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Success And Survival Tips From Alaska – Do Not Surprise The Teddy Bears
The survival expert Bear Grylls has recently starred in an amazing series of TV survival programs which are full of both survival and success tips. He introduced this episode as follows:
“I am Bear Grylls. I have survived some of the world’s toughest environments. Now, I’m in Alaska, one of the world’s last great wildernesses and one mistake here can be fatal. My mission – to show you the skills you need to survive here.”
Alaska’s landscape is made up of endless coastline, deep forest and huge glaciers. Seventeen of the highest mountains in the USA are in Alaska.
Mountaineers, skiers and hikers visit every year to enjoy the wilderness but with the thrills comes danger. Over 20 people die every year.
Bear was placed by helicopter on top of a mountain in the role of a lost skier. All he had was a knife, a water bottle, skis, a flint, an intrepid camera crew and a woolly hat! He would have to find his own way back to safety.
He described what happened next:
“I am 9000 feet up and there is nothing but snow and rock for miles and miles. My best chance of survival is to head downwards.
“The biggest threat to skiers is avalanche. They kill around forty people every year in North America. One wrong turn and the whole mountain side could come crashing down on you. You need to know how to avoid them.
“The key with avalanches is to read the snow and you can use the ski pole in front of you just to test the snow to see whether it is compacted or whether it is in layers.
“What you want is when you push it in, it is nice and consistent but if you push it down and it like suddenly drops a little bit, it’s a sign it’s in layers and that’s the dangerous stuff.
“Avalanches are often triggered by inexperienced skiers and snow boarders who come to enjoy the forty feet of virgin snow which can often fall here.”
In early 2006 a snow boarder from Anchorage triggered a 200ft wide avalanche on a slope just like the one Bear was on. His body was eventually recovered three months later. He had fallen 1600 feet.
“Where there is a risk of avalanche, always carry a beacon. They transmit a signal which a rescue service can follow.
“I’ve descended at least 5000 feet now and at last I’m leaving the high snow faces behind There is so much rock that it is becoming impossible to ski any further. All these skis are going to do is slow me down. I’m better off without them.”
Bear dumped the skis but kept one of the poles.
“Below me is a glacier, literally a river of ice, and like a river this glacier flows downhill. If I can get to it, it should lead me out of the mountains.
“To get to the glacier I need to follow this ridge and it’s not easy and the temperature is dropping fast. Temperatures here in Alaska can reach as low as minus 60 degrees and frostbite is always a danger in the mountains.
“The bits to watch out for are your extremities – your hands, your feet and your face. The signs you are getting frostbite is that your skin goes this waxy red colour and eventually black. Frostbite is a really horrible and painful thing.
“This ridge has led me to a north facing slope. This gets less sunlight so it is still covered in snow. The weather is not looking so good. Getting caught out in bad weather can be fatal.
“I need to get down fast but the slope below me is nearly 300 feet. I am going to use a technique called ‘glissade’.”
To perform the glissade, you dig in your ice axe to control the speed of your descent. If you don’t dig in the axe enough you will go too fast. If you dig it in too deep, it can get ripped out of your hand.
Bear used half a ski stick as he had no axe and descended at about 50 miles per hour clinging desperately to the stick. He continued his account:
“I’ve reached a glacier. There are over 100 thousand of these in Alaska. They form the largest fresh water reservoir on earth but they are full of crevasses often covered by layers of snow. You need to be roped to a partner to cross them safely.
“My luck is in. There is solid ground running alongside the glacier. But at the bottom of the glacier there is a forty foot waterfall.
“There is an ice tunnel into the glacier which could lead me out. Check the ice is solid before you go in. There could be over 200 feet of ice above me and it could crash down at any moment. Only go through such a tunnel as a last resort. The further you go in the harder it is to go back.”
I’m not sure what the camera crew had to say about this little adventure!
Then, Bear saw daylight ahead. It showed his way out:
“I have never been so relieved. Finally, I am off the glacier!”
He took his ski boots off but kept the inner shoes on. He drank some water which looked dirty but the brown colour was glacial silt or pulverised rock. Bear commented: “This water should be good to drink.”
He continued to move downwards: “Now I am off the mountain, I need to keep heading down to find food and shelter.”
He was dive bombed by seagulls who were protecting their eggs which are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals but he was out of luck and only found stones which looked like eggs. However, he was far from discouraged:
“The landscape is beginning to open up and I can see the tree line ahead and I am almost in the forest. I can see a thick forest and deep gorge and there might be a river at the bottom of that. Most Alaskan villages are along rivers.”
He was now in bear country.
Brown bears can grow up to nine feet tall, weigh up to 1100 pounds and can tear a man apart. When rangers found the remains of a hiker’s body, who was recently killed, there were two empty shells on the ground but the bullets had not been enough to stop the bear.
Big groups rarely get attacked because they make lots of noise. Hunters are more likely to be attacked because they are sneaking round quietly on their own.
Bears are at their most dangerous when they are surprised so make a lot of noise by shouting things. Bear started to shout: “YO BEAR! YO BEAR!”
But he felt uncomfortable however much noise he made!
He found some berry seeds in bear crap. The good news – there are edible berries around. The bad news – there are bears around!
I was once chased by a mountain bear cub in Tehran. I ran much faster than usual (I was eight at the time) and escaped. I would not have liked to race an adult bear.
Bear climbed down a huge 200 foot waterfall: “Let your legs take the pressure. They are much stronger than your arms.”
It is crucial to take your time in such situations – you can only make one mistake.
He next found some Eskimo potato which is full of starch and carbohydrates and is said to be the most valuable food source in Alaska.
He built a bed with branches to keep his body above the cold ground and then found some alder saplings to build a half dome shelter. To waterproof, you add layers of spruce from the bottom upwards.
He lit a fire which would put off the bears. In this part of Alaska, the black bears are more dangerous than the grizzlies.
Grizzlies are territorial so if you meet them be submissive and back off. However, if you meet a black bear it will probably be after you. They kill less humans than Grizzlies but, in 90% of their attacks, they stalk humans.
If you are cornered by a black bear you will have to fight for your life. Most locals carry a gun but, if you are without a gun, grab a stick and jab it in the bear’s eyes.
In the night, Bear heard something moving around. It might have been a moose or a bear:
“I hope, whatever it is, it will leave this ‘bear’ alone!”
He awoke at 5 a.m. exhausted on his second day in Alaska:
“I’m a bit cheesed off but that’s OK. When you’ve been wet all night, it’s OK to be a bit cheesed off.”
He followed a stream to a river and then down to the sea coast where most people would be. But he could still go 500 miles in each direction and find no one:
“My best chance of rescue is to be spotted by one of the many small fishing boats that fish this area.”
He saw some bald eagles who were after salmon. The river is packed with king and pink salmon. Bear did not have a fishing line but, undeterred he made a fishing spear. He always looks for an alternative instead of giving up.
Bear spooked the salmon into about six inches of water by shouting and hitting the water with his spear. He, eventually, speared a large salmon and tucked in immediately:
“They are packed full of protein and you can eat the scales as well as they are small. I’ve always liked sushi!
“I may be out of the forest but I am still surrounded by bears who come down here to fish.”
He now looked for shelter. Caves are ready made shelters but they are often occupied by wild life including bears. He found a shallow cave with high walls where nothing could sneak up on him from behind.
He next found mussels. Shell fish should always be cooked properly first. He surrounded the mussels with two layers of seaweed which would steam cook them in ten minutes. I am surprised that Bear did
not suggest eating the seaweed as well:
“When you collect the mussels tap them. If they don’t close, they are already dead so leave them.”
He created a signal fire with white smoke to contrast with the dark trees behind him but he did not see any boats so he had to keep moving.
Suddenly Bear spotted some wooden buildings but they were deserted. Alaska has a history of boom and bust.
He saw some glaciers which are often tourist hotspots. He would have a better chance of contacting other humans there but it would be a long walk.
Bear decided to use an old boat which he found near the buildings. He used a spade as a paddle. One of the core lessons of survival is to be open to every opportunity. It is the same with success.
An old boat in a sea full of ice is a risk but it was his best option. He slowly worked his way round the coastline. As he continued, he came across a bay full of sea ice. As he went into the bay the ice thickened and ice blocks were all around him.
He moved in among little icebergs. These can suddenly overturn as the water melts the ice underneath. Freezing water was beginning to seep into the boat. He quickly packed his heavier clothes into his back pack to avoid being weighed down.
His boat sank and he was in the icy water. The danger was that he might suck up a huge gulp of water and air but he made it to dry land.
Once on shore, he removed the rest of his clothes quickly. You survive longer naked than you do in wet clothes. He did push ups to get the blood flowing.
His jacket had stayed dry in his back pack. This would help. He stayed put for a while and then moved on but:
“Just when I’ve given up hope, I hear the distant sound of an engine.”
He waved his arms and back pack in the air:
“They’ve seen me! I’m on my way home! Alaska is a place where you can truly come close to nature and that for me is its real magic.”
What success lessons can be learned?
You need to know how to avoid the disasters of life whether they are to do with avalanches, personal relationships, finance, health or life itself. Learn the skills and knowledge you need or employ an expert.
Don’t hang about. Moving fast on any project will keep your enthusiasm alive. It will keep you warm enough to survive a mountain descent.
Get rid of whatever slows you down whether they are ski’s or heavy boots or bad habits.
Don’t wait for a light to appear at the end of the tunnel, stride down there and light the ***** thing yourself! (Quote from Sara Henderson)
Go slow and take your time when facing dangerous obstacles where each step matters – sign any contracts with care!
It’s OK to feel depressed at times. If you spend the night soaking wet it is OK to feel ‘cheesed off’ but at least appreciate being able to sleep most nights in a warm, dry bed!
Seize any opportunity that comes your way.
Learn which foods and drinks are most valuable.
If you go down into the woods today, don’t surprise the teddy bears or you will become their picnic!
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