Lost in the woods - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Could you survive in the wilderness?

Rescue organizations across the country are reporting a sharp rise in the number of people who get lost every year in America's parks and wooded areas, leading to serious injuries and even death.

We're not talking about serious backpackers and campers, either -- most are everyday folks setting out on a simple day hike.

Cindy England will never forget Thanksgiving weekend of 1991. That's when she accompanied a group of kids on a hike up Mt. Baldy in Los Angeles. She thought the round-trip trail would take about six hours.

"We got about halfway through and most of the kids said, 'We don't want to hike anymore; we want to go back,'" Cindy recalls. "And my friend's 11-year-old nephew Ryan and I decided there was still enough daylight and time to summit and then meet them back at the car."

That decision triggered a 48-hour ordeal -- one that illustrates five things that everyone should know before setting off on any hike.

The first is carrying enough food, water and emergency supplies to sustain you should you become lost.

Cindy and Ryan had no supplies at all. By the time they reached the summit, a severe storm that wasn't in the forecast was enveloping the mountain.

"To stay out of the changing weather and the wind, we elected to take another trail down and, unfortunately, that trail took us onto another mountainside," says Cindy. 

She realized they were lost and could go no further until daylight. She had three matches and started a fire.

Then it started to snow.

"Ryan called out to me as I was gathering wood and said, 'Cindy, the fire's out.' So I rushed over and went to reach for the remaining two matches, but they were drenched with moisture," she says.

Which brings us to the second tip: Always bring along waterproof matches.

Temperatures that night dropped below zero. Cindy and Ryan were also without water.

"I thought that eating snow was going to hydrate me, and that was completely wrong," she notes.

The third tip: Eating snow lowers body temperature, quickening hypothermia. You need to melt the snow, then drink the water.

The next morning, with trails snowed under, Cindy and Ryan were hopelessly lost. But then, hope appeared.

"We heard in the distance the sound of a helicopter and it was flying right towards us. Ryan and I just started signaling it, trying to alert the pilot," says Cindy. 

But they weren't spotted.

The fourth tip: Make yourself visible from the sky by forming a large "X" with rocks or branches.

With no rescue in sight, Cindy and Ryan spent a second freezing night on Mt. Baldy. This time, they sought shelter in a fallen log.

Cindy got the fifth tip right: Find any natural shelter that can shield you from the elements.

Rescuers finally found Cindy and Ryan, two full days from when they were last seen. After recovering from hypothermia and frostbite, Cindy enrolled in search and rescue training. But she says her greatest lessons were those learned on Mt. Baldy.

"I think probably the most important thing I learned was don't ever give up on trying to get rescued," Cindy says.

From rescued to rescuer, Cindy hopes her story will teach others never to take nature for granted. The moral: Even if it's a simple day hike, always go in prepared.

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