A case study in smart survival in Nevada


The other day, I was peeking into a conversation on Twitter about survival situations.

One of the questions: What are the things you should do first if you find yourself in a survival situation?

My answer: Calm down; take stock in what you have and your situation; start/keep making decisions.

This isn’t novel advice, but it’s solid. I’ve heard it said many times before. Unfortunately, some people under pressure (and a survival situation qualifies as pressure-packed) fall into traps that end up further endangering their lives or, in worst-case scenarios, get themselves killed.

But this week, a remarkable story out of Lovelock, Nev., showed how survival is done.

James Glanton, his girlfriend Christina McIntee, their two kids and two other children went out on Sunday for a little backcountry fun in the snow in the northern Nevada high desert. But during the trip, the Jeep they were traveling in overturned and rolled off the side of the road. They couldn’t get the Jeep upright or the engine started.

That area of Nevada gets cold this time of year, but the deep freeze that hit the western and central U.S. last weekend was particularly bitter. Temperatures would drop to -16 degrees.

The group was also out of cellphone range to call for help.

So here they were, stranded in a snowy, icy desert, with extreme cold bearing down. They were miles from help. Should they take off on foot and look for rescue? Wander around trying to find a cellphone signal? Send someone for help while the group stayed put?

They did none of that. Instead, they did the smart thing.

They stayed put.

Glanton had told people where he and his group were going, and he knew that if they were overdue people would begin looking for them. Preparation means a lot in terms of survival, and letting people know your plans is a big part of good preparation.

Glanton and his group also took stock. Their Jeep was disabled, but still useful. Even overturned, it could be used as shelter. The group was dressed for the weather, and there was some food and water in the Jeep. That Jeep was a huge tool for keeping them alive and not freezing to death.

But there’s more. The group did something innovative that also increased their chances of getting out alive. Inside the Jeep was a spare tire. They used that tire in two ways: They filled the tire with rocks, and then used it as a fire ring.

Having a fire was critical to keeping warm. The fire in turn heated up the rocks, which could then be used to keep everyone warm overnight in the Jeep.

That type of improvisation is a product of taking stock and making decisions. And doing so in a mentality of calm.

They also left their cellphone on. While it was not able to make or receive calls, authorities were able to use it to track their location. Cellphones send signals to nearby towers on a regular basis. Those pings can be traced. In this case, it gave authorities the best information possible about where they should start their search based on what tower last received a signal from the phone.

On Tuesday, the group was found, safe and alive. (You can read their story here.)

My hope is that this story, and many more like it, will be used in the future to instruct people on how to survive dangerous situations. A car wreck in a remote area with adverse weather conditions presents particular problems that might not apply directly to other crises. But the method of survival is a constant: Be calm, take stock, make decisions.

What do you think about this story? Have you faced similar situations? What are some of your ideas on survival? Comment and let me hear about it.

Bob Doucette


4 thoughts on “A case study in smart survival in Nevada

  1. How far were they from help? Whether I’d walk out or not would depend on how likely it was to work.

    My climbing partner always keeps a down jacket, a sleeping bag and bivy sack, and a water purifier in his truck in case something like this happens crossing Stevens Pass. Washington is generally better traveled and less remote than Nevada, but we get foul winter storms because of the combination of cold, altitude, and wet maritime air.

    • Very smart preps. I’m the same way when I travel, and I have a minimum standard of gear/food when it comes to solo hikes and ascents.

      I’m not totally sure how far they were away, but my guess, based on the location and being well out of cell range, is that it would have been many miles in really cold conditions. Orienteering might have been an issue in the dark, too. Whether the distance was 10 miles or 50, I can’t say for certain. But your question makes me want to research that.

  2. I’ve never been in a situation like this. I do keep 1 or 2 space blankets from races in my trunk and I often have water bottles bouncing around in my car. I live in the Boston area so having a fully charged cell phone is my best defense against disaster.
    It is nice to hear a story like this where people kept their whits and survived. So often the people die from being thrown from the car. They must have been smart and buckled up!

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