JR Hunte blames it on bad planning on his part.
He had underestimated just how hot it can get when he picked July to make his solo hike in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.
As he descended into the rugged canyons of the park, he placed caches of water along the way for his hike back out. He marked the location of each on the electronic Global Positioning System he carried.
When he began his hike back out, its batteries died. He could not find his caches.
He was fortunate. He encountered a group of hikers who came to his aid before dehydration and heat stress took too great a toll on him.
A lesson learned. Technology is great, but it’s a double-edged sword, said Hunte.
“It’s great stuff but do not rely on it. I did and it cost me.”
He’s busy these days helping provide COVID-19 vaccinations to underserved communities in the Twin Cities as part of the Minnesota Immunization Network Initiative. He took time out from his schedule to lead a webinar last week for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and later, to speak with this reporter about the 10 essentials for survival he promotes to audiences as a wilderness survival instructor.
His experience in the Badlands notwithstanding, Hunte is usually on the other side of the equation and comes to the rescue of those who need help. A battlefield medic in Desert Storm in 1990, Hunte continues to make the most of the medical and navigation skills he learned in the military.
He had taken a long hiatus from this type of work, but a love for the outdoors and then, a solo hike of the Superior Hiking Trail in 2017 convinced him to undertake education in wilderness medicine. Along with his work at Fairview Health, he is now an instructor with the National Association of Search and Rescue and a volunteer search and rescue technician with K9 Search Midwest. The volunteer group assists law enforcement in tracking people who are missing.
Most of the calls are for people lost close to home, said Hunte. Dementia patients who wander into unfamiliar places or young children who stray into the woods near their homes are more often the reason the volunteers are called than are cases of people lost in the backcountry.
When people are lost or rescues are needed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, it’s more often the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Rescue Squad that responds. These are highly trained volunteers who do a “fantastic job,” said Hunte. “We don’t get many calls up there. They are stellar.”
A phone call is all it usually takes to mobilize the help you need, but remember: In the BWCAW and many other backcountry locations, do not rely on them. Cell phone service is spotty or nonexistent. Hunte urges everyone headed to the backcountry to carry a cell phone just in case. He also encourages the use of devices such as Personal Locator Beacons or satellite phones.
He also knows: Few of those making the occasional trip to the BWCAW or other backcountry destinations are likely to shell out hundreds of dollars for the equipment and the subscriptions they require.
Better to follow the Scout maxim and be prepared by carrying what Hunte calls the 10 essentials. They fit into a standard Nalgene bottle, and should be on the person of anyone hiking or paddling the BWCAW who might venture from their group or are traveling on their own. Hunte has distilled his list of recommended items from the wealth of information available on this subject. His focus is on simplicity.
While very few wilderness trips end in bad ways, it’s important to keep in mind: “Mother nature is in control,” said Hunte. It’s easy for things to happen.
Most search and rescue calls for the wilderness involve people who have injured themselves or become ill, said Hunte. It’s easy to slip on a rock getting out of a canoe or trip along a portage and break a bone.
The second most frequent cause for search and rescue missions is to find people who are lost. In many cases, they are people who ventured away from their party and became disoriented.
There are plenty of search and rescue calls as well for people who encounter difficulties due to storms and other environmental factors. Some are injured by falling trees and their limbs, so always pay attention to where you pitch your tent.
Now is the time when many of us are planning our summer wilderness adventures. This is the perfect time as well to put that emergency package together.
Hunte likes to keep his essentials in a small pack he always keeps on him, even for a short foray away from his base camp. He knows of one rescue where a disoriented hiker set his backpack down for a few minutes while he tried to get his bearings. He could not find where he set his backpack. He was rescued two days later. The backpack was never found.
The 10 Essentials
NAVIGATION- A compass and map. Hunte also likes to carry a waterproof notebook and pencil to jot down travel directions and reference points.
ILLUMINATION - A simple flashlight or headlamp with backup batteries. A Light Stick swirled on a short cord makes a great signal device if lost. Toss a whistle in as well. Its shrill tweet will carry a mile, much farther than your loudest shout.
FIRST AID KIT- In a Ziplock bag he carries nitrile gloves, band aids, a large band aid, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, low-dose aspirin (beneficial for heart problems), wound closure strips, petroleum jelly, and an antibiotic ointment (but not triple). A bright colored bandana belongs with this collection too. It can be wrapped around a wound or used to signal help. An ACE bandage is a good idea too.
FIXED BLADE KNIFE OR AS PART OF MULTITOOL can be used for making repairs, cutting cloth and other needs.
FIRE - A small butane lighter, waterproof and windproof matches, and a solid fuel Esbit tab.
Lip balm is great to help start a fire while soothing sun-scorched lips.
SHELTER - A space blanket and 25 feet of bright colored, 550 cord. The blanket reflects heat and can serve as a wind and rain block.
FOOD - An energy bar, beef jerky, candy and bullion cubes.
CLOTHES - A buff beanie, a tall kitchen garbage bag (for use as poncho) and other apparel of wool or fleece.
WATER PURIFICATION - Don’t ever assume water is safe. Pocket size straw filters are now available. Hunte recommends Aqua tabs or chlorine dioxide.
NALGENE BOTTLE - To put it all in and hold the water you treat or filter.
Hunte welcomes inquiries via email at firstname.lastname@example.org