In my novel Crevice, one of my characters spends seven days trapped in the mountainous desert near Phoenix, Arizona. That’s a long time to go without food and water in a dry climate. Garrick Hearst (the main character’s brother) walks off a cliff due to a lapse in his own judgment. First, he was climbing up a mountain in conditions so foggy he couldn’t see much of anything ahead of him. And second, he was distracted by a girl. Two big mistakes in a row, and suddenly you’re falling off a cliff. Does he make it out alive (you’ll have to read the book to find out)?
More importantly, how would you survive if you ever found yourself in the same situation?
Although I enjoy putting my characters into uncomfortable positions, I hope you understand I’m not making light of these types of accidents at all. Accidents in the wilderness happen to real people, and some of them have died as a result.
Often a person will die in the initial fall, but if God spares you, and you find yourself trapped halfway down a mountain, what should you do?
It can take only a few days in arid climates to die of dehydration, although some healthy young people have gone more than a week. To die from lack of food happens much slower, more than two weeks, sometimes over a month, depending on overall health and body weight.
Obviously, water is your biggest concern.
If you find yourself trapped in a desert, here are some basic survival skills:
- If you’re with your car, stay there, put the hood up to signal distress and wait for help.
- If you’re deep into the desert and there’s no one around, look for ways to get to civilization. Your best bet to survive is to help yourself.
- If you can’t get out (or down the mountain), put out bright-colored clothing as a flag to signal you need help.
- Search for water-bearing plants within your reach. Drinking water from cacti can be a good idea—if you pick the right one. The giant Saguarro cactus is poisonous, but the Barrel cactus has a drinkable milky sap.
- Take advantage of any short-lived storms by putting out a piece of clothing (preferably waterproof like a windbreaker) to collect the momentary rainfall. Pour the water (or squeeze it out) into a water bottle.
- Improvise a shade screen using clothing. If possible, sit above the ground, which can be up to 30 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the air temperature.
- Food will not be your biggest problem for at least a week, so don’t even worry about it. After a few days, your body won’t feel hunger any more. In fact, ingesting food adds to your body’s water needs to digest the food. The biggest concern is finding enough water to keep your brain and other organs from the effects of dehydration.
I won’t give away which technique(s) Garrick uses in the book or whether he makes it out alive. I hope you’ll read Crevice to experience his ordeal with him, and to discover how his sister, Elery, searches for him by hunting for the Lost Dutchman gold mine.
To pre-order the e-book of Crevice before the price goes up, click here.
For more tips see, 26 Tips for Surviving in the Desert (http://www.desertusa.com/desert-activity/desert-survival-tips.html).