Nineteen Snowy Days Of Survival

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Gene Penaflor of San Francisco made it 19 days in the Northern California wilderness with no help.

The 72-year-old hunter who was lost for more than two weeks in a California forest survived by eating squirrels and other animals he shot with his rifle, and by making fires and packing leaves and grasses around his body to stay warm, his family said Monday.

Gene Penaflor of San Francisco was found Saturday in Mendocino National Forest by other hunters who carried him to safety in a makeshift stretcher, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Penaflor disappeared after heading out with a partner during the first week of deer hunting season in the rugged mountains of Northern California, a trip he takes annually. The forest is about 160 miles north of San Francisco.

“He goes hunting every year, and he comes home every year,” his daughter-in-law Deborah Penaflor said Monday outside Gene Penaflor’s small home in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. “We’d gotten a little complacent that he would always come back.”

Gene Penaflor separated from his hunting partner for a couple of hours as usual to stalk deer. While they were apart, Gene Penaflor fell, hit his head and passed out, Deborah Penaflor said.

He woke up after spending what appeared to be a full day unconscious, with his chin and lip badly gashed. He noticed fog and morning dew and realized he’d been out for a while, Deborah Penaflor said.

Gene Penaflor had a lighter, a knife and water with him when he went hunting. But his daughter-in-law said the knife and water bottle somehow got lost in the fall. She had no further details.

Still, he was able use his rifle to kill squirrels to sustain him while he awaited rescue. He also found water in a nearby drainage.

To stay warm, Gene Penaflor made small fires and packed leaves and grasses around his body. When it rained or snowed, he crawled under a large log and managed to stay dry, authorities said.

“He knew at some point he was going to die, but he figured he’d last as long as he could,” sheriff’s Detective Andrew Porter told the Ukiah Daily Journal (http://bit.ly/1ekjENg ).

[ … ]

“I didn’t panic because panic will kill me right away. I knew that,” Gene Penaflor said to a KTVU-TV reporter upon his arrival home.

Mr. Penaflor was in the very large 53,887-acre Yuki Wilderness area (web site here), and was found 19 days after he went missing by a group of hunters.  He also ate snakes and lizards to stay alive, and attempts to signal helicopters by smoke failed.  Finally, a massive search effort with dogs to find him failed.

He fell in steep, rocky, treacherous terrain.  This underscores the risk of solo backpacking as well as the improbability of lone wolf scenarios.

Unfortunately he lost his container and his cutting tool in the fall.  I would have gone back to find them.  At least he had his rifle with him and that likely saved his life by giving him a source of food.

Whether alone or not, I would have never entered a wilderness this large or terrain this difficult without at least the following in a day pack or one day patrol bag: large tactical or fixed-blade knife, tactical flashlight, 50-100 feet of 550 cord, a heavy gauge rubberized rain poncho, stainless steel container for boiling water, fire stating kit, wind/rain parka, gun (if I wasn’t hunting with a rifle I would be carrying at least a handgun) and extra ammunition.

I have discussed this before but it bears repeating.  My fire starting kit would include a lighter and matches, as many pieces of match-light charcoal as nights I expected to be in the wilderness (one briquette per fire), and several balls of cotton soaked in petroleum jelly for rapid ignition.

Surviving this 19 day journey without fire would have been impossible.  It’s remarkable that he was able to find sufficient shelter from the rain and snow to survive.  With a large Poncho and 550 cord one can always build shelter (at least in wooded areas) within one to two minutes.  Assuming that you are using trekking poles you don’t even have to be in a wooded area.

Even with this kit the total weight of your can ruck can be kept to 15-20 pounds, which is a small price to pay for survival.  Kudos to Mr. Penaflor for his survival, and with every report like this we learn more about what it takes to make it in the wilderness with minimal resources.  Plan, purchase, prepare and practice.


Comments

  1. On October 21, 2013 at 7:25 am, Kerry said:

    If you ever shoot a spark from an empty Bic lighter into #0000 steel wool, you’ll carry steel wool in your fire kit. It goes up right away.

  2. On October 21, 2013 at 8:19 am, Paul B said:

    I usually hunt in a more civilized location and I still carry fire starters, water, many knives, and some kind of space blanket.

  3. On October 22, 2013 at 5:51 pm, jsragman said:

    I also applaud the gentleman for his survival skills. However, he gets an “F” for SA and common sense. Anyone that chooses to “go outside the box” should have at the very least a very inexpensive GPS and a somewhat expensive Sat Phone. The GPS allows you to pinpoint your location within a few feet and the Sat phone enables you to call for help worldwide.

  4. On October 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm, Joseph P. Martino said:

    Evidently he became complacent after going hunting for so many years and didn’t think that this time he’d run into trouble. That’s when Murphy strikes.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Survival and was published October 20th, 2013 by Herschel Smith.

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