Reporter gets lost in the woods - on purpose

Reporter gets lost in the woods - on purpose »Play Video

EAST OF PLEASANT HILL, Ore. - It's the type of story you've heard countless times: hikers and travelers, stuck in the snow, veering off the trail, sometimes losing their lives.

These stories remind us just how easy it is to become lost - and never found.  So we headed into the Oregon wilderness, with the help of Lane County Search and Rescue, to learn survival tips and find out what it's really like to be cold, disoriented and all alone.

It's the first time search and rescue has ever done an experiment with the media like this before.  We've covered many of these cases, so we thought the best way to find out more about wilderness survival was to try it out ourselves.

I got lost on purpose with the help of search and rescue personnel. The rescuers were always within earshot in case anything happened, so it was a safe experiment - and a scenic one.

"It's gorgeous here," said John Miller, search coordinator for Lane County Search and Rescue. 

It certainly was a gorgeous day for a hike with Miller and his crew, but was I prepared? I dumped out my backpack to show Miller everything I would typically carry on a short hike - a warm hat, a hooded waterproof jacket, some water, a little food and a flashlight.

"Those are some good things," Miller told me.

But he added some other essentials to my backpack - like a fire starter kit, a knife, garbage bags, a flagging kit and a whistle.  With the pack fully loaded, Miller gave me advice on how long I could survive.

"You can last four seconds without your brain so you have to take care of that right up front," he told me.  "Then there's four minutes without oxygen. Next is four hours without warmth, so we put a lot of focus on warmth. Then we can go four days without water and four weeks without food."

With that advice, we head up the trail and at the top, Miller had a surprise for me - he put a blindfold over my eyes.

Blindfolded, he led me off trail, in a circle, down the road and into the woods. There he spun me around and took off the blindfold.  I was totally disoriented, even though we were not far from the trail. 

Most lost hikers wouldn't get this help, but Miller taught me about finding the perfect spot to set up camp.

"Trees tend to hold the heat down rather than being in the open where it's colder," he said. 

He showed me how to build a shelter.

"Make it about three feet high so you can get in and out of it," he demonstrated with a miniature model of a shelter.

I took the suggestions and looked for a spot to set up. 

"You've only got minutes of daylight left," Miller's son, Dan, warned me.

Finally, I found the perfect spot to set up. 

"Yep, this is home," I said.

I got to work building a shelter out of tree branches and a soft bed of ferns. With the shelter done, I built a fire.  It took three tries until the fire finally got going.

Then the experimenters put my survival skills to the test.  Miller and crew and photographer Alan Dale left, leaving me alone in the woods.

Armed with a handheld camera and essential survival items, I got to work, collecting firewood for the long haul - since I didn't know when I would be rescued. 

I spoke into the handheld camera - "So it's starting to get a little dark out here already, and I'm starting to get a little nervous because this fire is taking a lot more work than I thought it was going to be."  When the fire is stable, I do some flagging to let searchers know where I am located.  Night falls and the fire dies.  I try to get it started in the dark.

"I'm freezing, it's cold out here right now and my fire is out so that's dropped the temperature here a lot," I told the camera. "So now I'm hunkering down in my shelter until I get rescued."

I didn't know when I would be rescued, or even what time it was because earlier Miller took away my watch.  "It's just another interesting element to your evening," Miller explained at the time.

So I passed the time in my shelter.  "I can stretch my legs all the way out, but I only have about two feet of space above me," I told the camera. 

It wasn't long before I started hearing and seeing animals. I tried to use Miller's advice to keep calm, but my mind kept racing. It didn't help that I had no heat. 

"All I can think about is how cold it is out here.  It's cold and dark, my fire's out completely right now.  It's cold and it is scary and lonely," I told the camera.

Up the road, Miller decided four hours alone in the woods was enough.   

Inside my shelter, I heard whistles in the distance and people calling my name.  I began to blow my whistle back.  The flashlights were a glimmer of hope and finally the crew arrived to take me home. 

"Yeah! Thank goodness you found me, I'm freezing," I told them.

The lessons I learned - make sure you leave an itinerary with someone, pack the essentials like a whistle (no matter how short your hike is) and don't panic when you're out there.