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Staying Found

Leave a note and save your life!

Leave a note and save your life!


If nobody knows you’ve gone, or where to look, or when you’re expected back, it could be a long wait  to be rescued!

by Leon Pantenburg

A detailed note, left behind before any outing, should be Standard Operating Procedure. The note could end up being a lifesaver.

The memo book is the base for a hip pocket notebook. Along with the writing implements and a bandana, this is a group of everyday carry items. (Pantenburg photo)

A memo book could be one of your most important survival tools.

Before writing anything, though, consider who the note will be entrusted to. It must be a reliable person who can be relied upon to contact the proper authorities if you don’t show up as scheduled.

The standard style for an informative news story (which is what this note is) is based on the “Five Ws.” This model is taught in journalism schools, and the name refers to: Who, What, Where, Why and When.

Answer all these questions, and you will give the search and rescue folks a better chance of finding you quickly.

WHO: Start with your name and cell phone number. Also include the names of other people in the party and their cell phone numbers. The phone numbers can be critical: if one cell doesn’t get coverage, another might. Or one phone could be damaged or run out of battery power. All the numbers increase your chances of communication!
Include the make, model, year and license number of the vehicle you’re taking.

WHAT: The purpose of the outing is to do…Fill in the blank, and be specific. A mountaineering expedition to scale a peak differs tremendously from a fishing expedition to the lake at the base. Knowing the purpose of the trip helps narrow down where a lost person might be. It can also help emergency personnel prepare themselves more effectively for the search.

WHERE: I like to use GPS coordinates here. Put the coordinates (and the datum) down of where you intend to park your vehicle, waypoints of your route and your destination. Even if the weather gets nasty and your GPS won’t work, rescuers will have a good idea of where to look. A map left with the “Five Ws” note could be very helpful if you don’t use a GPS!

I always carry a pencil and notebook in my compass setup. (Pantenburg photos)

I always carry a pencil and notebook in my compass setup. (Pantenburg photos)

WHY: An important question, and one that will help rescuers know where to look. A wildflower photography or fishing trek may not cover a lot of ground. Rescuers will know to concentrate their efforts around the WHERE.

A 20-mile jaunt on the Pacific Crest Trail, though, means you’re ambitious, possibly lightly-clad and equipped and capable of covering a lot of ground. The search may have to be expanded. WHY also provides a clue as to how prepared the lost persons might be.

WHEN: You anticipate getting back at what time?  When should the person with the note contact rescuers?An additional insurance aspect is to take a piece of aluminum foil, step on it with the shoe you will be wearing to leave a footprint. Include the foil with the note. Searchers can then eliminate obviously bigger or smaller footprints with different tread patterns on the trail.Put the note, map and footprint in a gallon ziplock bag. Write the name of the missing person or party on the bag with a felt-tip pen, and hand the package over to rescuers.

Survival common sense is a combination of many small, inter-related skills and techniques. An informative note before leaving on your trek is a good place to start.

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1 Comment

  1. Pete M

    01/17/2014 at 09:11

    Great stuff! Another item under the what paragraph is how you mark your trail. Some areas require trail marking to help one find their way back. Blazing a tree, leaving caroms or trail marking tape are common and easy ways to mark a trail. They can also help a search party to find you quickly should you need rescue.

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Staying Found

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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