

Desplinter spoke briefly with reporters shortly after leaving the fire station and before leaving with his family, according to The Press Reporter. “We’re both perfectly fine, no serious injuries,” he said. “Thank you to all the volunteers that helped look for us. We are very grateful to be found tonight. I’m ready to get to bed and get to rest.”

“We just lost the trail,” Desplinter told CBS. “I had a little bit of a slip on, going to the peak of Cucamonga peak. Decided we wouldn’t go back up the ice and snow, but that valley was more treacherous than we thought.”

Here’s how the two hikers survived being lost in the wilderness.

Desplinter said he and Wallace survived through rationing their food and by drinking water through a LifeStraw, which is a device that filters water to make it safe to drink.

Things certainly could have taken a tragic turn for the pair, but they did several things right. Carrying a water filtration device is absolutely essential. They carefully rationed out their food. The pair had friends who knew where they were and when to expect their return. Those friends notified authorities when the duo didn’t show up that evening. They started a fire, which helped the aviation crew find them.

There are other things you can do to ensure your safety during hikes.

Carry a map and compass and know how to use both. Don’t rely on GPS or your cell phone for those features.

Plan ahead. Check the forecast so you know what kind of weather to expect. Know what time the sun will set so you can return before it gets dark. If you plan to hike at night, be sure to pack a headlamp for visibility.

Learn about the area before you set out to explore. Map out your hike, and share your plans with someone who can provide the information to the authorities should you go missing. While some people like solitary hiking, experts do not advise it. Go with at least one other person. If the trail you has a register, fill in your information on it – including the time. This can help searchers find you if you become lost.

A pair of goggles or glasses to protect your eyes from debris or being swat by a branch is also advised. Dress appropriately for the weather, and wear (or pack) layers of non-cotton, quick-drying, moisture-wicking clothing. Assume the weather will change — bring sun protection, rain gear, and extra layers for sudden cold. Layers are advised even during the summer, because temperatures can fluctuate. You don’t want to become uncomfortably (or dangerously) cold or hot. Opt for light-colored clothing if you can – this way, you can more easily spot ticks and remove them. Bring at least one item of brightly colored clothing in case you get lost – this will make it a bit easier for authorities to spot you. Proper footwear is crucial – and so is fit. Improper footwear can lead to pain, aches, and blisters. Choose sturdy, waterproof, and comfortable hiking shoes or boots. Walk with a careful gait.

Here’s a list of items to consider packing:

  • High-energy snacks like protein bars, nuts, and seeds
  • Water, of course
  • Flashlight and extra batteries (don’t rely on your smartphone for light – it drains your battery faster)
  • Pocket knife
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Insect repellent
  • Extra socks
  • Fire starter kit (put fire-starting supplies in a water-proof container)
  • Garbage bag (for trash or to use as a shelter)
  • Space blanket

If you do get lost or injured, follow these tips from the Department of Environmental Conservation:

  • Stop where you are. Keep calm and assess your situation.
  • Try to determine your location. Look for recognizable landmarks and listen for vehicles on nearby roads.
  • If you are sure you can get yourself out of the woods using a map and compass, do so. Otherwise, stay put.
  • If you have cell service, call for help. If you do not, move to a location nearby where you will be more visible to searchers on the ground or in the air. If you brought a piece of brightly colored clothing, put it on.
  • If you will have to spend the night in your location, clear an area of debris and build a campfire to provide light and heat – this will also make it easier for searchers to find you.
  • Build a shelter using items from your pack and additional items in your environment.

What do you think?

Are there additional items you recommend bringing on adventures in the wilderness? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

About the Author

Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.

Dagny Taggart

Dagny Taggart

Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.

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  • Some thoughts in addition to the excellent advice in Dagny’s article:

    The list of take-along items mentioned fire-making supplies in a kit. That needs to be more specific. Have multiple ways to provide sparks or flames, such as a fire steel, a fresnel lens, matches, cigarette lighter, etc — in case one or more methods don’t work for you (especially in the rain or dark). BTW, always test your fire steel before leaving home. There are a few on the market (Walmart, I thinking of you) that fail to produce any spark at all. Also, bringing along some spark-catching material, like cotton balls or cosmetic removal cotton pads plus some vaseline is very space and weight efficient. Practice with your knife in learning how to make very thin shavings on dried wood, like what the Boy Scouts call a fuzz stick — that will catch and accelerate the flame from your cotton balls, etc. Such supplies can make a huge difference in a pouring rain where all the natural materials you can find are soaking wet. Pitch your tarp, make a fuzz stick, pull out your fire-making kit and go to work.

    Second, take along a blank CD or DVD disc, or better, a handful of them. They make excellent lightweight, space efficient sunlight reflecting signal mirrors so you can seen in daytime from great distances by rescuers. The military issues glass signal mirrors in survival kits with a hole for sunlight through the middle so you can aim more precisely. You can do the same with the discs I mentioned, or even with a steel mirror where you’ve drilled a hole in the middle.

    Third, you should test whatever kind of sleeping bag you bring along, and especially if you’re bringing a mylar sheet or lightweight bivvy sack version. Try a full night in one first, and see if it crackles every time you breathe in, and every time you breathe out. If so, you can bet that noise will keep you from getting any sleep at night — a really bad plan. Also, there are different types of mylar sheets and bags. The so-called 90% efficient material does not let any body moisture out — so if you don’t provide some airflow route (which loses warmth at the same time), you could wind up soaking wet by morning, which is a really bad plan in freezing weather. The 70% efficient mylar sheets or bags preserve a little less warmth, but DO let your body moisture escape. Big difference. If your retailer doesn’t disclose which is being offered to you for sale, it’s a red flag no deal. Or you might discover that a mylar-based system just won’t work for you.

    Fourth, think through some way to mark your path — if you should get into a situation where remaining in place is life-threatening and not practical, whether from flooding risk, bears, poison snakes, or whatever. The ability to mark you path might help rescue hunting parties find you while you’re still alive.


  • A little goes a long ways. That’s all they had was a little.
    You gotta keep that filter from freezing up. They wished they had more food.
    I’m glad someone posted on this story.

  • Some more thoughts:

    On drinking water.

    Matt’s precaution about keeping your water filter from freezing is dead serious accurate. The tiny capillary-sized tubes that water has to pass through in many filters are so small that even passing water through them just once will leave some water behind in those tubes. Which means that from then on, you can never let that at-least-once used filter ever freeze, or the ice will destroy those tubes. Any once-or-more used filter has to be kept from freezing, even if it means snugging it up next to your body’s warmth.

    A better plan is to carry at least one or more never-before-used water filters in the event that freezing temperatures are possible. Another backup Plan B is to carry a portable water distiller. The KennethKramm videos on YouTube show how to DIY make campfire-powered versions from an empty steel KRU vodka bottle (there are a couple of sizes that regularly show up on eBay) and a roll of metal tubing for condensing the steam. There are also solar versions that can boil water (again, see eBay or Amazon) for which you can DIY add the connection for the tubing for condensing the steam. Both the solar and the campfire designs can dependably distill even salt water — a really good test of safely cleaned water. (PS. a version of a campfire-powered distiller was even taught to and used by downed pilots in World War II in the South Pacific.)

    On safety needs regarding weapons.

    Some places out in the wild come with the usual dangers we’ve all read about, whether snakes, bears, cougars, alligators, pythons, or even human predators. Some of those regions are flat-out stupid to venture in without a way to defend yourself. You have to research what’s legal and what’s reasonable for you to carry in such areas, or whether any relevant prohibitions (even if idiotic) mean that hiking through such areas is deadly and unwise.


  • An inexpensive flare gun, made of plastic, small, and light-weight, usually sold with three flares, to help searchers hone in on your location. That’s if you figure that searchers are out there, and you can hear aircraft.
    Flares are the size of shotgun shells, and extras wouldn’t hurt.
    If you don’t or can’t carry a firearm where you are going (why would you go, then?), I imagine even an aggressive large animal would be discouraged by a flare shot at them.

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