Lost In The Wilderness: One Man’s Five Day Fight For Survival

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

California:

For one California man, what began as a day fishing trip quickly turned into a five-day fight for survival.

Mike Vilhauer, 58, went fishing Aug. 6 at Lower Sunset Lake in Alpine County when he noticed he wasn’t catching any fish. Deciding he needed more bait, Vilhauer, butterfly net in hand, left on what he thought would be a short trip to find some grasshoppers.

“I was just zigzagging up and down the mountain,” Vilhauer told ABC News. “I didn’t see anyone for quite a while.”

After a few hours, Vilhauer said it began to get late, and he decided he should probably head back to the fishing site. “That’s when the fun began,” he said.

Vilhauer began to make his way towards what he thought was the fishing site. But with darkness upon him at about 8 p.m., he decided to make shelter under a pine tree, covering himself with pine needles and willow branches in an attempt to stay warm. Vilhauer attempted to call 911, but a weak signal thwarted his efforts.

Vilhauer continued his search for the help on Thursday. Weak from his lack of food and water, he adapted what he called his “survivor man routine,” drinking water out of puddles, regardless of what else was in the puddle.

“I thought ‘I’m going to keep walking, I’m going to get back to my wife,’” said Vilhauer, who lives in West Sacramento.

After trying to find a way back the whole day, Vilhauer came across a stream and began to follow it before the sun began to set. Setting up a camp of tree bark and needles, he slept for another night in the open wilderness.

He was crushed to find on Friday morning that the stream came to a dead end. “At this point I’m thinking ‘Man, this is looking bad,’” Vilhauer said.

Vilhauer continued to wander in circles on Friday, unsure of where he was or where to go next. Exhausted and hungry, he set up camp under a large rock.

“I hadn’t slept at all,” said Villhauer, “It was cold and I just tried to keep moving around. It rained every night.”

Saturday morning brought no relief.

“I hadn’t eaten since Wednesday morning,” said Villhauer, “I was so weak, I could only do so much before getting too exhausted and having to lie down.”

Grounding himself underneath the rock, Villhauer tried to build up his strength. He decided he would try to climb up the side of the ridge, only to find out that every time he thought he had reached the top, there ended up just being another peak ahead.

Suddenly, Villhauer could hear helicopters in the distance. One flew overhead, but kept going, leaving Villhauer “disheartened.”

“It was a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Villhauer, “I thought, ‘You know what? I’m done. This is it.’”

“I was thinking about my family and my wife and all of the stupid things I’d done to get myself into that position,” said Villhauer.

“And then, after 10 to 15 minutes I decided ‘No. Hell no. I’m not going to give up, I’m going to get down to that stream and I’m going to sit there and wait until somebody finds me,’” he added.

Villhauer made his way back down the stream, drinking out of puddles along the way, and made his way back to the rock.

He picked up a piece of driftwood and began writing his last words to his wife.

“I put all of these thoughts down, I had to continue on another piece of drift wood,” Villhauer said.

He then used cypress needles to spell out “HELP”, saying “I figured if I don’t make it, at least I gave it my best shot.”

Sunday morning, Villhauer had just had his first meal in five days – a dandelion – when he heard the helicopters again.

“I got excited, I started waving around my blue shirt on a stick,” said Villhauer as the helicopter kept repeatedly flying over and then leaving.

“It was a big rush, and then the letdown. A big rush, and the letdown,” described Villhauer, who assumed that the choppers were operating on a grid system, so once they deemed the area clear they would not be returning.

“I figured, if they hadn’t seen me yet, I was in here for the long haul.”

The choppers returned and began circling Villhauer, when he suddenly heard a bark from behind him. It was a search dog leading one of the rescue teams that had been looking for Villhauer since Friday.

After five days in the wilderness, he had been saved.

Folks, as I have pointed out so many times, carry a day pack / patrol bag.  Twenty pounds can save your life.  You need: (a) a gun, (b) fire starter, (c) a tactical light, (d) 550 cord, (e) water, (f) a heavy rubberized poncho, and (g) a compass.

With the gun you can protect yourself, with the light you can see at night, with the fire you can prevent hypothermia, with the poncho and 550 cord you can make shelter in under two minutes, you need the water to live and you need the compass to navigate.  You may even go comfortable and carry along a few energy bars.

Why is this so hard?  Why do people go into the wilderness unprepared?


Comments

  1. On August 21, 2014 at 10:34 am, advocatus diaboli said:

    No kidding about being prepared. Really. I’d add a signal mirror and a compass (taking a back bearing on an object would have allowed him to get back up the hill to the lake easily). I often take lone trips up rivers or remote lakes in the Sierra fly fishing and I keep most of the 10 essentials in my pack. Firearms are restricted in Kommiefornia in some places, but I always have the rest and a firearm if allowed.

  2. On August 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm, pdxr13 said:

    Just because a firearm is restricted doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. Keep it concealed under a flap and don’t show it to officials. Folding 10/22 (fusion by Volquartsen) bundled with tent poles is excellent.

    20# is enough to live for weeks in a summer alpine climate, and walk 100 miles if needed. You need not even be particularly filthy at the end, or have lost much weight. The story concerns a fellow who should pay out-of-pocket for the 15 thousand bucks spent to “rescue” him. He wasn’t even hurt!

    A 40# bag is a whole summer! Recommend surplus ILBE main pack, made to hold 120#, as super-comfortable when adjusted right and loaded out at 45#.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Mountains and was published August 20th, 2014 by Herschel Smith.

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