Amazing Kids! Magazine

A Slip into Adventure

By Ryan Traynor, Contributing Writer


Jeff pounced through the flaps of his one-man tent, eager to get out of the chilly wind of the spring night. He had been told about the drop in temperature in the evenings, but the reality of the biting wind as it expertly found every opening and air vent in his jacket made Jeff wish he had dressed in more layers as his Scoutmaster had recommended. Now, slipping into his goose down sleeping bag, he was pleased that he had spent the extra money to get the warmest bag possible. The sleeping pad underneath gave him an extra soft surface and prevented the cold earth beneath him from drawing away his body heat. Settling in, he looked up to the top of the tent, only a few feet above his face. The closeness of the tent made insulation much easier. He smiled as he remembered the trip to the outdoor store. He wanted the larger tents but his dad told him that the tighter the tent, the better to retain heat. As much as he hated to admit it, his dad was right again. Remembering this made Jeff have a short pang of sadness as he wished his dad could have made this weekend camping trip with him. He mentally went over the list of things he planned to do in the morning and then leaned over to turn off the lantern. Within minutes, he was fast asleep, not even waking to hear the cries of the coyotes in the distance.

The next morning Jeff dutifully manned the breakfast station and made a quick bee-line back to his tent to prepare his day pack. The plan was to take a five mile hike up to the mountain rim and to return. He laid everything out to make sure the required items were present: trail food, water bottle, pocketknife, first-aid kit, rain poncho, flashlight, waterproof matches and fire starter, sunblock, area map and compass. Satisfied, he zipped the backpack closed and flung it over his shoulder. Grabbing a hat on the way out, he remembered the cold night before and took another second to grab a windbreaker and tie it around his waist.

Better safe, than sorry, he thought to himself.

He scampered over to the other boys that had been gathering near the flagpole.  The leader was reviewing the trail map and looking up to the hills, tying key points to the map. Jeff immersed himself in conversation with his buddies and fell in line when the group began down the trail. The steady rhythm of their hiking boots along the dry trail made a drumming sound that echoed off of the nearby hills. He could hear water falling over rocks in the distance and the circling hawks confirmed the location of water.

They climbed in elevation causing Jeff to breathe a little harder. He enjoyed the fresh breeze as he continued his trek up a meandering, dusty and rocky trail that snaked into the upper reaches of the forest, a mix of Douglas firs and some isolated birches with leaves ranging from yellow to fierce red. Jeff felt one with this trail, its smooth curves, tight switchbacks, and steep drops that demanded all his attention. Ruts, roots, boulders and slippery logs teased his feet and occasionally caused him to trip, catching a deep breath before regaining his footing.  He felt in perfect harmony with the world, sensing the rhythm of the trail. This was happiness.

After an hour of hiking, the line of boys had been stretched out, forming a meandering snake through the trail. Jeff realized that he didn’t take the time to complete a pit stop before he left camp and eyed various locations along the way that he could dart for cover and return within a few minutes. Finally, he saw his opportunity – at the turn of the next switchback he saw a boulder that would give him good cover. Thinking it would only take a moment, he made a terrible mistake by slipping out of the group without alerting one of his fellow hikers. He ducked behind the boulder, relieved to be able to relax after this pit stop. As he glanced up from buckling his pants, he was shocked to see a snake staring back at him, right at eye level, from within a crevice of the boulder. As the snake pulled back its head and hissed as if ready to strike, Jeff jumped back to avoid the attack. The sudden move made him stumble backwards, swinging his arms to regain his balance. Another step made his foot slide suddenly downward as his boot could not grip solid ground on the mildew covered rock. Abruptly his entire body was plunged down the slippery rock embankment, following a water-carved path down the hillside. Jeff flung his arms to the side trying to grasp onto any loose roots but his speed increased and he felt the sharp rocks cutting into his flesh. At this point, he pulled in his arms in a protective stance to prevent further injury. He found himself slipping further down the hill until he hit another drop off, sending him flying through the air. Jeff flapped his arms, trying to lessen the impact, until he looked down and saw the water below. Curling up into a ball, he fell into the water, sinking deep underneath the surface. With all his force he pushed and kicked down against the water to rise to the surface. Breaking through the water, Jeff gasped for a breath. After the initial panic subsided, he looked around and realized he was still being carried downstream by the force of the river. He could see several boulders in his path and remembered to point his legs together downstream with his hands across his chest so he would not be injured should a collision occur. He was able to guide his path a little bit to avoid the tree limbs and rocks but he also was searching frantically for a location near the water’s edge to safely land.

After what seemed like an eternity, Jeff gave up his struggle and let the water guide him down the river. He realized that with the speed of the water, it would be too dangerous to attempt to go to the sides, where the limbs of the riverbank trees stood with their outstretched daggers threatening to injure him if he approached. He listened to the roaring of the water and relaxed into the ride. His backpack, still securely attached to his shoulders, provided a buoyancy in the water, allowing him to see further down the river. Finally, he saw a curve in the river and a pooling of water off to the side. Using his arms, he pushed his direction to the pool. The sound of the water was less intense now, shifting from a roar to a whisper, as if telling him that it was okay to leave the water. He successfully veered out of the main stream and flipped over to swim the rest of the way. Reaching the water’s edge, he stretched to touch the riverbed with his feet. The bed was still slippery but he was able to trudge all the way out of the water.

His clothes pulled him down, feeling as if they weighed 100 pounds. He surveyed the area and located a section that was dry and flat. He found a rock to sit on and slowly began taking off his wet clothes, surveying his injuries as he went. His boots, so heavy now, had saved him from critical injuries. He had been able to kick obstacles out of his path in the water. Now he knew that this was the most important safety measure. If he had been unable to walk, it would be difficult to obtain a rescue. Luckily, his only injuries were cuts and bruises from the slide down the hillside. Unpacking his backpack, he pulled out his first aid kit and tended to his cuts. Once he was sure he was set, he hung up his clothes on the trees to air them out. He also assessed his backpack items. Getting them dry was important, so he quickly aired out all the compartments and batteries in his flashlight, hoping that it might work when it got dark.

He finally had a moment to stop and think. The initial dangers were gone and he wasn’t severely injured. He decided to make a plan. Realizing that the hiking crew may not realize he was missing until they reached the peak of the mountain, he knew that they would immediately backtrack down the mountain to try and find out where he left the group. He regretted his decision to not follow the strict safety rules of hiking now, but that would not help him be found any sooner. He retraced his movements as best he could, so that he could predict whether they would be able to find him. Since the boulder was off the main trail, he doubted that any signs of his detour would be spotted. His only hope was that one of the other scouts could remember when they had last seen him. He doubted that would be the case as they were fairly spread out, making conversations rare, and they were all dressed alike, in their scout hiking uniforms. That would put them back in camp in approximately 3 hours. Since dusk would be upon them at that time, he realized that a search crew tonight would be futile. He would have to plan to spend the night before rescue. Reviewing his merit badge instruction, he thought about the tasks ahead for his rescuers. If he could predict what they would do to find him, he could plan a way to intercept them as quickly as possible. Once back at camp they would probably call in a Search and Rescue team. This team would assess him personally to determine where he would be. At 13, Jeff had already earned 18 merit badges, including Camping, Emergency Preparedness and Search and Rescue.  With this knowledge they would know that he would not wander off from the planned path on his own. Also, they would look for him to be signaling them as to his location. Jeff now knew his plan. With a storm on the horizon, there would be no search tonight. Even if they attempted a night search with dogs, his scent would be lost at the water’s edge. At dawn, they would begin their search along the trail. He would make it through the night and push to an area that could be seen from the hiking trail. He was further down the canyon than the trail so he would have to gather materials for a signal that could be seen from higher up the mountain.

Jeff stood up and mechanically began to pick up wood for a fire. Setting them in a teepee, he again scanned the area for twigs and sticks to be kindling for the fire. Luckily, in his pack he had waterproof fire starters so the orange licks were touching the wind in seconds. He went over to the river and found a concave rock. Using it to pull some water from the stream, he then returned to the fire and placed it wedged over the fire to boil the water. At least he’d have some safe water to drink tonight. Although the day’s weather was in the 60s, with each passing hour the temperature was dropping another 7 degrees. He would have to use all of his lessons to brace for the cold night. He went over to his pants and pulled out the area map. Although a little difficult to read because of the water, he laid it out on the ground, securing the edges with rocks. Next to the map he laid down his compass. Besides his merit badge requirements he had never had to use his compass before. Now he realized how important this one essential would be to his rescue. He traced his original trail on the map and moved his finger along the nearby river. Closing his eyes to relive the moments on the water, he tried to remember the time he floated along so he could predict where he would have landed on the map. Looking down, he saw the river bend where he probably had the chance to exit his plunge. Next, Jeff reviewed the map carefully. Always keeping one hand on the original route, he looked carefully for an area that may be spotted from above. There, about 4 miles north was a fairly open area that may make signaling through the trees possible.

Feeling satisfied with his plan, Jeff set off building his shelter for the evening. He took out his poncho and tied the hood. This would serve as his tent roof. He scooped as many dried leaves as he could with his shirt and gathered them in his chosen area. He knew it was important to cover the ground with material to insulate himself from the cold. Next, he anchored his poncho on one end with heavy rocks. At the other end, he propped it up with tree limbs, forming a “V”. Satisfied, he stepped back and assessed how his efforts would fare in the rain. There was enough of an angle to allow the rain to run off without pooling and weighing the poncho down. He walked over to his clothes and backpack items and, confirming they were dry, began to layer himself in clothes. Just as he had buried his backpack under the poncho and slid himself under the covering, the rain began to fall. The pitter patter rhythm on his roof was comforting, allowing him to solidify his plans for the following day. After wolfing down his trail mix and water, he found himself drifting off to sleep to the roaring sounds of the speeding river and the flapping of the poncho end in the wind.

Jeff awoke to a sliver of light hitting his face. Instead of being irritated, he was relieved, because he knew that the storm had passed and he could begin his path. He quickly packed up his materials, made sure the fire was out, and checked his compass.  The next thing he did was make an arrow out of rocks pointing to the direction he would be traveling. If anyone came upon this spot, they would see where he went next.

He checked his water supply and began down the path. Somehow, this hike seemed different to him. Knowing that other people would be out looking for him, he took on a definite purpose to his step which did not show the flip-flops his stomach was doing inside. As he walked he made mental notes of the landscape and checked his compass to make sure he wasn’t getting turned around. As he entered clearings, the birds and animals would stop their orchestra, as if hiding in body and sound at the same time. While he was pushing through the bush, the animals seemed to accept him as part of their habitat and he found himself whistling along with their chorus of melodies.

The two hours seemed to fly by as he occasionally tore part of his bright yellow tee-shirt to tie to a tree branch in case anyone was following his path. When he pushed through the trees to the clearing, the brightness of the sun made him shield his eyes with one hand. Adjusting his eyes, he continued to scan the layout of the area and checked his compass once again. Looking up the mountain, he gauged approximately where the trail would be that the rescue party would be searching.

Jeff raced around the clearing and piled all medium-sized boulders into a huge “V”. This was the signal for air traffic that he required assistance.  Next, he searched the area for anything to make a fire. He piled pine needles, the inner bark of dead branches, and dry grasses in one pile for tinder. He put together twigs no thicker than a pencil in another pile to provide kindling for the fire. Where the tinder burnt quickly, the kindling took a little more time but stayed lit longer. Finally he gathered dry limbs and branches no thicker than his wrist that he would use to keep the fire burning. He remembered that he should gather three to four times the amount he would normally want since he was in a survival situation and may not have time to run back and get more supplies. He also realized that he would have to build three fires in a triangle, which is the international signal for distress. With three fires he would be easily spotted and the three fires would tell them he needed assistance. He cleared an area in plain sight of the mountain target and created layers of the tinder, kindling and branches so that the fire would burn up through each to maintain a steady fire. He repeated this in three areas, shaped like a triangle. He wanted to preserve his matches so he took extra time making the fires so that they would ignite quickly and not be blown out by the wind.

Kneeling next to his teepee of wood, Jeff scratched the match to the striker and, covering the valuable flame with his other hand, held it to the tinder. It sizzled as it shrunk under the flame and quickly the kindling accepted the invitation of the bright flames. Jeff sat back on his heels and watched as the progress of the flames increased and his hopes of rescue were increasing. Once fully engaged, he grabbed a lit stick and ran to the second fire. Once engaged, he ran to the third fire and did the same. Now he backed away from the fire and looked up to the mountains with a silent prayer that someone would be looking down into the canyon. His job would now be keeping the flames large and to occasionally throw some wet branches and leaves onto the fires to create darker smoke. He also was using his whistle, in repeated short blasts of three to alert rescuers of his whereabouts.

Fifteen minutes had passed and Jeff could feel his muscles aching already from carrying the wood back and forth from the piles to the fires. Suddenly he heard a beating noise coming from the East. Looking over his shoulder, he could see a helicopter coming his way. It was like a shining eagle drifting towards him as he waved his arms frantically. The helicopter veered towards him and a slow, satisfied smile crept onto Jeff’s face. He knew he had been found!

The helicopter landed in the clearing and shortly everyone was radioed that Jeff had been found. Jeff realized he had been lucky that he had only minor injuries and vowed to train others on what had worked for him. He had learned to NEVER leave the group, even for a quick minute, without letting someone know.  More importantly, he had learned to use his acquired skills under pressure when it really mattered. He would go to other troops to let the Scouts know that the merit badges were really important and they could help save their lives.

Jeff became more confident that day by overcoming an incredible challenge. He learned to rely on himself and always be prepared.