October 03, 2002 11:00 pm
COMMAND POST: At Union County Search and Rescue headquarters inLa Grande ().
COMMAND POST: At Union County Search and Rescue headquarters inLa Grande ().

By Jan Koegler

Union County Search and Rescue Volunteer

One of the most difficult "not-so-truisms" to dispel is the one that urges the lost person to go downhill, or to follow a creek.

Forget you ever heard that advice!

What I am pleading with you to do is to stay put. Don't go anywhere.

I've been there. It's a very scary moment when you look around and don't see any familiar landmarks at all. Surely, if you just climb that little hill you will see your truck parked right over there…

No. Well, how about if you walk along that little trail?

Still nothing. A sinking feeling unlike any other comes over you and you tell yourself, "You've really screwed up this time."

It's a moment of truth. You can't lie to yourself about it. You are lost.

A strange malady comes over most people at this point. It's called Get-home-itis — "I have to get home. I have to go to work tomorrow morning.''

The strongest urge is for self-rescue. The reasons are varied. You don't want to lose face with your hunting party by having to be brought out by Search and Rescue.

Will anyone notice that you are overdue? You have a real aversion to spending a cold, lonely night in the woods.

You don't want your family to worry about you. You don't want to have to worry about you.

All you want is to be safe at home.

You can choose to hunker down and spend the last two hours of daylight gathering enough firewood to see you through the night and build yourself a weather-break.

Or you can spend the time traveling farther and farther from camp in a misguided attempt to find familiar surroundings.

Your survival may depend on you having the maturity to think this through. If you press on into the darkness, it may not be possible for you to gather firewood and shelter materials. And if you continue walking through the darkness, you may fall and injure yourself.

Most people who choose to press on end up subject to panic and begin to run mindlessly through the woods. A panic-stricken person may not even recognize roadways as they run across them.

It nearly broke my heart to hear reports of the little boy missing while cutting a Christmas tree last year. The media kept repeating that the grandfather and father of the boy had always told him to go downhill.

I wanted to scream at the newsperson to stop perpetuating the problem by teaching others to do the wrong thing.

We are teaching Union County elementary aged children to STAY PUT. DO NOT WANDER. We are having them holler this message at the tops of their lungs during our child survival workshops.

Yes, in some specific cases it can be appropriate to follow a creek. Or to go downhill. If you are in a situation where you must self-rescue because nobody knows you are in the woods, or nobody is going to report you missing, then you have to use your best judgment.

Just be aware that some creeks are going to take you completely through a wilderness before they run past civilization again. Be certain that the situation you are about to leave is less desirable than the one you enter into.

Search and Rescue would like to see you stay where you become lost.

It is a mathematical and statistical situation for us. Statistically, we know that 93 percent of all lost hunters are found within six miles downhill or three miles uphill from the departure point.

If we base our search on this information and you — strapping, healthy young thing that you are — continue to walk steadily away from us, how many miles is it possible for you to go?

You have to remember that you are the only one who absolutely knows where you went.

The best information we can gather from your hunting buddy may be that he dropped you off at a certain point about 6:30 a.m. this morning. He may not know the path you usually take. You may not have taken that path. An elk may have enticed you to go in a completely different direction altogether.

Here you are, wandering all over the topography, taking off at a tangent any time the mood strikes you.

Geesh! Give us a break! If our trackers are on their hands and knees finding your tracks, the least you can do is to sit down and wait for them to catch up with you.

Mathematically, we consider the area of a circle for a search. Area is determined by the formula: Pi times R squared.

You may walk a mile from the departure point. But, since we don't know which way you went, we have to look at that mile in all directions from the starting point — so we are looking at 3.14 square miles (3.14 x 1 x 1 = 3.14). If you make it out two miles from the departure point, the search circle becomes 12.56 miles (3.14 x 2 x 2 = 12.56).

Given the statistical data, if you have made it six miles downhill, our search area becomes a whopping 113 square miles.

Hey, we're all volunteers here. How long do you think it takes to search an area of 113 square miles?

We have painfully learned that people are capable of far exceeding the statistical information. We had a young man walk an estimated 26 miles, which would make a 2,000- square-mile search area. The stream he followed led to a river that went clear through the wilderness.

A 70-year-old woman hiked 15 miles in the La Grande watershed. We thought we had her surrounded when we covered the roads out to a perimeter of 10 to 12 miles.

If you are beginning to see the logistical difficulty your Search and Rescue team faces, you will understand that you need to help us find you.