Chris McCann's Personal Blog

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6 Lessons from my Survival Trip

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I am back from my 4 day backpacking trip to Yosemite which is a follow up to these two posts here and here. The trip was not particularly fun at all, in fact it was the 4 hardest days of my entire life.

We left on Monday at 4:00am and after a couple food stops, equipment stops, backpacking permits, and a quick scenic drive at the base of Yosemite we finally left for the first hike at 6:00pm down in Badger Pass. The day before we arrived to Yosemite it snowed 30 inches of fresh powder and there was at least 8 feet of snow in the area we were in. The plan was to pack everything we needed for the 4 days we would be out surviving in the wilderness, do a quick hike up to Dewey Point, and set up shelter for that night. Here is a map of Badger Pass.

I really had no idea what I was getting myself into until we started hiking the first trail (remind you that this was my first time backpacking, never being in this climate condition before). The first section of the trail was uphill but groomed and after getting out of breath at this point in the hike I realized I should have prepared a lot more for this trip. The second part of the hike was all un-groomed trail and when we arrived bout a half a mile from the point a very large cloud appeared over the horizon and was moving quickly towards us. When the cloud began to get closer we realized a whiteout was approaching us and we had to get back and make shelter as quick as possible.

Running back to the trail we make it to Summit Meadow and at this point we need to set up camp ASAP. We get the shovel out and start digging down into the snow but because of time constraints we can dig a little less than a foot deep right next to 3 huge redwoods. We quickly make dinner with this small stove we brought (no warmth, no fire) and get to bed as quickly as possible. My feet were soaked in ice water, my beard had frozen water molecules in it, and even worse I realized that I forgot to bring my sleeping bag. Luckily my friend Lindsey saved my life by letting me use her sleeping bag, while she doubled up in another sleeping bag, and it was off to bed for me. My tent I brought didn’t come with a tarp to lay below so I was literally sleeping on the ice sheet below me and I didn’t bring a pillow so I used my half dry fleece pants as a pillow (not a smart idea). And this was only night one.

View from shelter day 1

View from shelter day 1

That night was the most uncomfortable, coldest, wettest, and horrible night of my life. I was praying I didn’t get frostbite or hypothermia since I was literally shaking in coldness that entire night. I awoke to the sound of rainfall hitting my tent and water dripping in my breathing hole into my already cold face. With the sun fully out in the morning the snow on the redwood trees above us was melting fast and dripping down on our campsite. I opened my frost encrusted tent to the redwood rainfall and started to pack up again. It was another survival situation we had to pack up fast or have all of our gear drenched in even more water than it already was.

I could go on for another three pages about the details of my trip but suffice it to say the next 3 days were a bit easier than the 1st night but overall the whole difficult trip was about survival and testing my personal limits. The trip was a huge learning experience for me, especially since it was my first backpacking trip in such harsh conditions, and here are 6 main lessons I took away from this experience:

  1. The ingenuity of humans is absolutely astounding. It’s almost baffling to believe that humans have created this metal devise that sticks out of the wall and when you turn it fresh hot/cold water comes out. We literally had to boil most of our water from frozen snow, because the rivers were frozen, which took an excruciating amount of time from our day (about 30% of our day).
  2. The power of small goals (I learned about this from Ben Saunders) When hiking the long uphill distances with a completely sun burnt face and eyes (I forgot to bring sunglasses, another smart move I know) it’s easy to get discouraged and want to give up. There were many instances during the trip where I wanted to give up and just go home but the power of small goals kept me alive. I would look out onto the trail and try to make it to the next tree or next shadow and when I did I would take a 1 second break. I repeated this mental exercise continually until we reached our end destination and this mental exercise was a big reason I stayed alive.
  3. A major new appreciation for technology, which is related to lesion #1. Common technologies today (houses, grocery stores, waste systems, water systems, etc) that we take for granted literally free us from the everyday basic survival needs of shelter, food, and water. It’s only because of these technologies that allow us as a human race to focus other non-survival activities such as art, music, philosophy, reading, computers, and most educational topics.
  4. Don’t sweat the small things. It’s very easy to get stuck in the everyday routine of work/school-entertainment-sleep-work/school-entertainment-sleep… and become nit-picky at the small things that annoy you. If you’re in this position I highly suggest you take a survival trip or do something that is far outside of your comfort zone. I guarantee that you will come back a changed person with a much bigger appreciation for what you have in life and the position you are in.
  5. Survival skills are a very important but under promoted set of skills you should learn and develop. My main skills are advising startup companies, fundraising, business development, and social media all of which are completely useless in a life or death situation in the wilderness. After this trip I realize how ignorant I truly am when it comes to surviving and how much more I need to develop my own personal skills in this area.
  6. Ignorance is bliss. If I knew what I was getting myself into before leaving for the Yosemite trip I would have never went. Sometimes not knowing what the experience will be like and to quote Larry Gorman, “Just jumping into the deep end of the pool” is the best strategy for getting things done.

If you made it this far enjoy my pictures from the trip! (click any of the pictures for a direct link to the whole photo album)

View from scenic drive

View from the scenic drive

View from shelter day 2

View from shelter day 2

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Written by Chris McCann

March 27, 2009 at 11:23 pm

4 Responses

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  1. [...] Originally posted here: 6 Lessons from my Survival Trip [...]

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    March 28, 2009 at 12:06 am

  2. [...] See the rest here: 6 Lessons from my Survival Trip [...]

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    March 28, 2009 at 12:06 am

  3. By far the most concise and up to date information I found on this topic. Sure glad that I navigated to your page by accident. I’ll be subscribing to your feed so that I can get the latest updates. Appreciate all the information here

    Emma Wagganer

    March 11, 2010 at 6:01 am

  4. [...] “Running the Sahara” to help put things in perspective. Also here are some personal tips that have helped me through the hard times: [...]


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