Wednesday, 10 October 2012

On the Wild Side for 9 September 2012 by Deborah Greaves:    coping with scree

In my opinion, there’s good reason for the two e’s at the end of the word ‘scree.’
That pair of e’s is an abbreviation of the word ‘ eeeee-e-e-e-e!’ -  generally uttered by a person who is either thrilled or terrified. Scree, as a feature of a hillside, can induce both emotions in human beings who encounter it.    
I can’t recall the first time I heard the word, ( ‘ a steep slope of loose, fragmented rock lying below a cliff or bluff’’ according to the Gage Canadian Dictionary)  but I well remember the first time an encounter with ‘scree’ caught me off guard.  It’s embarrassing to confess that I stumbled onto a steep scree slope in my early days as a West Kelowna resident, and immediately got stuck.
Of course a person who finds herself immobilized on a scree slope is rarely physically stuck.

The truth is, it’s very easy to keep moving on scree, but that movement may not be the kind of locomotion the human has in mind. The hillside is playing a joke on a hapless biped, a creature not well suited to terrain that even Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats have the good sense to avoid. The biped instinctively strives to remain upright in almost all outdoor hiking situations, but the scree slope presents the distinct possibility of descending helplessly on one’s derriere or worse.
How do you know you’re close to scree? For the uninitiated, you’ll notice the slope is covered in a million pieces of fist-sized rock, pieces of rock that are dry and naked. Unanchored by trees, shrubs or grasses, these are pieces of rock that look as though a giant dump truck in the sky unloaded them onto the hillside just moments ago.

They move so easily that there’s been no time for the weather to cover them with sand or soil to seal them together and settle them in to the slope. They have landed in an area bereft of solid shelves or old lava folds that would have created steps, small ridges or other civilized features to help the bipeds along. 
My first encounter with Okanagan scree was on the fabled slopes of Mount Boucherie.  I was trotting happily along, intoxicated by the gorgeous view, and then I was in it. Fortunately,  I didn’t have a cell phone with me to call anyone for assistance or advice, which would have proven how helpless I can be while on a foolish impromptu hike no one else knew about.

My show-off athletic dog couldn’t figure out why I didn’t follow her across the scree in a single graceful sprint. Nimbly perched on a sturdy boulder on the far side of the scree, Kiyah gazed at me and waited. Each time I moved a foot, a cascade of rocks careened noisily down the slope and I had to fight for my balance.  Gads, I thought. What if someone sees me? I was both scared and embarrassed.
To be honest, the years since have kindly erased my memory of exactly how I got off that slope. I suspect I sat down and skidded down feet first until I bumped onto some bunchgrass. This was one of my first introductions to the Okanagan’s wonderful native Bluebunch Wheatgrass.

Bunchgrass is beautiful, deep-rooted enough to allow for astonishingly effective regeneration after fire, and very kind to sliding bipeds. I have a dream-like recollection of grasping gratefully onto a large tuft, returning to an upright position, and making the delightful discovery that bunchgrass will allow your carefully-placed feet to use its sturdy clusters for footholds.
I don’t recall who told me or where I first read about tricks for crossing scree slopes, but a few years later I tried some on Carrot Mountain, and they worked. First, stand on solid ground, examine the degree of slope and look for any sturdy shelves or trees or other objects to safely grasp or rest on. Once you’ve decided you can cope with the steepness – and considered aborting the crossing if it’s too perilous- plan your route before you set foot onto the scree, and prepare to run straight across- if possible, on an animal trail.

I confess to cheating a bit-  that day I sent that show-off  dog of mine across the scree first. She dashed across on a barely visible deer track, dislodging hardly any rock at all. I took a deep breath and raced lightly ( as lightly as a somewhat round middle-aged woman can) across the scree, using exactly the same route.  I found myself proudly upright on the other side. Amazed but feeling my luck should not be pushed, I carefully selected an alternate route down. This wasn’t a good idea, but I made it.
‘If you are going to hike up a steep slope,’ states Rocky Mountain explorer and author J. Leslie Johnson, ‘make sure you are comfortable coming back down the same way.’  Sometimes when you’ve climbed over a difficult set of obstacles to get to your destination high on the hill, it turns out there is no alternative route down. As experienced hikers know and foolish novices quickly learn, it’s amazing how much harder it can be to retrace your moves as you descend the same route you went up.

I’ve learned the hard way that Johnson is right. If it’s still in print, there’s plenty of good advice in her Year 2000 book, Basic Mountain Safety from A-Z, by Altitude Publishing. 
Assorted reminders I’ve been provided with lately:

If you’re driving an SUV or riding a horse up a steep hill, drive or ride straight up rather than traverse or cross the slope. Both vehicle and horse could roll down if they stall or fall. If crossing a steep slope while wearing hiking boots or snowshoes, lean into the hill and cut your steps into the slope, pressing down into the trail or snow to secure your hold with each step. Use hiking poles. Traverse rocky slopes when with a group so you don’t roll rocks onto each other.
It’s been a while since I’ve scared myself silly outside. Lately my husband, the dogs and I have stayed at low elevations on gentle terrain. The ridges and hills are calling me again though. Armed with a map and a little caution and accompanied by good friends, I plan to be back up there soon.






Wednesday, 11 April 2012

a dog tale

On the Wild Side by Deborah Greaves  :   The Dark Gold Dog

Many years ago, when our daughters were in the middle of their school years, I found myself wanting and needing more exercise, and realizing that the most convenient time to walk in our neighbourhood was in the evening. We lived in Nanaimo, life was hectic, and we hadn’t had a dog for many years. I approached the local SPCA with an adoption request, and wrote up my wish list for a canine walking companion. 

Since we’d just taken the milestone step of bravely re-carpeting our entire home with carpet of a pale colour, the colour of the dog’s coat was a consideration, as we don’t keep our dogs outside away from the family. I loved shepherd-type dogs, but our purebred long-haired German Shepherd had suffered horrible back problems, so I asked for a dog that would have a shorter spine. I wanted a low-maintenance coat, a pleasant disposition, yet a formidable appearance. It was a detailed list, and the shelter staff likely had a good laugh over it.  

The first dog they called us to see was completely off the description, as was the second.
The third time they called us, though, the SPCA message was urgent.

“ Call back immediately, please. We need you to make an appointment to see this dog within the next 24 hours.”

I was crabby the day I returned the message. I had a column due, the kids had to go in different directions, and it was hot outside. We were set for another mismatch. Nevertheless, two of my daughters agreed to come to the shelter with me, and there she was. A lithe, dark-gold, black-masked, sort-of-shepherd with partially pricked collie ears.
She raised her ears further when she saw us. She had soft, anxious brown eyes.

The reason the SPCA staff were tense was that they’d shipped this animal all the way from the other end of Vancouver Island because they thought she’d fit my request, and someone else had immediately fallen in love with her. Unbeknownst to me, adoption papers had already been started on this dog, and that person was in an agony of suspense, waiting for my decision.

Several hours later, the dog was home with us, anxiously trying to den under the dining room table on an old blue bedspread. Our family in those days was loud and fractious; the three girls were at various stages and so were their parents. My husband looked into the dog’s dark and worried eyes, and declared her too melancholy for his tastes. In the house, the dog we named Kiyah was submissive and quiet, but our youngest daughter soon developed a relationship with her. My husband softened when the dog curled beside him one afternoon for a shared summer nap.

Since we adopted the dog in summer when the girls were out of school, it was a number of days, maybe weeks, before I had a chance to walk with Kiyah in the forest. Away on a hillside, above the town, I took a breath one day and let her off the leash to run free. 
It was then I discovered who Kiyah really was. I saw her wild side.

This lithe, graceful creature had clearly packed plenty of experience into the first year and four months of the life she’d led in the Alberni valley. She had some shocking skills that could have only been acquired while being on the run: she could flip the lid of a garbage can with a deft flick of her muzzle, she could spot a hole under a fence in a flash and she could jump like a deer.

Over the first year, Kiyah astonished us again and again. In the house, she was almost pathetically submissive to our houseful of ‘alphas.’  Out on the trail, she was an amazing athlete who seemed absolutely fearless. She was a hunter who sobbed with passion while on the heels of a nimble Island rabbit or a deer bursting out of the brush. She was a creature of the forest who leapt over tree trunks and plunged down bluffs for the pure joy of doing it, a dog with a powerful nose who often slammed into a scent like we’d hit a wall and a gladiator who fearlessly took on other dogs when she perceived them as competitors. Outside, Kiyah was a powerhouse. We were often in awe as she flashed through the forest like a golden bullet, running in large circles around us.

It was a bit of work managing a dog with a host of wild tendencies, but Kiyah had enough shepherd soul to want to please us, and we’d earned her respect. Over the years she learned to adapt to a wide variety of situations and activities, and often impressed strangers with her obedience and finesse. Much of the show depended on our astuteness; we’d learned which dogs to steer Kiyah away from, when to keep her on the leash, when not to enter a dog park and when to keep the back of our station wagon closed.

Stop, look and contain was the rule for our lightning-fast dog. We used the leash, a slip-collar and our wits to ensure she didn’t get into trouble. Our reward was a wonderfully healthy, strong and loving dog who often took my breath away when we were out on the trail. It was a privilege to share the world outside with this golden creature who clearly experienced natural land on a multi-sensual level, who adored snow, who loved us deeply.

Kiyah had her cultivated side. She often visited downtown Vancouver, rode elevators, traveled with and without a crate in a variety of vehicles, and met the requirements to become a therapy dog with access to hospitals and nursing homes. She rode in power boats and our canoe. She swam and though it wasn’t on her priority list, retrieved when asked to from both land and water. She could be taught to do almost anything, from riding a chairlift to climbing trees.

Though she wasn’t ‘to type’, we learned from a breeder that Kiyah was all or mostly
of a breed that’s not well known in Canada, a Belgian Malinois. These dogs are highly athletic, often intense, and originally patrolled Belgian mountainsides protecting farms and domestic animals from predators. Some aren’t suitable as pets and they’re often trained as canine anti-terrorism weapons. We were lucky enough to accidentally adopt one of the soft ones, the kind that police and military trainers would have rejected.

Kiyah shared thirteen of her fourteen years with us, and I am not embarrassed to tell you my husband and I had this dog privately cremated. We sprinkled her ashes in four of her favourite places, near trails I continue to walk with our new dog beside me.

Kiyah’s feral jubilance was a delight, and inspired me to spend more time out in the wild places.  My life, and the work I do, was altered by this slim golden dog I must have been destined to meet, and I feel richer for it.


Friday, 12 August 2011

the Golden hunters of the West- and you

for August 2011 by Deborah Greaves : The Golden Hunters

Around the time our family moved to the Okanagan Valley in 1996, a powerful, quick-witted and incredibly brave woman, Cindy Parolin, died in the mountains in the jaws of one of North America’s most fabulous wild creatures.

The woman who died so courageously was not the predator’s intended victim. The creature had chosen Cindy’s youngest son, mounted on the smallest horse. When her child was dragged to the ground, Parolin beat off the attacker, shouting to her older children to rush the wounded child to safety and summon help.

Now the mother’s own body was in the grip of the assailant’s jaws. Parolin managed to fight for her life for an hour, but ultimately lost her battle. The heroic Cindy Parolin, in her mid-thirties,  was killed near Tulameen, BC by a cougar. 

Cindy Parolin is a member of a fairly large club. Almost every year, several people in Western Canada or the Western US are attacked by huge golden cats. There have been many maulings and deaths of humans and their pets. The exquisite cougar, usually silent and unseen by human eyes, is often a lethal hunter.

I’m not writing these lines to deter you from enjoying the “super natural” lands that surround the Okanagan Valley. Time spent in natural land is good for the human soul. However,  I’m telling you about Cindy Parolin to remind all wilderness visitors to be respectful - and wary-
of the wild inhabitants there.

Certain incidents are unavoidable, but most animal attacks, including those by bears and cougars, can be prevented by remembering a very simple rule:  ‘There is safety in numbers.’

In the wake of another set of attacks on human beings by several large predators this summer, I’d like to share some information with you that could keep you safer. The most important concept to utilize to protect yourself and your loved ones while exploring the wilderness, especially those small in physical size, is the safety in numbers strategy.

I was disappointed recently when a biologist interviewed by CBC Radio in the wake of a cougar attack in Alberta referred to the big cats as being ‘very sneaky’ but made no mention of several potentially lifesaving facts.

It so happens a cougar can sometimes be repelled by humans it is stalking, even if the cat indicates it plans to attack. Cougars can be driven off by people who make themselves appear to be as large - and apparently troublesome to eat-  as possible. Children and small adults should always remain close to the rest of the hiking party, as cougars are attracted to lone, deer-sized targets.

In my opinion a group of people walking in known cougar country should stay close together no matter what size they are. A single hour of internet research on ‘cougar attacks’ has more than convinced me that this policy is a sensible one.

When snowshoeing in the winter, particularly at night, my friends and I decided to ensure there were always four adults and at least one dog. The dog is to be on the leash, as parks authorities state that running dogs sometimes attract large predators to the humans they’re accompanying. Everyone should stay close together, even in the daytime.

These rules may sound a little over the top to you, but perhaps you haven’t removed entire forelegs of deer on several occasions from the mouths of leashed dogs. Various animal parts are strewn all through the forest. It wasn’t my friends, dogs or I who ended the lives of the deer and moose whose parts lay at the side of our favourite trail, nor did we tear the front legs off their torsos.

To help keep you safe while you enjoy the Okanagan Valley’s beautiful wild places, we’re publishing some professional advice at the end of this column. I’d add the suggestion that your party goes into the wilderness equipped with a few weapons – some metal hiking poles, a hunting knife, even just a solid stick. Stay together and talk or sing to let wild animals know you’re passing through.

My last recommendation is that you cherish the fact that where we live, the world of the wild is so lovely, so fascinating and so close. Later I will post a fabulous photo by Summerland's Ole Westby. Please read the list below, and continue to experience Happy Trails.

Cougar advice from BC and Alberta conservation officers:
"While cougar attacks are rare, the public can limit human-cougar encounters by taking these actions:
Stay calm and keep the cougar in view. Pick up children immediately. Back away slowly, ensuring that the animal has a clear avenue of escape. Make yourself look as large as possible. Keep the cougar in front of you at all times.
Never run or turn your back on a cougar. Sudden movement may provoke an attack.
If a cougar shows interest or follows you, respond aggressively. Maintain eye contact, show your teeth and make loud noises. Arm yourself with rocks or sticks as weapons. When picking up objects, crouch down as little as possible.
If a cougar attacks, fight back. Convince the cougar you are a threat and not prey. Use anything you can as a weapon. Focus your attack on the cougar’s face and eyes."

not-quite hidden treasure

Being Out There July 2011 :  Tic Tacs in the forest

It was a few years ago now when something tiny in the forest startled my friends and I. We were walking along a wide path in the lower northern section of of regional park when we spotted something we never dreamed we’d find in such a location.

This was not a remote, sheltered path, one of those half-hidden trails you may find and lose again. This path is one of the main accesses to the creek at the bottom of the canyon. Though it winds downhill into mature forest, this path boasts enough width for two to three people walking shoulder to shoulder, with a thick layer of packed gravel on its surface. There’s nothing subtle about this path, and yet, during the summer of 2008, a construction worker weighing about an ounce decided to build a home there, dangerously close to traffic.

This tiny builder was small in physical stature but determined and fastidious.  The home was about four inches high, shaped like a perfect heart, and decorated exquisitely with several materials of different textures. We found this petite home suspended from a small twig that leaned part way across the path, reaching out from a bushy, broadleaved shrub that stood at the pathway’s edge. We gasped at the brazenness- or outright recklessness- of the minute developer.

As we examined the tiny home, its owner zoomed over our heads, her body moving with astonishing speed, clearly checking to see who or what was threatening the site. It was a hummingbird. She moved too fast for us to note a description for later consultation with a bird book. Worried we would upset her and concerned that she’d built her nest in a disastrous location, we nevertheless moved on.

Later, we returned, expecting the nest to be destroyed by a human brushing it off its fragile twig support as he or she passed by, likely oblivious to the little house so precariously suspended over the path. The nest could be spotted from one side of the shrub but not the other- perhaps its only disguise. Lo and behold, the tiny home had survived since our previous visit, and we heaved a sigh of relief. The builder wasn’t home when we arrived, but she appeared within a couple of minutes. Now we were emotionally involved. 

My friends and I abandoned our regular walks and returned to check on the tiny homebuilder. Now, we were enchanted to find two pure white eggs, the size of Tic Tac mints, within the lovely little nest. We gingerly lifted a nearby branch to photograph the nest. We were even more worried about its location, wondering if the tiny mama would have a chance to raise her little ones. When it was time to go home it was hard to tear ourselves away.

Next time we arrived at the hummingbird’s nest, mama was out again, and we carefully peered inside the nest. The white Tic Tacs were gone, and at first it looked empty. We looked more closely, trying not to touch or breathe, and there in the lined, symmetrical interior of the nest were two clumps of wet and impossibly small feathers. Each clump was about an inch long, and feebly moving. We strained our eyes and saw minute, pointed beaks. If I recall correctly, we had no camera that time, but the sight of the tiny hummingbird babies, hidden away and swinging in their precariously located nest, was engraved in our brains.  

It’s funny. I and one of my favourite hiking companions are both terribly nearsighted and have to wear thick glasses, yet we somehow spotted some clue, some subtle change in the foliage next to the path, that alerted us to the presence of something special.

Perhaps long-ago hunting and gathering skills percolate now and then to the surface of our consciousness, leading some of us to possible sources of food and medicine that our culture has long forgotten. Now, we’re only vaguely aware of a weak, unrecognizable voice from the distant past, a voice we can rarely hear and no longer understand.

 Yet, I am blessed to have several precious friends who are in the same state as I am while moving through fields and forest or exploring beaches or snowy landscapes. When we’re outside, we hear the leaves rustling against one another, note the squeak of branches rubbing against trunks of trees. We see birds flitting through the light and shadows, spot berries, flowers, droppings and animal tracks and sometimes see the creatures themselves. We are alert and curious, each of us feeling lucky to be out on the trails.

In unspoiled natural territory, I feel the presence of miracles all around me. I’ll never look at a package of Tic Tacs the same way again.


Friday, 24 June 2011

weather wonders

by  Deborah Greaves; May 2011

Newbie Musings on Calgary: learning new weather

My husband and I have lived in excellent places. Vancouver’s my home town and I’m still fond of it. When we married, we moved to Vancouver Island, where our children were born and raised. Before we moved to Calgary, my husband, daughters and I lived in BC’s Okanagan Valley.

The Okanagan Valley got us acquainted with weather extremes. The day we moved in to our new home there it hailed, darkened, brightened, got hot, got cold and got windy- all within three hours. This was our weather ‘sampler’, the indication of what was to come. The first winter, the snow started during the third week of November and stuck around until March. It was the heaviest snow siege there in twenty-two years.

The following summer, our community suffered a windstorm that toppled century-old pines and cottonwood trees, leaving Kelowna’s downtown jewel, City Park, looking like a war zone. Later, in 2003, we lived through one of the Okanagan Valley’s most horrendous heat waves, which broke records for high temperatures all through the summer. Grass crunched underfoot like cookie crumbs, and a single bolt of lightning set an entire mountainside on fire.

Oft remembered by vacationers from both west and east as a benign and lovely playground, the Okanagan Valley can be surprisingly rough. One storm blew our cat right through a screen door, so loud were the thunderclaps. Another thunderclap once blew my husband and I right out of sleep and bed. We found ourselves standing at attention in the dark, wondering if World War Three had started.

So, despite its cheery reputation as a sunny place to enjoy a continuous supply of wine and warmth, the Okanagan Valley provided my hubby and I with a bit of advance training for the notorious rigours of Calgary. With the warnings and admonishments of various friends and associates ringing in our ears – ‘ what are you thinking ? Calgary has horrible weather !’ - in July last year we loaded our hairy sled dog into the car and chased the moving van through the Rockies.

We’d been in our new Calgary home for about five days when the hail storm hit. Out on the street because the garage was full of boxes, my husband’s sporty little car shortly looked as though it had been at an amateur shooting range.

And of course, the snow started during the third week of November.

My husband and I were cheery all through both the threats and real events. (‘It can snow ANY month of the year!’ Calgary expatriates had hissed.) As an avid snowshoer, I already owned a parka when we got here, as well as a host of fleece pants and woolly socks. I got nice new hiking boots so my feet were always warm. The dog was already naturally equipped for the Arctic, so all through The Mean Season we walked in Confederation Park every evening no matter what. Until the temperature dropped to minus thirty. 

Here in Calgary, when the temperature was really down I couldn’t wear my spectacles outside, because my breath froze on them like quick cement. I, a woman who can’t recognise my own daughters at ten paces without my specs, was helpless.  Contact lenses, no longer particularly comfortable or easy to insert, were needed every time I took the dog for a walk. Nevertheless, we three Newbies got through our first Calgary winter with no frostbite, just one tailbone splat, and our humour generally intact.

Now that Spring is timidly approaching, I have time to be maniacally delighted by the second of two weather warnings I’d never before heard until we moved to Calgary:
‘ It will be partly cloudy, with a possibility of Thunder Snow.’  Ah. Thunder Snow. Naturally.

Earlier in the winter, the first strange new weather warning that had intrigued me was ‘Partly sunny today, with Snow Crystals.’ The day I first heard that weather forecast on the radio, I quickly stepped out the back door into the pale mid-winter light, and there they were.

The air was glittering. Millions of minute diamonds, floating and swirling in the sunlit winter breeze – these were the promised and enchanting Snow Crystals, the first I’ve known.

Even if it comes in the month of May, I can hardly wait to meet the Thunder Snow.


the dangers of getting lost Out There- and how you can reduce the risk

22 May 2011
Thinking of Survival by Deborah Greaves

In honour of Penticton resident Rita Chretien, who lived for seven lonely weeks in her disabled van, I’d like to talk today about survival of the fittest. As in many cases of survival in tough situations, ‘fit’ doesn’t necessarily refer to physical strength. Grey matter is as important as muscle when the chips are down and an emergency situation was completely unexpected.

Some people have been critical of the Chretiens for deviating from their planned route to take
a shortcut through a wilderness area. The truth is, being spontaneous can lead to new knowledge and wonderful experiences that we wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed or learned from.

I’ve traveled down logging roads through unfamiliar forest areas in a vehicle unsuited for the territory and had to turn back. I too could have been stuck. I’ve scrabbled up steep and lonely trails where it was possible to twist an ankle and be stuck on the trail alone for hours, perhaps even days.

After I began to take seriously the notion of being prepared, I reaped the benefits several times within the first few years. So did others: the victims of a horrible vehicle rollover in the snow one year, then a man who was a victim of a hit and run. My first aid supplies, blankets, wraps, water and food helped people who were hurt and on the ground, and kept my niece and I comfortable when we were stuck in a blizzard on the Okanagan Connector for three hours one night, waiting for a crashed semi-trailer truck to be towed off the road.

Today, I have a few tips for explorers, especially those of you who like to travel light.
Take a tip from a Scout or Girl Guide: be prepared. Before any distance trip, ask yourself what you will have with you in the event you get into trouble. Remember that you may not have cell phone service. What if you have a motor vehicle accident or breakdown? Or a deep cut? What if you take a wrong turn and have no idea where you are? What if an exit out is no longer available?

Rita Chretien apparently kept her head. She was stuck and alone. She knew she had to try to signal her presence. She had to ration out her food. She didn’t panic, as some do, and dash around expending energy. She put up a sign, took cover inside the vehicle, left bright fabric on the window, and counted out small doses of trail mix. For over forty days and nights she waited for help. Some wilderness survival experts were amazed that she lived.  

West Kelowna residents Jordie and Laurie Bowen of Selah Outdoor Explorations, who many know from their guided snowshoe treks at Crystal Mountain Resort or their work with school children, have studied and taught wilderness survival. They know how to make snares and boomerangs to catch animals to eat. However, the Bowens say food isn’t the first item on the priority list if you’re lost or stuck in the wilderness.

“ The first thing to do,” said Jordie Bowen earlier this week, “is to take stock of the situation. Keep calm. Take a few deep breaths and check your attitude. Panic will make things worse.”

Next, said Bowen, you need to check yourself over for damage. Any wounds you may have need to be cleaned and protected- an infected wound will sap your strength. Have a First Aid kit.

“Now look after your internal furnace,” Bowen said. “You have to figure out how you’re going to conserve heat. The body loses heat in five different ways: respiration, radiation, conduction, convection and perspiration.” Bowen said one of the most immediate ways to try to prevent heat loss through radiation is to put on your layers. Remove layers when you get too warm, as perspiration can make you chill.  Protect yourself from getting wet, or contacting the cold earth.
Emergency ponchos are often bright colours and easily fit into a pocket or vehicle glove box.

“If you don’t have a vehicle to use for shelter, you’ll need to build it,” said Bowen, “and if you need the heat, prepare a fire.” Inside your vehicle, a survival candle in a tin can work wonders.

The next step is to think about signalling rescuers. You can build a signal fire- hot dry material on a platform inside a tree-limb tripod with green branches laid over top – or flash a CD, or a mirror. You can stamp a message in the snow or make an SOS with large rocks, bright clothes, garbage bags or other material that can be spotted from the air. A mirror can be seen from as far as 50 miles away, and takes up the same room in your car as a small piece of cardboard. If you don’t have a whistle, you can try making one out of a pop can.

Now, take an inventory of your food and water options. The most important survival key is water. There are several ways to collect water. If you use snow, it should be melted- your body uses valuable energy thawing snow internally. Keeping hydrated helps your body stay warm and healthy and also helps you stay calm. Try to gather food – even bugs - that won’t take much energy to obtain.

“If you feel you must go for help, you have to be prepared,” Bowen said. “ You have to be sure you’re fit enough, have clothes and supplies to keep you warm overnight, and that you can establish and maintain a direction. If you can’t meet these criteria, it’s better to stay where you are. Stay put, keep warm and hydrated as possible, and signal every way you can.”

Invest in a pocket-sized survival book, and keep it in your vehicle. It should detail shelter-building, water gathering and ways to signal for help. Keep a First Aid kit, plastic poncho, fleece or wool blanket and a reflective ‘safety blanket’ folded up in your vehicle, along with a mirror, flashlight, a survival candle, matches or lighter and a flask of water.  Keep the flashlight batteries in a separate, waterproof container to preserve them. 

None of this just-in-case stuff takes up much room in your ride, but if you find yourself in a jam, you could be thanking your lucky stars you took the time to tuck it all in.