Stay alive, that’s what it’s all about.
Survival is the ultimate fight to preserve life, to keep breathing, and defeat the odds. Out of this acute need to get home, to get out, comes an incredible ability to adapt and persevere. Our nature demands it.
Would you saw your arm off to escape? Would you drink your own urine and chop up rotting carcasses to fend off starvation? Would you kill to stay alive?
Each of the survivors listed below answered the tough questions and faced the consequences. Wild places cut you no slack, and these are examples of just how harsh things can get.
To what extreme would you go to free yourself from certain death? On April 26, 2003, while hiking the Little Blue John Canyon in Wayne County, Utah, Aron Ralston fell into a canyon, and a dislodged boulder crushed his hand and forearm against the canyon wall. What’s worse, Ralston told no one of his plans, nor did he bring along a cell phone. He spent the next five days sipping small amounts of water, but with death nearing closer and closer, he finally took extreme measures, breaking the radius and ulna in his trapped arm before amputating it with a dull pocket knife. He then hiked for six hours before stumbling on a family hiking, who then called paramedics. Though he lost his arm, Ralston still has the same taste for adventure, and is still an avid climber and hiker. His story was later adapted into the movie 127 Hours in 2010.
Eric Le Marque
When guides are telling you to get off the mountain, there’s probably a very good reason for that, and if you choose to ignore it, well, best of luck. In March 2003, Olympic hockey player Eric LeMarque was snowboarding in the Sierra Nevadas when an approaching storm forced the ski patrol to usher people off the mountain. LeMarque, at the time addicted to crystal meth, ignored the warnings, and decided to go on one last run, heading down the slope into the fog, where he lost all sense of direction and veered off-course. After eight days of taking shelter in snow caves from the harsh elements outside, LeMarque was finally found alive, and though he would lose both of his feet due to frostbite, he remained sober from then on.
Homer Simpson once called alcohol, “The cause of – and solution to – all of life’s problems.” In Clifton Vial’s case, it’s definitely the latter. While driving his Toyota Tacoma 40 miles outside Nome, Alaska, Vial became stranded after his truck plunged into a drift. Because his clothes were too light to dig the truck out without succumbing to the cold, Vial elected to stay in the truck, wrapping himself in a fleece sleeping bag and sticking rags and tissue paper down his clothes to keep warm. As for food, Vial was able to find three frozen cans of Coors Light – bon appetit. He was later found by his coworkers when he failed to show up for work. Vial had spent 60 hours in his truck and had dropped 16 pounds – though we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that as a weight-loss plan.
Justin and Jeremy Harris
We all know the adage of Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Such was the case for brothers Justin and Jeremy Harris, who set out on a hiking trip through Chute Canyon, Utah, on November 22, 2003. While rappelling down the canyon wall, Justin, 31, lost his footing and fell, shattering the bone in his leg just below the knee. Knowing the break could be life-threatening, Jeremy, 27, decided to hoof it back to their camp. After elevating Justin’s leg and leaving him with some warm clothes, a few protein bars, half a sandwich and some chips, began hiking back to the car at about 5:30 p.m. However, he missed an exit route on the way back and was lost in the wilderness, with temperatures falling to 15 degrees, suffering hypothermia and shock. He finally made it back to camp at 2:30 p.m. the next day – a five-hour hike was stretched to 22 hours. Rescuers finally made contact with Justin at 1 a.m. – and reached him three hours later. A helicopter could not land because of the rugged terrain, so a hoist rescue was performed. Both brothers lived, but Justin’s injury was severe enough to warrant an amputation.
We’re all familiar with the old creepy hitchhiker story. Ricky Megee lived it. While driving down the Buntine Highway headed for Port Hedland in Western Australia in 2006, Megee came across a group of Aboriginal men standing next to a broken down car. While giving one of them a lift to the nearest gas station, Megee was drugged and left for dead in the middle of the Outback. Ricky walked barefoot through the harsh environment for 10 days before stumbling on a dam, where he set up camp, and survived the blistering heat for 71 days living off a diet of leeches, frogs, lizards and insects. He was finally found after over three months near a cattle farm. The hitchhiker, and Megee’s car, were never found.
Tami Oldham Ashcraft
When you picture being lost in the wilderness, you typically think of perilous treks across mountains, jungles or deserts – the ocean doesn’t immediately come to mind. Nevertheless, surviving an intense storm in the middle of the ocean is about as perilous as they come. In 1983, Tami Oldham Ashcraft, then 23, and her fiancé, Richard Sharp, were hired to deliver a yacht from Tahiti to San Diego, a 31-day cruise. However, 20 days into the trip, the ship caught up in Hurricane Raymond, a Category 4 storm, which capsized the ship and swept Richard overboard. After the ship righted itself, Tami assessed the situation: the electronics were fried, the motor destroyed, and the mast was snapped in half, taking the sails with it. With a limited amount of food and water, Tami was able to plot a course to Hawaii – a 1,500-mile, 41-day journey. The ordeal was later retold in her book, “Red Sky in Mourning.”
The Conne Family
Who knew mushroom hunting could turn dangerous? The Conne family found out the hard way in February. Belinda and Daniel Conne, along with their 25-year-old son, Michael, and pit bull, Jesse, were stranded in the woods several miles outside Gold Beach, Ore., for six days without food, water or warm clothing, surviving by drinking water from a stream and taking shelter in a hollowed out tree. The trio had set out the previous Sunday, Jan. 29, but could not find the way back to their Jeep at dusk. Search parties were dispatched Tuesday covering a 4-square-mile area. The family was finally able to flash a signal using the glare off a cell phone screen and a knife blade to a helicopter. When the Connes were found, they were only about 200 yards from the nearest group of searchers.
Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg was no stranger to the wild, and in 1981, set out in the Bolivian Amazon with three other backpackers, all entranced at the prospect of discovering a lost tribe deep in the jungle. However, the group of four split up – while Ghinsberg and his partner, Kevin, continued down the river on their own raft, the other two continued on foot. Soon, they lost control of the raft as it tumbled over a waterfall; Kevin somehow made it to shore, but Ghinsberg wasn’t so lucky. After hurtling down the falls, he made his way into the jungle, where he survived encounters with jaguars and venomous snakes, living off fruit and raw eggs. Eventually, Kevin made his way to safety, and went back into the jungle looking for Ghinsberg, who was found after surviving 19 days in the wilderness. The others were never seen again.