Saturday, January 6, 2007

good motoring
Survival kit for winter
H. Kishie Singh

There has been snow in Himachal recently and hordes of people drive up to see this wonder of nature. Though driving up is easy, staying warm and coping with the drive through snow and sub-zero temperatures is extremely difficult.

Recently the American media was full of James Kim’s death. He was stuck in a snowdrift with his wife and two children. After two days of being stuck and no help in sight, he set out on foot to seek help. He did not make it. He died of exposure and hypothermia. The mountains and cold are uncompromising adversaries and claim many lives each year.

Last year, I was driving from Kufri to Chail in heavy snowfall. The road is on the north side of the mountain and gets heavy snow. I was in my Gypsy, equipped with a four-wheel drive, snow tyres and snow chains. I had a shovel to dig myself out of snow and was properly attired with a survival kit in the vehicle.

About 15 km from Chail, I saw an abandoned Zen stuck in a snowdrift. The car had a fresh sprinkling of snow, about 15-20 mm, so I knew it had been standing for long. The engine was cold. If there were any footprints they had been covered by the snow. I drove on and about 5 km from Chail I met a young couple trudging through the snow knee-deep. They were in a miserable condition — wet, cold, exhausted and near collapse. I bundled them into the Gypsy and drove them to their hotel.

The woman wore ordinary shoes, a cotton saree, a warm sweater and a shawl. The man was in jeans, leather shoes and a jacket. Both were ill-equipped for what they had attempted. A fun drive could have ended
in disaster.

The moral of the story: don’t attempt these drives without being prepared. Here are some tips for winter survival.

First, if you are new to the area, do not venture out without informing some responsible persons about your intentions. Most important, warn them that if you are not back within a stipulated time, they should come looking for you. This will be your only link with survival. In India there are no such things as snow patrols or helicopters to help stranded travellers.

Then, should you be stuck somewhere, stay in your car. The US Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School offers the ‘rules of three’. You can survive extreme conditions for three weeks without food, three days without water, three hours without shelter, three minutes without air, three months without love! Let me add my own rule of three. You won’t last three seconds without hope. Stay cool, calm and collected. Do not panic. Take it for granted that help is on the way and hope for the best.

The survival kit you should carry in the car is simple. But even more important than the kit is a full tank of fuel. and, most cars today have heaters, which provide warmth and comfort — two things that should promise survival. The kit should include plenty of drinking water, chocolates, dry fruit, dates and any other energy food. Potato crisps and salties are not recommended as they make you thirsty. You must have a blanket or two; a sleeping bag would be a great help.

A strong flashlight with fresh batteries is a must. Should you be lucky enough to have an aerial rescue — a chopper looking for you, the flashlight will help signal the chopper. You can also catch its attention by reflecting sunlight with a mirror. You have side mirrors plus an interior rear-view mirror, which will do the trick. Even in the open country, a car covered with snow will be easily missed. On the Kufri-Chail road which is heavily forested, you could be hard to spot from the air. A flash of sunlight will alert the pilot. They are trained to look for such signs. If its cloudy or dark, switch on your head lights and reflect the light through the mirror.

Other important items: candles and matches. In case the engine is dead and the heater doesn’t work, one candle will keep the car warm. Use it with great care.

Then, of course there is this important rule for off-roaders. It applies to driving in the snow as well. Never venture out alone. Travel in pairs and your survival will be assured.

Driving in the snow can be fun and a great adventure. But be prepared.

Happy motoring.