The recent rescue of a family in the Nevada desert has captured the attention of wilderness enthusiasts and the general public. My husband and I routinely travel solo in the Nevada desert so when, last Tuesday, a blip on my home page announced a search for a family believed to have been stranded for two nights in the Kamma Mountains, I immediately clicked on it. And learned with heartfelt dismay that four young children were among the missing–and that nighttime temperatures were reaching to 20 below zero. I remembered the first time my husband and I drove through the Seven Troughs region of the Kamma Mountains, awed at the snow-covered vistas extending for miles in every direction and wondering what would happen if we broke down. The sun shone bleakly through the Land Rover’s windshield and the heater droned non-stop. My husband always needs fresh air and the draft that blew through his cracked window stuck like a knife in the top of my thigh, despite my layered pants.
I picked up the phone and called him. He immediately agreed that we should go and join the search. Although it is six hours from our California home to the Lovelock departing point to Seven Troughs desert wilderness, the drive seemed a minor inconvenience. In my mind I began to assemble the particular gear that we would need for such a trip.
In the interim I placed a call to the Lovelock Sheriff’s department and expressed our interest in joining the search. After a few questions, presumably to discern whether we were equipped, the dispatcher gave me the telephone number for the command post at Lovelock Community Center. On that call I was told that they had as many searchers as they could coordinate at the time but that, if the search continued, I should check in again.
A few hours later, I discovered a news tidbit posted “one minute ago” that the family had been found. Their Jeep had rolled down a gentle bank after hitting a patch of ice. As details of the rescue emerged, it became apparent that everyone was safe, that no one had suffered even as much as a bit of frostbite. Considering that the youngest was three and that two of the children were as young as four, this news was completely amazing (and brought me joyfully to my knees.) Doctors who later examined the family at the hospital where they were taken to be checked out, reportedly described their condition as “miraculous.”
Besides God’s grace and mercy, the contributing factors to the family’s survival were strict adherence to wilderness survival rules. Fortunately the head of family had considerable survival experience and followed these fundamental rules of wilderness survival:
1. Be prepared: James Glanton has said that he routinely carries in his Jeep: matches, lighters, magnesium fire starter and water. After the accident he immediately built a fire for his family and at night he used stones heated in the fire to keep the children warm in the overturned Jeep. In the extreme winter conditions faced by this family, fire and water were the two resources imperative for survival. The shelter of the overturned Jeep was also critical.
2. Stay calm: By all accounts, the two adults, James Glanton and his girlfriend, Christina McIntee, kept their own fear in check and did a remarkable service to the four children by keeping them calm during their ordeal. The searcher who located the family on Tuesday after noticing a child’s footprint in the snow and then observing tire tracks, reportedly viewed them at a distance through his binoculars and noted all six standing around the fire as if camping.
3. Stay with your vehicle: The two adults discussed whether one of them should go in search of help and they opted to stay together. The “Stay with your vehicle” rule is based on the theory that a vehicle, due to its large inorganic mass, is easier to spot than a person wandering in the wilderness. James Glanton reported in an interview yesterday that twice during their ordeal aircraft passed within easy sight of them yet did not spot them, in spite of the fact that he used the greenery he had placed near the fire to signal for help with black smoke. This detail is a heads up to those of us who travel in the wilderness, to reevaluate our supplies and methods for the effective signaling. My husband and I carry a large international orange nylon tent fly that we bought at a flea market specifically for emergency signaling of our location. We’ve always thought that it would be impossible to miss, but after hearing this family’s story I will now continue to keep an eye out for other useful items and we will also add flares to our supplies for just such an occasion.
For those of us who travel in the wilderness, we need to take this opportunity to reevaluate our preparations, knowing that rescue is never a given and that missing it by mere seconds could quickly become a matter of life and death.
All winter roadway travelers should pack extra water, food and warmth that could help considerably in the event of a breakdown which could become life-threatening.
Wherever we are, no matter our trials, we can all take heart from the strength and courage demonstrated by this family who survived two nights in sub zero temperatures in Nevada’s Kamma Mountains wilderness.