Wilderness Survival Story My Son Lived to Tell It!

There is nothing like a true wilderness survival story to wake us up to what is REALLY important in our lives!

This is a true story about survival on the mountains, in the dead of winter that happened on Thanksgiving week-end of ’09.


I will try to add some helpful tips that they AND WE learned through all this about survival in the wilderness! And because it happened to be my son, I declare I have a few more gray hairs because of it!

I also need to mention that both boys are very knowledgable of the outdoors, which is why we did not send out search and rescue that night.. had we known everything, we probably WOULD have sent them!

There are a number of really nice mountain ridges around here that are really good for hunting so the two boys – both age 20 – mapped out a ridge and decided to hike up one side… hunt the ridge and then hike back down to their waiting vehicle. They had hunted a ridge nearby the year before so they thought they had it pretty much figured out… but what they didn’t take into consideration was the amount of snowfall that had fallen at the higher elevation.One of them wore blue jeans and several top layers. The other guy was wearing woolen pants.




TIP #1… Wear Proper Clothing!

Proper as in… woolen clothing… NOT cotton… and proper water-proof footwear.
Between the pair of them, they had a book of matches, two lighters, a GPS, two Motorola radios, and two cell phones.


They were at 4,000 feet in elevation according to their GPS when the hunters began to really hit the snow.


By noon, they were slugging up through two feet of snow, taking turns breaking trail.


They both thought that if they could reach the top of the ridge, it wouldn’t be too far to hike along it and back down to their shuttle car.

We didn’t realize how long we had been walking,” my son said later.

At that point, they were up 7,000 feet, he said.

His friend’s legs began cramping up as they neared the top of the ridge.

The snow reached past their thighs,by this time.

TIP #2… Be Aware of When to Push On and When to Stop!

It was around this time, my son said later, that he did not know if they would HAVE a wilderness survival story to tell!


It was 3:30 p.m. when the hunters crested the top of the ridge.

With an hour and a half left of daylight, completing the trek didn’t seem too promising. Nor did the hike back. And the pair were nearing exhaustion. My son’s jeans were soaking wet and freezing.

It as at this point when they were close to the top of the ridge that they had a lone bar on their cell phone so they sent out a simple text to my husband.

“Stuck in snow, Gibraltar Ridge. Might make it out.Might hol up.”

With one bar registering on his cell phone, they weren’t sure the message went through.

Thankfully my son recognized the signs of hyperthermia, and when their legs and feet started losing feeling, he knew that if they didn’t find shelter soon, they would not make it off the mountain alive.

survival-storyThey stumbled into a thicket of small dead fir trees and my son remembered something he had read years earlier on how to build a survival fire.

Tired almost to the point of not caring anymore,The pair managed to knock over six of the small dead fir, arranging them in a star pattern, tops together.

My son’s matches were soaked. But in his wallet were a bunch of dry receipts.

And his friend had his lighters.



TIP #3… MAKE SURE You have a Means to Start a Fire – THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!

Between the two men, they managed to make a fire beneath the sheltering branches of the alpine fir. In the waning light, they gathered boughs to place at their backs and reflect the heat, and more boughs to sit on.

The two huddled together as the night wore on, gradually feeding the dead fir trees into the fire as the ends burned down.

They stood close, their frontsides burning, backsides freezing… and talking about wilderness survival stories!

They took turns dozing off.

At one point, they both fell asleep, and they woke to find their fire nearly out.

That scared them enough to keep them awake.

From time to time, the two would try to hail someone on their radios.

The radios have a potential range of about 18 miles, but They received no response.

And just before dawn, Bontrager fired three shots with his rifle.

No one heard.

But dawn came.

And the exhausted hunters – who now were dry – decided to make a final push for the road.

Long story short on this wilderness survival story…. we made contact with them the next morning by radio as my husband had gone up to the base of the mountain, hoping to make contact with them.

Within a few hours the fatigued boys reached the hot food and fire awaiting them at the bottom, and what COULD have been a disaster turned into a really great wilderness survival story!

My husband and I are getting each of our boys winter survival packs for Christmas this year. 🙂


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