Anthropologist Underground

Anthropologist Underground
October 13
I'm Terrie Torgersen Peterson. I hold a BA in Anthropology from the University of Wyoming. I've done archeological field work at Haluzta in Israel, San Juan River cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, and in the Big Horn Canyon in Wyoming. I'm currently a writer and stay-home mom to two gorgeous, laughing children. I enjoy exploring the intersection of science and culture and my own life as ethnography. I also write for and You can email me: anthropologistunderground [at] gmail [dot] com.


SEPTEMBER 21, 2009 12:50AM

Ten Essentials

Rate: 1 Flag
Image via:
Image via:

The Underground family's recent vacation in the mountains included lots of cycling and backpacking at elevations above 9000 feet.  We are experienced backpackers, cyclists, and, before we had children, climbers. Whether I'm in the wilderness alone, with my children, or with a group, I always carry a heavy pack.  I believe it is my personal responsibility to keep myself safe and to avoid endangering rescuers.  Hiking with children adds another significant layer of preparedness responsibility, along with extra kid snacks and gear. 

Mountaineering organizations have compiled lists of important potentially lifesaving items backpackers should carry at all times. These are known as the Ten Essentials. Although the item details may vary, there is general agreement about the ten broad categories of essentials.  Here are the categories

1. Navigational equipment 
    This includes topographic maps, compass, GPS, etc. along with competency in their use.
2. Sun protection 
    Quality sunglasses/sunscreen along with spf chapstick.
3. Insulation 
    Extra clothing made of synthetic materials--hat, gloves and enough layers to allow you to survive the coldest temperatures you could reasonably expect if you're stuck out overnight. I would also include rain gear in this category.
4. Illumination 
    A headlamp with an extra set of batteries works well. Remember to carry at least one water bottle and all battery-powered items in interior pockets in very cold weather so the batteries stay warm and the water stays liquid.
5. First Aid supplies 
    And familiarity with first aid techniques.  I learned while doing research for this post that prepackaged first aid kits are inadequate.  I'll have to modify my own kit.
6. Fire 
    You need an ignition source such a a couple of disposable lighters along with fire starting material like a candle.
7. Repair kit and tools 
    Things like knife/multitool, 6 feet or so of duct tape, extra cordage for broken laces or pitching an emergency shelter.
8. Nutrition 
    Enough no-cook food for and extra day and night--jerkey, Clif Bars, and the like.
9. Hydration 
    Carry plenty of water plus means of ground-source water purification--like a filter or iodine tablets.
10. Emergency shelter 
    Like a space blanket or a couple of extra-large trash bags.

In addition to these items, I typically carry pepper spray, a tooth brush, toilet paper, and a cell phone (turned off--it's only for emergency use).  When we hike with our children, everyone carries a whistle, and we enforce the rule that we all stay together as a group. It is also critical to let someone outside your party know the details of your trip plan and when to call authorities if you fail to return.  

Like mountaineering, critical thinking requires ongoing practice.  It can be difficult to objectively and logically evaluate an argument, especially when either (or both) party has a strong emotional investment.  
I have read many accounts of mountaineering injuries and fatalities that might have been prevented. In hindsight it's very easy to see where one bad decision or mistake led to increasingly serious mistakes. After everyone calms down, it's easy to see where a debate went awry and devolved into ad-hominem attacks.  Here are some traits that I think are essential to both outdoor survival and critical thinking.  I'm sure I've missed some, and would welcome suggestions for more:

1. Self-evaluate 
    Double-check your gear to make sure you have everything and that everything is in working order. Triple-check climbing gear.  
    Double-check your own argument for any factual errors or logical fallacies. Overconfidence in either situation can easily lead you into trouble.
2.  Listen 
    Instead of replaying an argument with a crazy person over and over in your head, listen to the sounds around you.  The sounds of nature are amazingly restorative, and may tip you off to danger like a waterfall, or a predator.  
    Instead of mentally preparing your counter-argument while the other person is prattling on about something ridiculous, try to actually listen and reflect back: "So, you're citing unverifiable anecdotal reports of anal probes as irrefutable evidence of extraterrestrial abduction of humans?" 
3. Improvise 
    Don't get freaked out if some small thing goes awry.  Think about an alternative solution.  Early in a multi-day river trip, I was able to use a temple piece from an extra pair of sunglasses to repair a broken tent pole. 
    Don't get freaked out if an example you use to make your point falls apart.  Think of a different example to make your point and see if your argument still holds up: "You know, you're right.  Extraterrestrial anal probing might be detectable by a medical exam. But how can ER doctors tell the difference between probing by alien technology and other, Earthy, types? Do the aliens leave biological evidence similar to DNA?" 
4. Try not to panic 
    If you notice that dusk is falling and you're exhausted and still not back at base camp, stay calm and carefully consider your next move.  You have several options: put on your headlamp, keep going, and hope for the best; consult a map and decide whether or not you can realistically make it to base camp before dark; stop where you are and set up your emergency shelter, build a fire, have a snack, rest, and wait until morning to hike out; panic and stumble off a cliff in the dark. 
    If the person you are arguing with stumps you, stay calm: "I don't know the answer to the alien DNA question either.  Maybe you could track that down and we'll continue this discussion after you have that information."
5. Train 
    We live well above sea level, so all the cycling and hiking we do regularly near our home helped tremendously with our stamina in the mountains.  We were on the lookout for altitude sickness, but everyone did well.  
    Practice critical thinking.  If you read of hear something that doesn't sound right, check it out for yourself.  Imagine trying to convince someone to accept your argument.  Gather valid, verifiable evidence for your position.  Explore the opposite point of view and try to imagine counter-arguments: "No, I can't prove that aliens don't abduct and probe rural Americans; however the burden of proof is on the person who asserts that these events are real. What is your verifiable evidence?"
6. Stay warm and well-hydrated 
    Always good advice.
7. Don't risk your life for the summit 
    Many mountaineering accidents occur on the descent from the summit.  Climbers push for the summit in the face of impending storms, darkness, or other serious risks instead of waiting out the danger and making a second attempt. The danger of darkness and storms is exacerbated by such factors as extreme exhaustion, altitude sickness, hypothermia, and oxygen deprivation. 
    Don't engage in arguments with dangerous crazy people.  Walk away.  Recognize that reasonable people can legitimately disagree about certain topics. Also, assess the value of your relationship with the other party before you forever alienate them: "You're an idiot.  This alien probing business is just a manifestation of your subconscious sexual fantasies..."

Happy skepticism!


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below: