In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, saw the Santa Cruz Mountains while off the peninsula of San Francisco. He gave them the name ‘Sierra Nevada’ meaning “snowy range” in Spanish.
The name was later applied to the mountain range in the eastern part of California which is made up of 400 miles of tall peaks, deep forests and scorchingly hot lowlands.
Five million people visit every year to raft, hike or climb but, each year, over 200 become stranded, seriously injured or die.
Bear Grylls, the survival expert, has recently starred in a TV series which shows everyone the skills they need to survive in tough environments. These skills often suggest success skills as well as survival skills.
My cynical step brother suggested that these skills might help him last for twenty seconds rather than ten seconds in an extreme environment!
In one episode, Bear visited the Sierra Nevada. He took with him a water bottle, a cup, a flint for making fire and a brave film crew!
He landed by parachute high up in the Sierras. The air is so thin that he knew he would descend extra fast. To soften his landing, he guided the parachute to dump him into a shallow mountain lake.
He landed safely but the water was just above freezing. He got dry quickly and headed downwards:
“The Nevada desert lies to the east; so I want to go west.”
He made a primitive sundial to guide him west away from the desert. To achieve any success, it helps if there is a target to aim for even if it is a very big one.
John Soule once said ‘Go West, young man!’ and helped America become a great nation.
Bear kept moving downwards as you are more vulnerable to storms and lightning when you are high up.
Successful people act on intelligent priorities and two of these are health and safety.
He soon had to descend a steep granite cliff face. He warned against descending when the rocks are wet or covered in sand. Common sense is a key part of survival and success!
He made it down to the tree line but needed to keep moving further down as it gets colder at night and, the lower down you are, the warmer it will be. He had probably descended 2000 feet by now and was thirsty.
If you can’t boil your water, dig a little trench just above the level of the water. As your trench reaches below the level of the water, the water trickles in.
The gravel and sand filter out the giardia parasite which is widespread all over the world. It can cause chronic diarrhea and slow you down for days.
Bear’s exit strategy was to follow a stream which soon led him to a river. This was good news:
“Rivers are often the key for getting out of trouble. They are always going to lead to a road or a town or something. I am going to use it to head downstream.”
A key principle of success and survival is to learn from experts whether they are alive or dead or have moved elsewhere. Any one who is too arrogant to learn from others will probably fail.
Bear learned from the Mono Indians who had once lived here:
“This area was once home to many Native Americans. I’m using some of their survival techniques to turn this driftwood into a raft.”
Another key success technique is to keep things as simple as possible. Over complication results in confusion and inaction:
“The key to building a raft is to keep it simple. When I try and make them complicated they fall apart.”
Bear used grape vines to lash his logs together. As the knots get wet, they will tighten up. He used the hitch knots and weaving technique of the Mono Indians.
The rivers in the Sierras are used for white water rafting. 234 rafters have been lost on a single river in the last thirty years.
Bear launched his raft with his upper body on the logs and his legs dangling behind:
“The river is going at a fast pace and I’m moving faster than hiking on land. You should always proceed down river with an easy route to shore. This is easier said than done.”
His knees took punishment in the shallower parts of the river but in only half an hour he had floated for nearly two miles. However, all successful people know that it is easy to start projects with enthusiasm and excitement until the problems emerge:
“What for the first twenty minutes was good fun and quite warm is now less fun and much colder.”
I remember, as a teenager, walking from one end of the Isle of Man to the other climbing all the hills on the way. Two friends and I started off laughing hysterically and having fun. Within a few shorts hours, life had become grim and miserable. Eventually we made it but took a week to recover.
Bear floated down river on his raft but was taking risks:
“By the time I spot the rapids, I have no chance of escaping the currents. They are sucking me downstream. It is too late to reach shore. I am completely at the mercy of the river.”
He eventually lost his raft which broke up in the rapids but he made it to the shore:
“I scared myself a bit. I’m just black and blue and really cold. I must have travelled about five miles and I’m exhausted.”
He found shelter under an overhanging rock and got a fire going using his flint and a piece of hard rock. He spoke fondly of the fire:
“The warmth suddenly goes when the sun goes and this little baby here is my saviour. Apart from some grape vine leaves, I’ve had nothing to eat. Tomorrow, I want to find some food.”
He woke at 5 a.m. It was dawn in the sierras. He had a hot cup of tea brewed with pine needles:
“I need to drink as much as possible At altitude, the body uses more liquid than at sea level. If you can’t brew a cup of tea you can still get moisture from the pine needles. They are a great source of vitamin C up to eight times greater than orange juice.”
For a while Bear gave up his priority – heading west – in favour of going down hill to get food and water.
He spotted some horses and could see himself riding out of the lowlands in style:
“This is a long shot but I am going to give it a go.”
He weaved some willow branches together to make a rope following the example of the Native Americans. They use sensitivity, patience and a rope to tame their horses.
He tried to use their approach but, as he jumped on the horse, he fell off and the horse took off!
He walked on for an hour and then stopped early to build a proper camp and find some decent food.
He built a wickiup using Native American techniques and some wood from a dead, red fir tree. If you build a wickiup, don’t build over any game trails or near red ants and have a bit of open sky above you so searchers can find you.
Bear used another local technique to catch a rabbit.
He ground a piece of cedar into a throwing stick which was nearly two feet long. Cedar is hard and, when it is smoothed down, it will be fast and deadly in the air.
He practised with little success at first but then became more accurate. Bear, like all successful people, seldom gives up.
The Native Americans used these sticks mainly to throw at rabbits. Bear hit one on the head at his first attempt. I was reminded of how my granddad used to kill rabbits with a walking stick and a Lakeland terrier to drive the rabbit towards him. We often had rabbit for lunch.
Bear used a piece of elderberry bush and a piece of base wood to generate an ember to spark the tinder. He rubbed the spindle of elderberry between his palms:
“This requires patience and it takes me loads of go’s and is exhausting. If the spindle pops out you are back to square one. Friction must heat the elderberry stick to 400 degrees Celsius.”
He struggled but again did not give up even though he is not naturally patient. Eventually the stick smoked and generated an ember from which he could start a fire.
He pulled the fur off the rabbit and put it on a spit to roast it. He buried the remains of the rabbit before he ate. Local black bears can smell food from twenty-five miles away.
The rabbit tasted delicious. With a full stomach Bear could look around and appreciate the majesty of the sierras and the night sky.
He used the stars to get his bearings especially the north star. It is not one of the brightest but it is one of the only constant stars in the sky you can navigate by.
He mapped out a compass on the ground with twigs so that he would know where to go in the morning. Planning your tasks for the following day is one of the great success techniques that Ivy Lee taught Charles Schwab.
Schwab paid $25,000 for this information – about half a million dollars at today’s rate.
Next day, Bear got moving on his priority of survival:
“It is the morning of my third day. I’ve left my wickiup and gone west. I am out of the woodlands and in the chapparal – the most extreme region of the Sierras.”
It was 43 degrees celsius. Bear ate the abdomens of some carpenter ants. The taste was tingy and sweet but surprisingly quite good. He moved on:
“I want to make quick progress before this heat really kicks in.”
Snakes were a problem in this hot terrain. Always stand on top of logs before you step past them. Snakes find shade under logs in the heat of the day.
He saw some bright red berries. Nature warns us off with such colouring. But, in case you ignored Nature, she kindly provides an antidote nearby – coffee berries. My grandad would show me the dock leaves next to the nettles.
By now Bear was very thirsty. A Manzanita bush provided some relief. Manzanita means ‘little apples’. The Mono Indians used it as dried fruit and as an ingredient for a drink. They used the leaves as a kind of tooth brush. Bear cleaned his teeth with some of the leaves.
By mid afternoon, the heat was relentless and was slowing his progress to a crawl but successful people and survivors know that often things turn around just when you think you are getting nowhere. Just keep going.
Bear suddenly came across a huge lake where he could drink and cool down. On the far side of the lake – about half a mile away – he spotted a road.
He tied up the ends of his trousers and then scooped air into them as he pulled the waist end of the trousers into the water. They helped him swim across the lake to safety. Bear makes full use of whatever he has.
His mission had been a tough one because of the great variety of environments – cold and hot – in the sierras. He respected the resourcefulness of the Mono Indians who had survived there:
“Before the Europeans came they ruled this land and I have learned that there is a lot they can still teach us.”
They can teach us the patience and skill to make effective rafts, shelters and a powerful weapon like the throwing stick from whatever materials are available.
They can teach us how to keep things simple to avoid confusion and inaction, how to tame wild horses and even how to clean our teeth in the wilderness!
Bear, himself, has much to teach us like how to stay safe in tough situations and how to make health and safety our priorities. He follows Ivy Lee’s advice, at least in part i.e.
List 6 things you plan to do tomorrow in order of importance. Next day, start on the first thing and keep going till you finish it even if this means not completing the entire list. Make a new list at the end of the day. This advice is completely free!
Above all, Bear taught us, in this episode, to have the humility to learn from the local experts – the Native Americans who were in the Sierras long before Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo appeared off the coast of California.
John Watson is an award winning teacher and 5th degree blackbelt martial arts instructor. He has written several ebooks on motivation and success topics. One of these can be found at http://www.motivationtoday.com/36_laws.php
You can also find motivational ebooks by authors like Stuart Goldsmith. Check out http://www.motivationtoday.com/the_midas_method.php Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety in your ezine or on your site but please include the resource box above