TOWNSEND, Tenn. (WATE) – Missing hiker Austin Bohanan was found safe after eleven days alone in the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a happy ending to a story that could have taken a devastating turn.
“He probably had been in the backcountry before and so he knew how to be in the woods and stuff,” Brian Francis with River Sports Outfitters said. “He obviously found a water source.”
Bohanan’s story begs the question of if you got lost in the park, what does it take to survive? Francis, a lifelong hiker, said even for experienced hikers, hiking off trails is taking a risk.
“If you’re off trail by yourself and you fall, even a minor injury can lead to something worse,” Francis said. “And that’s part of hiking off trail, especially if you’re not familiar with the route and you’re not following a map. You could walk through thick foliage and walk off the side of a cliff if you’re not paying attention.”
Francis said if you ever find yourself lost in the woods, the best thing to do is to stay where you are so that rescue crews can find you. To enhance your chances of survival, begin with focusing on your basic needs of food, shelter, and most importantly, water. It is helpful to pack a water filter so that you can drink water from the creeks and limit your exposure to bacteria.
“You can go three days typically without water depending on the conditions,” Francis said. “I probably wouldn’t go straight for the water source, because if you do get some type of bacterial infection, you can get dehydrated real quickly, so that could exasperate your condition in the backcountry.”
If you’re trying to find your way to safety, Francis said the best thing to do is to follow a creek downstream.
“The creeks will lead downhill usually,” he said. “You can follow them to a road or a trail.”
Following creeks helped Bohanan eventually make his way out of the woods along Panther Creek.
Rescue crews spent almost two weeks searching for the teen, since he was reported missing on Sunday, Aug. 13. Bohanan disappeared two days earlier. Francis said those two days made it more difficult for search crews to locate him.
“You typically would want to report someone missing as soon as possible,” Francis said. “The sooner those rangers know, the better chance they have in finding that person before they get so far deviated off their course.”
Francis said in the end, the mild weather conditions and Bohanan’s survival instincts were key in helping him live, but under different circumstances, his story could have had a tragic ending.
“Usually doesn’t end up that happy, but his age, his health, the time of year, the abundant food sources, those are definitely factors that helped him out,” Francis said.