The Mountain Between Mistakes and Surviving – Sarah Beery

Let me start by saying *SPOILER ALERTS* ahead.

The Mountain Between Us is an adventure movie released in October 2017. The movie begins its journey when two strangers discover they are both in need of a connecting flight on the way to their separate destinations after an incoming storm causes a cancellation for their booked flights. Ben (Idris Elba), a surgeon, and Alex (Kate Winslet), a journalist and photographer, decide to charter a private plane to reach their connecting flights in Denver. However, they find themselves in serious trouble when their pilot suffers a stroke mid-flight, which lands them in a survival situation on top of a mountain in the High Uintas Wilderness (where the pilot states it receives more than 700 inches of snow per year and is a million acres of pure wilderness).

Here at High Trails we teach an Outdoor Survival Hike class, and while watching the movie I couldn’t help but notice the things Ben and Alex did that were good, as well as some things they could’ve done better.

First we should define a survival situation.

According to our curriculum, a survival situation is when you find yourself in a predicament where your basic needs have become harder to obtain. This means any part of FWARPS (food, water, air, reproduction, protection, and space) are going to be a limiting factor for your survival. However, some of these FWARPS are going to be more important than others; for example, reproduction and space are not going to be as vital as food and water in a survival situation. Both characters appear to have some basic knowledge of what to do in a survival situation and are able to think and work through a course of action together that ultimately leads to they’re survival.

Let’s start with the good.

Ben is a doctor so he clearly has the knowledge to make realistic judgments on the injuries (ranging from minor cuts to a broken leg) they sustained during the crash, as well as how to treat them. He also has a clear understanding of what their bodies can endure and what they need in order to survive the brutal temperature and weather conditions.

Alex isn’t helpless; she is a bit more innovative in her ideas to survive and is willing to make moves instead of sitting still (which is what Ben would prefer to do). She also proves knowledgeable about what to do in a survival situation in terms of the Rule of Three’s; meaning they can go 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, 3 hours with protection. They observe their surroundings to see what they can use for food, water, and protection. They have little food on them (after three days they’re down to eating individual almonds), but eventually are able to kill a mountain lion thanks to the help of the pilot’s dog and a flare gun. They have a near endless supply of water due to the immense amount of snow around them in the mountains. And for protection they first use the wrecked plane, then moved on to things like caves, rock overhangs, and even an abandoned cabin at one point.

Alex and Ben also manage to follow STOP (sit, think, observe, plan) at the beginning of their journey and throughout. At just about every step of the way, they take time to sit and think about what they need in order to survive before moving on.

On to the not so good…

The single, biggest mistake the two intelligent characters make is that they don’t tell anyone about taking the alternate plane. Alex is on the way to her wedding, yet doesn’t tell her fiancé how she plans to make it to Denver on time. Ben is on his way to perform surgery on a young boy, but doesn’t bother to inform the hospital of his delay. So at first, they spend a few days at the wreckage building up and saving energy hoping someone will eventually come looking for them, only to realize neither one had informed anyone they were on the charter plane. The pilot didn’t even file flight plans since it was still light out and he was confident they’d land before dark without running into the winter storm. They also hope that the tracking device in the tail of the plane will be caught on radar, but when the duo finally decided to leave, they come across the tail and discover the beacon has been destroyed.

One emphasis of our Outdoor Survival Hike at High Trails is on the prevention of finding yourself in a survival situation. We tell students that they should plan their hike and hike their plan; meaning that you should make a thorough plan before going on an adventure. Part of that plan should include telling someone who isn’t traveling with you where you are going and when you can expect to be back from the trip. If you don’t do that, it can make a search for you near impossible to accomplish for rescue parties; especially when a million acres are in play.

Other mistakes that Alex and Ben encounter include resting on a log that is actually on top of frozen water and Ben getting his leg caught in a bear trap. This could be chalked up to them having a decreased ability to be observant due to the lack of nourishment and protection, or it could be that there was too much snow for these things to be observed by anyone; something left to be determined by the audience themselves.

The Mountain Between Us does a fairly good job of making audiences aware of the basics needed in order to be successful in a survival situation. However, it is something you would definitely need to have some knowledge of if you’re going to survive traveling miles and miles in (at times) waist-deep snow with broken bones and a limited food supply. And while Alex and Ben were able to happen upon a lot of lucky protection options, they never had to build their shelter; which would’ve added a lot of pressure on their bodies and energy supply that were already dwindling significantly in the cold altitude. The movie definitely does a good job showing the way two strangers had to come together and become completely dependent upon each other in order to survive an extreme situation.



  1. Abu-Assad, Hany, director. The Mountain Between Us. Twentieth Century Fox, 2017.
  2. “The Mountain Between Us (2017).” IMDb,,

At High Trails Outdoor Science School, we literally force our instructors to write about elementary outdoor education, teaching outside, learning outside, our dirty classroom (the forest…gosh), environmental science, outdoor science, and all other tree hugging student and kid loving things that keep us engaged, passionate, driven, loving our job, digging our life, and spreading the word to anyone whose attention we can hold for long enough to actually make it through reading this entire sentence. Whew….


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