Early in 2021, Texas faced record-low temperatures that caused millions to be without power. Think about that for a second. Even in one of the most industrialized nations in the world, Mother Nature dealt a huge (and freezing) blow to commerce and living conditions. As human beings, we’ve become dangerously over-reliant on our climate-controlled life and amenities. Although this winter storm was a freak occurrence, there’s no doubt that its estimated death toll of 230 could’ve been reduced by better preparation.
Now, imagine yourself stuck in an area with frigid conditions where you must forgo many of the resources you might’ve stockpiled at home. Whether you live in a locale that could potentially be affected by severe cold during the winter months or you just happen to be vacationing somewhere remote, do you know what it’d take to survive if immediate help from first responders is nowhere in sight and utilities are disabled? How can you use the resources at your disposal to survive plummeting temperatures?
SITUATION TYPE Blizzard/power outage
YOUR CREW You and two friends
LOCATION Chandalar Lake, Alaska
WEATHER Snowy/windy; high 4 degrees F, low -10 degrees F
The Setup: You and two friends have been planning an Alaskan hunting trip for several months. You rent a remote hunting lodge in a rural area near Chandalar Lake that’s only accessible on foot. Although it’s wintertime and you knew the weather would already be brutal, the forecast is anticipating a blizzard. Since it’s too late to cancel and get a refund, you decide to roll the dice and make the best of it, hoping the weather will turn around and become more favorable.
After arriving at the airport, you and your friends rent an SUV, stop to buy some food and otherprovisions, and venture down a long dirt road to a designated parking area before heading out on foot to the lodge. The path up to the parking area is a windy uphill track, which would make getting back down nearly impossible in heavy snow, and you have no idea if the road below is regularly cleared or not. It’s inconvenient, but you have to make several trips back to the car in order to carry all your supplies to the lodge. However, you’re confident your experience will be a positive one and you have enough food and water to hold you over for the few days you’ll be there.
The Complication: You bring a small batteryoperated radio to get updates on weather since cell service in this area is practically non-existent. Daylight is also compromised by the fact that sunrise in this part of Alaska typically happens around 11 a.m., with sunset occurring around 2:30 p.m. You settle in for the night with winds picking up and heavy snowfall, hoping that the weather will pass you by. You rise early to trek out to the hunting blinds and wait, but the snowfall is practically at window level now. You and a few friends have to force the door open to push the snowpack back far enough to even get a leg through the door. In other words, your situation is getting grim, and you decide not to risk getting caught in the continuing blizzard by going out to hunt.
The radio is saying the blizzard is one of the worst in the state’s history, and it’s anticipated to go on for two weeks. Then, the unexpected begins happening. Power at the lodge goes out. The gas system soon freezes over, as does the water, meaning you have nothing to drink except what you brought. There’s no heat in the lodge except for an old potbelly stove that you’ll have to go procure wood for. The food and water you brought isn’t going to last a couple weeks. What do you do? Try to get back to the car, which may be compromised by an impassable road? Attempt to walk until you find help or cell service? Try and wait it out? What’s the best course of action for this situation? We asked cold-weather survival expert Jerry Saunders and forester Patrick Diedrich for their takes on the situation.
Thinking about spending a multi-day trip in an environment as majestic and foreboding as Alaska can be an exhilarating — and perhaps intimidating — proposition. Living in the relative comfort of the lower 48 means that I have access to just about anything I could want, including close proximity to developed communities and their emergency services. As I plan for a hunting trip to one of the most remote locations in North America, knowing in advance that a severe blizzard is on the way, I use one word to guide my planning process: redundancy.
Hunting in freezing temperatures can be tricky in the best of circumstances, and I want to be confident that my friends and I will have an enjoyable trip, regardless of a massive snowstorm on the way. When I come back home, I want to stock my freezer full of freshly harvested game, not to nurse frostbite. I start thinking about the most likely scenarios my friends and I will find ourselves in the middle of and work from there. Out of everything that could possibly happen, at a minimum we’ll need several strategies to stay warm, hydrated, and consume enough calories to maintain a healthy metabolism in cold conditions.
Pre-trip planning also includes doing a little research on the behavior of the plants and animals in the region, doing some map reconnaissance and identifying nearby towns or useful natural resources. One of the most important things anyone can do before heading out into the wilderness — whether it’s for a few hours or a few days — is to let someone know where you’ll be and how long you plan to be there. Before I find myself in a place with no cell reception, I let friends and family know what’s going on. Since we’re going to an isolated lodge in central Alaska, it may also be a wise decision to reach out to local emergency services, and just let them know where we’ll be staying. If they don’t hear from us after an extended inclement weather event, they’ll know to at least check on us after things have calmed down.
After disembarking from the plane inAlaska, the first thing I do is ensure I leave the airport with a 4WD vehicle. The higher the ground clearance the better, in case the snow starts to accumulate on the road on our way there. My own vehicle would have a strong tow strap and some emergency gear, and I’d try to acquire this for the rental. If these items are unavailable, other than giving the vehicle a careful inspection and filling it with a full tank of gas, I’ll just have to drive more slowly and be extra cautious while heading to the lodge.
Since it seems like hunting for dinner may not be an option, I’m going to need extra provisions. On the way to the lodge, we stop at the nearest store and load up. High winds and blowing snow almost always result in trees over power lines. No power can render any steps to keep water flowing or heat radiating completely useless. Sure, there’s plenty of wood to burn in the surrounding forests, but acquiring firewood is physically intensive. Pair that with working in the cold, and the average adult could potentially burn thousands more calories than they would under normal conditions. This means preparing extra calories, ideally foods high in fat, protein, and sugars. We buy as many extra nuts, canned meats, and snacks like granola or peanut butter as we can reasonably bring with us.
Calories accounted for, we double-check to make sure we have packed everything we’d normally bring on a camping trip, plus a few specialty items for hunting in the snow — sleeping bags rated for freezing temperatures, tarps, and wool blankets to stay warm. Items made of modern wool are a great way to reduce the amount of gear I need to bring and avoid having items out of commission if they get soggy. Redundancy as my mantra, I make sure to pack enough so if anything important gets wet or broken, I have some kind of contingency. Tools for starting a fire, such as lighters and matches are a no-brainer, but having a few extra is better than running out when you need it most. For preparing firewood, we need an ax and a crosscut or bowsaw. Chainsaws are a nice luxury, but they also require fuel, sharpening, and firm footing on the ground — all of which may be unavailable, and too cumbersome to stock up on. Snowshoes and a sled for easily moving a carcass or firewood will also make life much easier.
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