Cold weather survival story

Trapped in the Snow: Surviving a Hike Gone Wrong

“And then the worst happened. My daughter fell off an icy rock into the river and got wet. Fortunately, she was smart and unclipped her backpack, so she wasn’t dragged under and drowned.”

Hikers in snowWe planned an 18-mile hike in NH to summit one of the 4000-footers in this area. We have been working on climbing all 48 of them. The weather called for snow in the evening and heavy snow overnight into the next day. We were confident in our abilities to finish the 18 miles before the heavy snow set in, but as always, I prepared for the worst-case scenario. It was only supposed to be a day hike.

Still, given the winter conditions, I packed us a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, extra clothing, and a small stove to make hot food along with all of our typical gear like first aid kits, water filtration, map, and a rescue harness for the dog in case she needed to be carried out. We set off and made great time to the summit of the peak. We were feeling good and ready to really move on the way out. Because our spirits were high, we didn’t pay enough attention on the way off the summit and took a wrong turn. The trail we were on led us down an extremely steep former rock slide covered in ice. It was unsafe to descend but unsafe to go back up again, so we made the critical error to keep going slowly and not backtrack. It cost us WAY too much time. We got off the mountain and had an 8-mile trek back to the car, which should have been fast and much easier.

Unfortunately, the predicted weather came in early, and freezing fog rolled in as darkness came. We were prepared with headlamps and backup batteries for them, but the fog illuminated in our headlamps and made it almost impossible to see. We got off the trail and lost it entirely with the fast-falling snow obscuring the trail AND our tracks. We decided to make our way to the river and follow it as we knew it would lead us to our car, which was parked at a bridge, or to the road where we could find our way back to the car.

Our dog surviving the snow

We hiked miles up and down cliffs and dense brush in snow up to our hips, breaking a trail for our dog. At every river crossing, we needed to carry her over because the rocks were icing over, and it was flowing fast. And then the worst happened. My daughter fell off an icy rock into the river and got wet. Fortunately, she was smart and unclipped her backpack, so she wasn’t dragged under and drowned.

Hiker falls in icy river

Our situation was rapidly becoming dire as the temps were plummeting, and she was wet, and I knew hypothermia was not far off. I decided at that moment that we were spending the night. I stripped her down as she was shivering too hard to do it for herself, put her into a sleeping bag with the dog, and started boiling water to warm her up. I ran around ripping all the branches off the pine trees to insulate us from the cold and made us a bed with them. We huddled under the sleeping bag shivering all night in all of our layers on pine branches and a sleeping pad with a large plastic contractor bag spread over our sleeping bag to keep us dry. In the morning, we made our way out at first light when we could see, and the weather had broken. We were just 3 miles from the car.

I learned on this trip that my teenage daughter is far more competent than I give her credit for. Her wilderness knowledge, navigation skills, and calm demeanor helped me stay calm in the face of this situation. I’m proud of us for “over-preparing” because it literally saved our lives. We didn’t have any cell reception, and we would have quite literally probably frozen to death had we not been prepared. We’ve changed the way we hike now, and I never leave the house without two emergency blankets in each pack, one for under me and one for over me, in addition to the sleeping pad and sleeping bag. Just those emergency blankets can help insulate you a tiny bit more.

We also are saving for a GPS device in case of emergencies like this. There was no cell reception where we were,Emergency thermal blanket and we saw only two hikers all day long, so we had no way of being rescued. We were truly on our own with no way of getting help, and with even the mistakes we made, I’m proud that I’m’ able to share the story today because it means we survived.

Morgan, Ava (16), Penny (the dog)


-Edited for content and length.  Names changed to protect identities.

Prepping is also about preparedness.  It’s a mindset that helps you know what to do when unexpected disasters strike.  In this story, a mom and daughter knew what to do when Mother Nature changed their winter hike into a night they needed to survive.

As the weather becomes more extreme, in many cases, it’s always beneficial to have the right equipment to survive it, whether you are outdoors or in your home. 

Click here for a recent video on affordable winter survival gear.

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