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In October 2009, 73-year-old hiker Kenneth Brunette failed to return from California’s Mount Whitney. A helicopter search team soon spotted his pack propped up on a rock on the peak’s west side. Two days later they found Brunette’s remains in a gulley on the east side of the mountain, many kilometres away. He had left his gear, crossed a trail that could have led him to safety, wound up in dangerous terrain and fallen to his death.
Brunette’s behaviour is not uncommon among people who become lost in the wilderness. While intense fear can improve your ability to perform well-rehearsed skills, it tends to shut down the frontal cortex – the part of your brain responsible for logic and planning – and triggers the instinctive fight-or-flight response. Your job is to suppress that urge, says neurobiologist Robert Koester, the author of Lost Person Behavior (R408 Loot.co.za). If you get lost, he recommends, start doing some work to take your mind off the whole holy-crap-I’m-lost thing. “Military pilots used to be told, ‘The first thing you do after you parachute out of your plane is drink some water or sort your gear.’ The idea was to engrain the need to collect their nerves before doing anything.” Once you’ve calmed down, weigh up your options. Can you backtrack? (Lost adults almost never take this simple step.) Phone for help? Even if your cell reception is weak, a text message might get through. If night is falling, make a shelter of branches and leaves and hunker down. You won’t be comfortable, but you’ll get by: 93% of missing hikers are found within 24 hours once the search starts, Koester says.
There are other ways to Knock Fear Out of other situations. Just follow the link.