36 hours after coming home from Alaska I was on a plane heading for the Maldives. This time I was together with my family. I had missed them on my trip to Alaska but now we had two weeks together ahead of us. This was our summer vacation.
It wasn’t a wilderness vacation in the sense that we lived outside but we stayed in a beachfront bungalow 15 meters away form the water’s edge. A perfect vacation for all of us. We were surrounded by nature in a luxury resort with the most beautiful view and still within close range of a swimming pool and other facilities for my kids.
Staying on a tropical island still made me wonder what my priorities and challenges would be in a survival situation. The first thing I do when I go to a new place is to read nature. What fire making materials are available, what sources of food and water are available, what resources are available for shelter making and so on. It’s not something I think about it has just become a habit to me.
I found plenty of firemaking materials including some palm leaf sheath. Apart from firemaking this fibrous mesh can be used for numerous things. The fibres are very strong and can be used for making both rope, baskets and nets just like palm leaves can. The mesh itself can also be used directly as a brush, washcloth, padding, and much more.
Nature here is so lush that finding food wouldn’t be your biggest challenge. The ocean would probably be your biggest resource of food in a survival situation. When we were dropped off on the island the first thing we saw was a Blacktip reef shark swimming under the bridge where we landed.
One early morning my wife and I took a stroll along the beach. We were paddling in the shallows when we suddenly heard a big splash and snapping jaws behind us. As we looked back we saw a 1.2 meter long shark right behind us. Apparently it was hunting something all the way up on the shore. As it went back into the sea it passed right by us along with a few other sharks.
On the beach we saw both hermit crabs, ghost crabs, Oriental garden lizards, beetles, Grey heron and more and above us smaller birds and the Indian Flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus). We had been swimming in the ocean for a couple of days before buying a diving mask. After this it became clear to us just how lush the ocean was. Twospot Demoiselle, Picasso Triggerfish, Grouper and the poisonous Yellow Boxfish were just some of the fish I saw. One time I was snorkeling in the shallows when I coincidentally looked up and saw a girl looking at me while pointing. I turned around to see what she was pointing at and I saw a huge shadow right behind me. A big stingray was passing me one meter away.
Had we not come during the monsoon water would probably have been an issue here. At this point we had plenty of rain water so this was also not a priority. When people think of the monsoon they often think of endless rain for months but in the Maldives the “Halhangu” as the Monsoon is called here is more versatile and heavy rain can come within a few minutes. During the day time we had perfect weather throughout our two week long stay and most of the rain came during the nights.
So if both food and water was plentiful, what would my biggest challenge be if I ended up on a tropical island like this one in a survival situation? The answer is heat. When I first arrived here I had nausea and felt both dizzy and tired. I wasn’t sure whether it was jetlag from traveling east through 15 timezones or 221 longitudes the last couple of days or whether it was the heat. Either way the heat was humid and intense and it made me lazy and indolent. Not an ideal state of being in a survival situation where you want to stay on top of things.
The heat aside my light skin is not well protected against the scorching sun. So this would definitely be a challenge for me too. Without sunscreen I would need to stay out of the sun most of the time.
Luckily sharks and stingrays are more active after dusk so I could hunt for them without being exposed to the sun otherwise I would need to stay covered up.
My kids and I often go on trips together and sometimes I leave them to solve tasks on their own . Whether the task is building their own shelter, lighting fire or foraging for food they always go at it with passion. This time they were the ones to give me a challenge though. They had been playing around outside for an hour or more when they came in with some coconuts they had collected on the beach. They had been trying to open them for some time when one of the locals came by and showed them how to do it. Now they wanted me to do it too. It was both great fun and a challenge I couldn’t say no to.
Coconuts have edible fruit flesh as you probably know and they are great for many things in a survival situation. Green coconuts contain a lot of water too. Well it’s not actually water rather than a kind of fruit juice rich in natural sugars, vitamin C, and minerals such as potassium. Coconut water is also rich in fibers. Be careful not to drink too much of it though since their high amounts of potassium can cause unconsciousness, uncontrolled diabetes, red blood cell destruction among other things. It also contains natural laxatives which can be helpful if you get constipation but it could also leave you dehydrated. So you shouldn’t drink too much of it. Probably not more than two cups a day.
Climbing a palm tree to get the green coconuts is not an easy task though. And it is certainly not risk free either. I talked to one of the locals who’s job it was to climb the palm trees and cut down coconuts and withered leaves with his machete. His technique was to tie a rope around his back and lean into it as he moved upwards. The rope he used was made from hide and which made it very strong. Others use a rope around their feet which they press towards the trunk of the tree to avoid slipping. These are ancient techniques that require great strength and practice and you don’t want to risk injuring yourself in a survival situation unless absolutely necessary.
Another way to get water is from palm leaves. And you don’t have to climb the trees to get it. What you want to do is to locate some young shoots that grow straight from the ground near the base of a tree. Find a flowering stalk, bend it downwards and cut off the tip. The leaves contain a sugary fluid that you can drink. The next day slice off another thin piece of the leaf and it will give you up to a liter of fluid a day. Be aware that this fluid also contains a laxative so take care that you don’t drink too much of that either.
There are many other ways to get water in the tropics. If you have a plastic bag condensation is another one. There are two immediate ways to do it. One is by tying a plastic bag around the branch of a tree with green leaves and let the sun evaporate the water inside the branch and leave it to condensate on the plastic bag.
The other is by making a solar still. This can be made in different ways but the principle is the same. You dig a hole in the ground and cover it with the plastic bag. In the middle of the hole under the plastic bag you put a container to collect the water. Then you place a small stone on top of the plastic bag right above the container to weigh down the plastic bag a bit. The idea is to make water from the ground below evaporate and condensate on the plastic bag above. Because of the weight of the stone the water will then dribble down into the middle and into the container. You can use this method to render salt water or dirty water drinkable and you can put wet leaves into the hole to extract the water from them. Mind you that this is a method that requires some patience.
The Maldives is a tropical paradise and I would recommend everyone to visit this place. From a survival/SHTF point of view, which is my take on this blog, there are a few things to consider however: First of all remember you will most likely be staying on a remote island with no immediate medical help available so take your precautions. There are some very poisonous fish here so don’t step on the corals. Well don’t step on them anyway since you will destroy them. Also don’t swim in the ocean at night since sharks are more active at night and this is their feeding time. Tsunamis and severe storms happen but I wouldn’t worry too much about that though. It is however a Muslim country where radical Islam is very strong. 200 Maldivians have been known to fight for IS in Iraq and Syria out of a total population of only 345.000. I didn’t know about this until after we visited the country but in Male, the capital of the Maldives Islam was clearly present. At the moment there are no risks for tourists visiting the islands however since tourism is a big business for the country. And the Islamists are able to launder their money through it. Just don’t bring alcohol through customs. You can buy it at the resorts anyway since the government is turning it’s blind eye to it.
Whether or not you want to indirectly support radical Islam the Maldives is definitely worth a visit from a holiday perspective. And boycotting the country would probably only help the radical forces within the country gain more power. So my recommendation is to go and experience this tropical paradise. The irony of it all being of course that by flying here you will encourage global warning and it is believed that the islands will disappear within the next 10-100 years due to sea levels rising.
On July 20th 2018 I joined a small group of people on a 10 day journey into the Alaskan wilderness. A journey so far into the backcountry you can only get there by floatplane
Personally I wanted to experience the real American wilderness that I used to watch on TV as a kid. We’re talking “Dick Proenneke” and “North to Alaska“ here. To me Alaska still stands as the ultimate wilderness. I also wanted to experience sleeping outside in bear country. Whether under a tarp, in a natural shelter or out in the open nothing brings you closer to nature than sleeping outside.
I had come along on this trip because I wanted to experience a wilder and even more untouched nature than I had ever experienced before. I always strive to leave civilization behind on my trips the best I can. To me every trip I go on is a step further towards understanding the ancient hunter gatherer inside myself. Before departure I had quite a few talks with our tour leader Claus Ballisager. I told him I wanted to live outside in the wild and be as close to nature as possible. My idea was to sleep under a tarp using a tarp pole and some paracord to support it. This was already a compromise for me since I’m used to building natural shelters when I’m outside. On this trip I needed to be agile and be able to set up my camp and pack it up in the same pace as the rest of the group though. Claus warned me against it several times. He was worried that I would be miserable on the mountain if we were to see high windspeeds or if it was to rain when camping on the river banks in wet sand.
When Claus speaks you listen. He is a very experienced and respected outdoorsman, tracker and big game hunter. He lived in Alaska for many years and he knows the place like no other.
Now people who know me will probably tell you I can be stubborn at times. And of course I didn’t follow Claus’ advice about bringing a tent. The closer we came to departure the more certain I became in fact that my goal for this trip would be to live out there in a tarp only. I can understand why some people may see this as foolish but I have way more experience with sleeping outside in a shelter than I have with sleeping in a tent. Most often it’s the thought that scares you more than reality. Hell yes I was going to sleep outside in the Alaskan wilderness with the bears!
Preparation I was looking for a tarp to fit my needs. I wanted it to be big enough for me to use it both as a roof and a windshield at the same time and for me to be able to lie down inside it. But I also wanted it to be light weight. I really don’t like packing too heavy. Half the joy for me on a hike is to check out edible plants on the way, collecting fire making materials, learning new animal tracks and the like. I read the land as I walk. So carrying a heavy pack is a sure show stopper since you can’t lean forward or kneel down with it. I considered buying a DD Hammock tarp for about $50. I really like it but it weighs 790g. Instead I went to my local DIY store and bought a $4 tarp measuring 2.5 x 3.6 m weighing only 585g. The only problem was that it was missing two eyelets in order to work they way I had planned it. I bought two extra eyelets and made the holes myself. I was pretty much up to par with the rest of my gear.
After spending a couple of days in Anchorage we were getting ready to leave for the wilderness. I had spent a few days with Claus stashing up on food, ammo and other necessities. On the day of our departure into the wild, we all met up at Rust’s Flying Service in Lake Hood, the world’s busiest airport for float planes. We were only 6 people in the group due to some unfortunate events leading to four people missing out on the trip.
Take-off As we sat in the red float plane watching all the rivers, lakes, trees and mountains pass us by underneath we realized that awaiting us down there was an adventure like no other. Down there was the home of elk, caribou, moose, black bear, grizzly bear, beaver, the bald eagle and many more. And we were going down there to live among them for ten days.
The sun was shining on a blue sky as the small plane turned around to prepare for landing on Stephan Lake and as the pontons hit the water we were greeted by a moose standing on the shore. The plane took off and everything went quiet.
From this point on we were on our own. Claus gave us a briefing on the shore of the lake and then we started moving inland. The first couple of kilometers you think a lot about bears. You know they are out there and you’re walking in dense vegetation with a small visibility range. It’s a funny thing with bears. On one hand you are anxious to meet one but on the other hand you don’t want to surprise one up close. As we made our way through the landscape uphill from the lake we saw a lot of bear tracks. Everything from scratch marks, droppings and fur. Oh yes they were there.
It was an unusually warm day and we were all enjoying the hike through the spruce forest. On the way we saw a spruce grouse and I found some spruce shoots to use for tea.
Our goal for the day was to reach a small hut called “The Halfway Hut”. It was a small hunting hut with room for 2 – 3 people. I had no intention of travelling more than 6.500 km to experience one of the most pristine wildernesses in the world from the inside of a hut. So Claus and I slept outside leaving the hut to the 4 others. They were two couples and they managed to fit in there together although they complained the next morning that it had been a fairly warm experience.
This was my first night in bear territory so I was excited to lie down in my sleeping bag. I had put up my shelter with the back towards the wind and the front overlooking the landscape. Except I couldn’t see anything because of the bushes in front of me. It was summer in Alaska so it didn’t really get dark. The sun was only out of sight for a few hours during midnight. I lay down with both an air horn and a bear spray within reach and fell asleep immediately. It had been a long day with a lot of new impressions.
First morning in the wild Waking up the next morning was amazing though. It was such a quiet and peaceful morning and the sun light hit me through the branches of the bush in front of me. This is the reward you get for sleeping outside. I breathed in and felt the fresh Alaskan air fill my lungs. I felt at one with nature.
This day would turn out to become one of the toughest days of our hike. The plan was to reach the second hut on our trip and the last sign of civilization. The Grizzly Hut. It was another very warm day which made hiking a beautiful experience. On the way I found some spruce resin for fire making. I always collect tinder for fire making before I need it. You never know if everything suddenly becomes wet from a rainfall or if the terrain changes so no materials are available. I also found some Crowberries that I didn’t eat though. I wasn’t able to identify them with a 100% certainty and I didn’t want to risk ending my journey like Christopher Mccandless (Alexander Supertramp) did.
The terrain was extremely varied. We crossed marshes, beaver dams, streams, hill sides and mountains. It was great fun. We had lunch in a small ravine on top of a mountain. It was an ideal place to take a break. We were partially out of the sun and it was windy and close to a stream where we could fill our water rations. Just what we needed on this hot day.
As we moved on after lunch the distance to the Grizzly Hut seemed endless however. The sun was really taking its toll on us. And Claus was beginning to suggest that we split the trip in half. He was also feeling the heat. It was a quite interesting talk we had. As a leader it’s a very sympathetic feature to be able to open up and admit your vulnerability. It sends a message to everyone else that being tired is ok. But this was a tough crowd. Even though everyone was exhausted and we did consider splitting the journey in two we had all set our mind on reaching the Grizzly Hut. So we agreed to move on a bit and see how we would feel when we made it to the opposite side of the mountain.
As we continued around the mountain we also worked our way out of the sun. This really increased our moral. Everyone had expected Alaska to be rainy and maybe a bit windy and cold. And here we were in the middle of a hot summer day. Another moral booster was the sight of the Grizzly Hut across the valley. We had a short break and decided to keep going. Then suddenly we heard an airplane. We were high up on the side of the mountain when we saw the small white Cessna like plane circle the Grizzly Hut below us. At one point it almost looked like it was going to crash the mountain wall on the other side of the valley. And then on it’s third round it flew over the hut in low altitude and one of the girls believed that she saw the pilot make an air drop. We weren’t sure about it but the tenant who looks after the land had told us before we took off that he would have his pilot air drop some muffins for us. At the time we thought he was just joking of course. Who would fly a plane all the way out here just to drop off a couple of muffins? Well it made us curious enough to proceed all the way to the hut. It was easier said than done however.
We had been walking on the side of the mountain for the last couple of hours and now we had to do it in dense woodland. This continued for about half an hour or so I believe before we reached a place to cross the valley. It was completely flooded by beaver dams and unlike the other dams we crossed this was a wide plateau with reed growing above our heads. We jumped from tussock to tussock and waded through muddy water before we finally stood at foot of the big hill leading up to the Grizzly Hut.
Everyone started the ascend to the hut except two of us. We went to fetch water from a small nearby creek. Even if we were relaxed when walking through the high grass you could still hear us shout “hey bear!” regularly in between chit chatting. It’s funny how quickly your mindset changes when you know you’re in bear country. You never let down your guards completely.
After camping we sat down on a bench facing Grizzly Creek. The wind was blowing heavily as we sat there looking back at the landscape we had spend the whole day crossing. Then suddenly we remembered the plane making an airdrop. We jumped up and started searching the area. Within a few minutes one of the girls came back with a white package with a long yellow ribbon tied to it. We opened it and inside was four muffins and two oranges! Pure luxury.
We sat in the hut talking for a while as we made dinner. Afterwards we had coffee and muffins. It didn’t take long before the sun slowly started to disappear behind one of the tall mountains towards west. Since we were on a small plateau above the valley the wind was blowing quite heavily. So I went to secure my tarp before hitting the sack. I put a couple of rocks in the corners and tightened up the paracord holding the tarp pole in place. And then one of the grommets that I had put in the tarp myself broke. I was supposed to use this tarp through out the whole trip so this was not an ideal situation. I guess that’s the price you pay when you buy cheap gear. I had brought an extra tarp but it was not nearly as big as this one. It was really windy, the sun was disappearing and I was getting tired so I had to figure out something quickly. I found a small rock, wrapped the corner of the tarp around it and tied the paracord around it. I then secured it to the tarp pole and hoped it would stand the tearing of the wind. I had a plan B for windy mountain tops all along but I preferred sleeping in a tarp with a view rather than under it with rocks all the way around the edges.
Rain, pain and plains The next day was set to be the longest hike of our journey. We started out by crossing a small rapid creek. Apparently I didn’t tie my gaiters tight enough so a few steps in the water was enough to get my socks completely soaked. I emptied my boots, pulled out the inner soles and wrung my socks before we continued. The weather had changed a bit and we had clouds coming in. Most of the morning we spent walking uphill. A long straight stretch. By lunch my feet were starting to blister because of the wet socks I wore. My feet didn’t feel very wet but one of the other guys recommended that I changed my socks anyway. It also gave me a chance to dry the other pair of socks so after allowing my feet a bit of fresh air during lunch I changed socks. It felt great. Also because I put my inner soles back into my boots. It’s incredible how much difference an inner sole makes in a pair of Meindl boots.
The rest of the afternoon we hiked through a big rocky plateau. We could see rain clouds coming in and before we knew it we had to change to our rain gear. Staying dry is essential when you’re in the wild. Water leads heat away from your body 25 times faster than air. If you are in an emergency situation with no prospect of seeking shelter or lighting a fire to dry your clothes, you are better off taking them off. “Cotton Kills” – you may have heard the expression before. The reason for this is that cotton looses it’s ability to insulate when wet and it takes a long time for it to dry. Wool on the other hand retains up to 80% of it’s insulation ability when wet.
This part of the hike was really beautiful and it was made even more beautiful by the sun occasionally penetrating the rain clouds in the horizon. The terrain was rocky and wet with deep pools of water everywhere. Despite being a bit monotonous I really liked it. The biggest downside was the mosquitoes. They were an intense plague. Every time we stopped for even a second they would be all over us. Even ascending into higher and more windy ground didn’t help.
We crossed a wide shallow river before the last hardships of the day: The final ascent to our camp site higher up in the mountains. The first one with no signs of civilization what so ever.
Out of the blue – literally – we heard a huge bang. It was extremely loud but at the same time it felt far away. At first we thought it was thunder but later we learned that it was probably a big piece of the mountain that had fallen off. And that’s exactly how you would imagine that sound. It wasn’t a long growling rumbling like thunder. It was more like a huge cannon being fired. A single loud boom reverberating throughout the mountains.
We came from the opposite side of the mountain when we first saw the camp site and we had to walk back down the mountain a bit before we hit camp. The view from up here was truly amazing but the mosquitoes were still plentiful. Surprisingly as it may seem the only place with no mosquitoes at all was under my tarp. I can’t explain why they didn’t find their way inside my shelter but for some reason they just didn’t.
The weather had changed and the sun was out again. Everyone was happy and still in a good mood. I had brought my fishing pole but still hadn’t had a chance to try my luck with it. During dinner Claus told us about a mountain lake further up the mountain that he knew of. He suggested we should give it a try and see if it held any fish. Since we were all in good spirit we decided to all do a hike to the lake from our camp.
It was a short hike of maybe an hour from our camp. We crossed a small creek on the way but apart from that it was a straight walk to the top. And we didn’t even carry our backpacks. The lake was really beautiful. It had a green colour reflection in the water from the rocky bottom and the blue sky was mirroring in the surface. I quickly rigged my fishing rod and did my first cast. I was full of anticipation and hope that this lake would offer some action. And of course dinner. I went to the opposite side of the lake to get away from the others who seized the opportunity to take a swim. As I moved around the lake it became clear however that there was no fish in it. It was a big lake of melting water from the peak next to it. There were no plants growing in it or other signs of life really. It was just a beautiful lake.
As we descended from the peak to go back to our camp I stumbled across an Arctic dock growing on some rocks right where the lake flowed into a stream. It’s an edible plant similar to Common sorrel. We followed the stream down the mountain and encountered a flock og chipmunks. They had occupied a big rock to use as their fortress. Maybe that’s why they allowed us to get so close to them before they hid. We got to a range of 5 to 10 meters away from them. A bit further down we passed a spot with a small snow deposition. This was the first and only time I stepped on snow during our trip. Back in camp I went straight to bed.
Bears and bushcraft The next morning I woke up to sunshine. I had the most amazing view from my shelter. The terrain ahead of us was one long forest of shrub consisting of mainly dwarf birch (Betula nana) a shrub about 1-2 meters tall. We began our hike by descending from our camp ground halfway up the mountain and crossing the small creek where we had picked up water from the day before. We filled our bottles and moved on. For about an hour we bushwhacked through these bushes and whatever grew in between. We had a visibility range of maximum 2 meters. Not ideal in bear country. On top of that it started raining so we were walking for a couple of hours shouting “hey bear” and just watching our step. Here and there there we stepped over steep pits between the rocks and the grass. It was a hike that demanded our attention. A few of the pits were so deep you couldn’t see where they ended. Most of the day went by like this. Rain on and off and nothing but bushes. The hike was set to be a lot shorter than the day before. This fact combined with the rain meant we didn’t sit down for a long lunch break. Before we could reach the next camping spot we had to cross a canyon. The ground was really slippery and the descent was fairly steep so we had to hold on to the trees on our way down to avoid sliding. Now we only had one final ascent left before reaching our destination. It was a lot longer than I had expected however. And even though I was quite energetic the discouragement of a number of false peaks was taken it’s toll on me. When we finally reached the top it had stopped raining and the view from up here was probably the most beautiful one of the whole trip.
Claus and I had walked ahead in order to find an ideal camp site before picking up the other guys a hundred meters down the mountain. We found a rocky spot on the side of the mountain surrounded by straight ground here and there. From up here we had the most amazing view over the Talkeetna River and the valley we were going into the next day. Two of the guys went all the way back down in the canyon where we came from to get water. Meanwhile I started setting up my tarp. As I was about to finish the whole thing I could suddenly hear Claus shout from a distance. I didn’t sense any panic in his voice and when I came closer I could see him standing with his back towards me looking in his binoculars towards the opposite side of the river. “There’s a bear he said. A grizzly with two cubs.” I could sense both a hint of relief and excitement in Claus’ voice. He had guaranteed us all that we would see bears on this trip and until now he had hadn’t delivered. It was amazing to see this huge animal walk freely. And to see the two cubs was just an added bonus.
I felt bad for the others who had gone to get water for the group. So I decided to run down the mountain and get them. Hoping they were already on their way back I shouted to them on the way. It was a long way down, so fetching water was quite the task here. When I was almost half way down the mountain I finally heard someone answer. Luckily they made it back in time to see the bears. Back in camp everyone was ready for dinner. Because of my bushcraft experience Claus had asked me to be in charge of fire making. I started preparing materials to get a fire going. Before this we had all been collecting firewood. In the process Claus’ folding saw accidentally broke. So as we sat by the fire after dinner I decided to weave a temporary handle for it made from small twigs. It is the kind of pastime that makes life around a camp fire special. If you visit the B-Wild Store in Copenhagen today you can still see the saw I made in the exhibition next to the knives. Although the twigs have loosened and withered the saw has become a fun souvenir from our trip.
Destination: The Talkeetna River It was a great nights sleep and this morning was kind of special. It was the last peak of our hike and ahead of us was the Talkeetna river. We could see the river banks where our next camp would be. The spot where we had arranged to meet up with the rafting team the next day. The view was simply indescribable and with a bald eagle flying by it was an out of this world experience. As a finishing touch I made myself a cup of tea from some spruce shoots that I had collected earlier on along the way. Before packing up I collected some birch bark from some nearby trees to use for tinder later on. You never know what the weather will be like later.
As I packed up I realized that I had slept on top of a blueberry bush. This is the American version mind you. They are bigger than the Nordic blueberries (bilberries) but not as rich in vitamins and they don’t hold the same amount of anthocyanin. Anthocyanin has been found to prevent cancer, diabetes and inflammation, and even slow the signs of aging. They still tasted great of course and I picked a few of them as a bonus breakfast before we started our hike.
My feet were still aching from the long wet hike but going downhill helped ease the strain on my heels since the pressure was now on my toes. As we moved down through the big forest leading down to the lake we were also going straight into dense bear habitat. Claus was getting more tense now. He was way more alert than at any other point of our trip. He repeated the procedures to us in case of a close encounter. As we continued we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a black forest. The result of a forest fire that had happened a couple of years back. It felt like we were part of a scene in the movie The Road. Afterwards both my pants and my arms had black stripes all over them from fending off coal branches.
Bear tracks became more frequent as we got closer to the lake. Tufts of hair, tracks and then – as we finally made our way through the clearing and onto the sand banks of the Talkeetna River – a loud, long and agressive roar from the opposite side of the river. We all stopped. Then there was nothing. We couldn’t see anything but dense forest. Claus told us he hadn’t heard a roar like this in 20 years. After a short while we filled our water bottles from the river and started walking along the bank of the river.
It was a nice feeling to suddenly be walking on sand. This was also the beginning of the end of our hiking trip. We were almost at the pick up spot where we had arranged to meet up with the river rafting crew the next day. Before we could get there however we had to get off the river again and walk inland for a while. We also had one last obstacle left. We had to cross a small but fast moving river. We used a throw bag to secure a rope across it and two of us stepped out into it to make sure the others didn’t end up in the main river in case they slipped.
That was it. Two minutes later we finally walked onto the river bank where our hiking trip ended. It was a wide and open spot with a lot of wind. The sand here was extremely fine grained so it found its way in everywhere. After putting up my tarp with the back towards the wind I secured it with rocks all the way around the sides of it. I didn’t want to risk it flying away during the night. It was a great and sturdy solution which also helped tighten it.
After getting my stuff in order and making my bed I took off my hiking boots for the last time. It wasn’t a pretty sight but it felt extremely great. My feet were both wet, wrinkled and blistered. All because of my mistake on day 3 were I didn’t change socks in time. It’s just a reminder of how important it is to take proper care of your feet out here. I had walked just a few hours with wet feet but it was enough to give me blisters for the rest of the trip. And since I didn’t have any blister plasters it was hard to get rid of them again. Regular plaster just doesn’t do the job because it moves around. I was happy to walk around bare foot here in the sand though. Even if it hurt whenever I stepped on the rocks.
We collected some firewood and then I went out to find some kindling to get a camp fire going. When making fire, many people focus on starting it. But the biggest part of successful fire making is preparation. Knowing what materials to collect, where to find them, keeping your tinder dry and building the fire correctly. I usually collect tinder before I need it. Here in Alaska I collected spruce resin and birch bark along the way. This made it easy for me to start a fire without scavenging the whole place everytime we camped in a new place. All I needed to find was some kindling and some firewood.
After I had the fire going I went out to collect two big piles of fresh branches with green leaves to use as a signal fire for the air crew who was coming to look for us the next the morning. They were going to point out our location for the River Rafting crew before dropping them off further up the river.
If you need to make a signal fire, you want to build a basis fire and keep it going until you need it. You also need to have plenty of extra firewood ready to intensify the fire when needed. And of course you need fresh green branches to produce the smoke. If your life depends on it you may also want to consider the colour of the smoke. Think about the background. If you’re in a spruce forest which looks dark from above, you want to create white smoke. If you’re on a beach, in the snow or somewhere else with a light backdrop, you may want to burn some plastic, oil or rubber to create a black smoke. The rest of the night we just spent hanging out by the camp fire, drinking coffee, eating snacks, telling stories and talking.
Waiting for the rafting crew I was awakened by the sound of an engine. I was a bit confused for a second and then I realized that it was the sound of the plane we were supposed to signal. I jumped out of my shelter. I needed to get the signal fire going. I looked around and realized that everyone else was wide awake. I could see the dense white smoke rise from our camp fire and Claus standing next to it.
The pilot had seen us and after doing a fly by to help the rafting crew plan their landfall the small plane disappeared in the horizon. All we had to do now was wait for the rafting crew to unload, prepare the rafts and come meet us later in the day. We hung up some brightly coloured clothes on a tripod of branches some hundred meters up the river, so they could se our camp in time.
Claus had brought a pack raft along so we took the opportunity to test it. Although my approach to wilderness living is a bit old school and I’m not normally impressed by new fancy inventions, I must say that this is a cool little gadget. If you don’t know what a pack raft is it’s basically a small inflatable raft that fits in your backpack. So if you’re going hiking in a remote area with long distances this is an easy way to travel on the wilderness highways. And with a weight of only 1.5 kgs I think it’s pretty cool.
I also did a bit of fishing to pass the time but this far up the river the water is so muddy that the fish can’t see your bait. You need to find the small tributaries where the water is clearer and also a bit more calm if you want to find the salmon. The sun was out now and it was really hot so I needed to get myself in the shade for a while. I had packed up my stuff so I went to lie down on the sand under a tarp we had put up temporarily. This was amazing. The quietness out here combined with the shade and the breeze was pure therapy for the mind. I ended up taking a small nap. This was the first day in almost a week where we didn’t have pack up and move on.
About 3:30 in the afternoon we spotted three rafts in the horizon. It was a great sight and everyone was full of anticipation. When they finally arrived we were all handed a drysuit and a pair of rubber boots. It was great for me to step into a different pair of boots. Just what my feet needed. Another great thing was that the rafting crew had brought us lunch. Not freeze dried lunch. REAL food! They lined up a big table with DIY sandwiches. There was ham, cheese, sausages, different kinds of spread, lettuche, peperoncini, water melon and even Pringles. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until the minute I put my teeth in it. Wow!
After the lunch break we saddled up. Claus and I were in the first raft, the other four guys were in the next one and in the last one there was a couple who had missed the first part of the trip because of an accident. The husband had dislocated his shoulder in Denver trying to catch a connecting flight. Rushing through security he had skipped tying his shoe laces and on the way up the escalator he stumbled in it. It was a sad situation for them but Claus had arranged with the rafting crew that they could fly out with them and meet us for the last part of the trip down the river. It was great to just sit and watch the landscape pass us by as we floated down the river. Even though this was the slower part of the river we still moved quite fast. You could feel that it was a powerful river. We drifted like this for a couple of hours before we started looking for a place to camp. After a few reconnaissances we decided for at spot on the right side of the river. It was practically a small island where the river broke into a small channel going around the back of it.
Here we had our first instructions on how to act and react on the river. We were told how to paddle the rapids, how to respond to different commands as well as how to react in the case of an emergency. This was no joke. We were going down class 5 rapids the next day.
When I signed up for the trip I didn’t pay much attention to the river rafting part. I was here to spend time in the wild. The idea of action packed rapids didn’t really appeal to me. I think I was a bit nervous about it actually. Not something that I aspired to at all. I guess that’s part of why I ended up enjoying this part of the trip so much. I came with no expectations whatsoever. But this extended way of camping was really cosy. The rafting crew prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for us every night. They even made dessert for us and they had brought beer too. Pure luxury.
I enjoyed the slow tempo after we camped. It gave me time to wander around in the area and just take in the Alaskan wilderness. I was still in charge of fire making so I spent this time foraging for tinder and kindling as well.
White water rafting ahead No backpack, no bear spray. The next morning I just packed up my shelter and put on my dry suit. I had mounted a GoPro on my helmet for this day. It was my son’s GoPro and he had been so kind as to lend it to me for this trip. I had also brought 2 iPhones to take pictures with. One was my other son’s. I kept them in dry cases and left one of them in a dry bag which was secured to the raft and the other one I kept in my pocket.
We took off down the river. It was a cloudy day but it wasn’t raining. It didn’t take long before we started seeing some action. It was maybe class 2 or 3 rapids at this stage. A great way to get familiar with the principles of paddling and aligning ourselves with our instructor’s expectations. Our instructor was a girl named Crissy. I felt very safe with her as our guide and I later found out she was the more experience of them all. Let me just point out a few things about these river guides. They will not be impressed by your outdoor skills or your experience. They eat, sleep, cook and work outside throughout the rafting season which goes from around April to October. They don’t bring a tent either. They just sleep on the ground under a tarp or under the raft. They are weather-beaten, tough breeds with a good mood and colourful clothes.
Floating down the river like this gives you an extraordinary opportunity to see some wildlife up close. As we silently floated down the river at bicycling speed, we saw bald eagles right above our heads several times. A beaver made a splash right next to our raft as it dived down only to pop up in front of the next raft. We also surprised a caribou which ended up running alongside of us on the river banks for about a mile or so before it decided to cross the river in front of us. This was indeed Alaska. And then a couple of minutes later about 200 meters ahead of us a mother black bear was in a hurry. She was desperately trying to get her cub to cross the river before we caught up with them. It was amazing to watch her body language. As soon as they had made it to the other side of the river she started running and then she stopped to see if the cub followed her then she continued running constantly looking back at her cub as if to tell it to hurry up. The small cub was really making an effort trying to keep up with it’s mother when they disappeared into the brush. A moment later we could see that it was a small island they had run on to and as we continued down stream we spotted them again crossing the the river on the back side of the island.
I was the one taking most of the pics on this trip and after all these amazing experiences I kept my phone ready at hand for what else we might encounter. It wasn’t long after when Claus suddenly jumps up and points at another black bear. Only this one was no more than 5 – 10 meters away from us. It was standing on the bank of the river in a clearing of a spruce forest and it was just as surprised to see us as we were to see it. It stood on two legs with it’s front paws leaned against a tree. When she saw us she immediately jumped down on all four legs and the same second it did two small furry cubs rushed up the tree for safety. I had my phone out already so I slid the camera open only to realize that my storage was full! Before I could even begin to think about getting my back-up phone out of the dry bag we had passed the bears long ago. This was my chance to get a close up photo of a black bear and I missed it. The experience is still stored in my memory of course and as you know sometimes that’s even better than a photo.
All this would have been enough excitement for one day but we were still waiting to hit the rapids. We stopped for lunch in a small spot with a lot of rounded rocks sticking out of the sand everywhere. I checked my GoPro to see if it was running like it was supposed to and then we continued down the river. It wasn’t long before we pulled in for another break. The sound of the water had intensified now. We were standing on the edge of the rapids and our guides wanted to climb the cliff and read the river from above before we went in.
When they came back from the top you could feel a different kind of focus from our guides. They were depending on us to do our part of the paddling and they basically didn’t know how we would perform. So this was it. Our raft was the first one to go into the narrow gap between the black rocks rising vertically on each side. We were sucked into the river to the sound of the roaring water. “Forward paddle! Two times!” The voice of our guide was lashing through the air as I leaned forward over the side of our raft and started digging into the river as hard as I could. We made it around the first corner. Everything was like a big tumbler. Then it was time to paddle backwards. We needed to steer around a big rock before going down the next drop and then it was the other way around. I have no idea how long this lasted for but then, just as sudden as it had started, everything went quiet again. The experience was so intense that I completely lost track of time. But the rush and the experience was amazing.
We made another stop allowing everyone to take a pee before the next part of the rapids. We continued around a big rock in the middle of the river partly hidden by the flowing water. That’s when we heard one of the other guides shouting: “Oh sh*t!”. They weren’t able to make it around the rock so they went straight over it hitting the river with a big splash. I turned my head forward again and saw a huge branch coming straight at me. With zero time to think I instinctively bent forward just in time to avoid being struck into the river or getting seriously hurt. I only just recovered from the shock before we hit a big splash across the raft. This was so intense. And it lasted most of the afternoon with a few breaks here and there.
That night I had a few extra beers after dinner. It was just great to be out here. I was walking around in the outskirts of our camp looking for firewood when I came across a line of footprints from a black bear. Impressions just kept coming. Knowing that tomorrow would be a calm trip down the river we all sat and talked for hours around the campfire that night. We even had bit of whiskey going around.
A quiet day with some action packed fishing I felt really bad when I woke up the next morning. I couldn’t even take a sip from my water bottle. And for sure I wasn’t able get up. It was an endurance test. Because I needed to pee badly but every time I moved it felt as if I was going to throw up. I heard the others call out several times to let me know breakfast was being served. I had to ignore them. I was so hungover from the whiskey I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to pack up. And then I saw the hand of God coming through the opening of my shelter. Well it was actually just the hand of Claus but he had made me a plate full of pancakes, fruit and bread with syrup. I don’t remember exactly what was on the plate but it felt like heaven and it didn’t take me long before I was up and going again. I was the last one to break camp but it wasn’t that everyone was waiting for me. And surprisingly enough after an hour or so I wasn’t feeling sick anymore.
We had a quiet day ahead of us and the sun was out this morning. I just sat for a while taking in nature. Claus and I weren’t paddling. I asked our guide if I could try to take over the oars and navigate down the river on my own. I know how to row but going down a river is different. The technique here is different because the primary use of the oars is for steering. What I learned was that a river doesn’t flow equally fast everywhere so you want to learn how to read it. Did you know for instance that the current is stronger on the outside of corners and where it runs straight it is stronger in the center. If you can find the stronger current you will go faster without rowing. I also learned how to enter the corners sideways so that you are ready to push away from the outside of the meander once you get to it. I kept going for an hour or so before I handed the oars back over to our guide. It was a great experience learning the basics of oar guiding. What a cool skill to master.
As you know I had brought my fishing pole along all the way and I still hadn’t had a chance to seriously give fishing a chance. We had tried reaching a campsite where fishing was possible with no luck. Claus told me there might be a spot further down the river that we might be able reach for lunch. I didn’t want to set my hopes too high but when we finally landed on the bank for lunch I saw some other people there. With fishing rods in their hands. I quickly rigged my gear and went over there. I didn’t care about lunch now. There was a tributary with completely clear water and I could see salmon in the middle of it. I cast my Danish made FC spinner a few times without luck. Then I felt a tug. and I was struck by adrenalin. I raised my fishing rod and pulled back. I couldn’t pull it in so I released the pressure a bit in order to spin the reel a bit. And then I lost it. I tried several times and the same thing happened.
I waded a bit further into the river but I was wearing only high rubber boots so I couldn’t go too far. I cast the spinner again. Waited. Started spinning and then I felt a huge tug. Only this time I didn’t keep as much pressure on the line. The salmon started moving towards the big river. I tightened the break and pulled back. This was the biggest salmon I had hooked so far and the most lively one too. My fishing rod was bend to it’s breaking point. I was battling this one for a long time until I could feel it give in just a little bit. And then I lost it. It was extremely frustrating to see this much fighting only to loose one salmon after the other. I could see the salmon resting in the water and looking back I regret that I didn’t just wade out there to grab it. I had some great fights though and just witnessing the salmon run was a great experience. Before I knew it it was time to move on. I didn’t prioritize lunch that day but the others had made me a sandwich. So after an action packed noon I sat back in the raft with my sandwich and relaxed a bit.
The end of our trip was closing in. The first sign of civilization was a power line. We had also passed a house with people fishing from the river bank and occasionally a motorboat with hopeful anglers would pass us by. The weather was shifty. It had been sunny during fishing but we saw a lot of rain on the last stretch towards Talkeetna, the take out point of our rafting trip. We were almost there.
We landed by a small slipway. The rafts were disassembled and deflated, we took our gear out of the drybags and put it under a small shed before we were picked up by a van and taken to a small bed and breakfast near town. We were back in civilization.
As I stood in the shower in the small hut I could feel every muscle in my body. It was surreal to stand here after 8 days in the wild and feel the warm water on my body. We were all going out to eat together.
We met in the courtyard at the West Rib Pub and Grill at about 6 I believe. The weather was great and we all enjoyed being outside. There was caribou and halibut burgers on the menu. And of course we had a few beers as well. I didn’t want to wake up the next day feeling like I did this morning so I took it easy. After dinner we took a walk around town to get a few drinks and see the town.
At this point I was tired and I missed my family a lot. I had been thinking a lot about them during the whole trip and now I really just wanted to get back to them. We were going to the Maldives together as soon as I returned from Alaska. So I left early and went back to bed. Back to Anchorage and back to Denmark
We had breakfast at the cosiest little bakery and restaurant called “Roadhouse” before being picked up by an old bus taking us back to Anchorage where we all split up. The ride back was a couple of hours or more. Claus had booked a flight back to Denmark the same afternoon and everyone else had plans to go on a roadtrip from Anchorage. I did some sightseeing and some souvenir shopping for my family before I went to “Gwennies Old Alaska Restaurant” for a “Reindeer Philly” – a burger with a reindeer sausage in it that I recommend you try if you ever go there. After that I went back to my hotel, packed up my suitcase and went to sleep. I regretted booking an extra night in Anchorage at this point really because I had also booked an extra night there before we headed out into the wilderness so I had already seen the most of it. I also knew I would have only 36 hours to pack for the Maldives when I got back home. Look out for that story soon.
How often do you go on a holiday without really experiencing the destination you visit?
You can easily spend an entire week or two doing nothing at a nice resort and when you get home you can hardly distinguish the days from each other. It can be really nice of course but we sometimes forget the opportunity waiting for us right outside our door. You already payed for the trip and you’re in a new and interesting place. So what’s stopping you? I have sort of made it a habit finding adventures to pursue on these types of holidays. Sometimes I bring my kids and sometimes I don’t.
This summer I went to Tenerife with my family. A place swarmed by tourists. Despite the unpleasant sound of it, it’s a very convenient way to travel when you have kids because they are entertained most of the time and you get to spend a lot of time together without the hassle of taking care of everyday duties.
My eldest son really wanted to go scuba diving and I had my mind set on hiking Mount Teide. So this year we set two days aside for other activities. We didn’t realize how tough those two days would become though. Especially for my kids.
On August 5th. we were set to do the hike on Teide. The day before I had booked diving lessons for my kids which was a bit of a challenge because of the difference in atmospheric pressure they would experience. My youngest son wasn’t old enough to do scuba diving so he only took part in the snorkeling lessons the first part of the day. The afternoon was set aside for scuba diving.
It was a long and exhausting day for my kids. And as soon as we got into the minibus that was to take us across the island and back to our resort they both fell asleep. Spending a whole day in the ocean with strong current and sunshine just exhausts you and the next day would turn out to become even tougher.
The plan for Teide
Teide is the third largest volcano in the world and at 3,718 masl it is the highest point in Spain. Our plan was to go to the top by cable car and hike from there to Pico Viejo (The Old Peak) and back. Pico Viejo is another volcano part of the Teide volcanic complex. It is also the second highest peak of Tenerife standing 3,135 masl. I had talked to a guide who told me she had hiked halfway to Pico Viejo and that it was an easy trail.
I had filled my backpack with plenty of water and some survival food such as m&m’s, biscuits and some dried fruit. Although the climate is subtropical near the coasts, the inland climate is dominated by the prevailing northeast trade winds. So apart from carrying extra clothes to keep us warm, we also brought some light weight rain gear. Not so much to protect us against the rain but as a protection against the sun and the wind. As always I brought a firesteel, a knife, a first aid kit and a survival blanket. With this gear I feel fairly confident that I’m able to cope with most unforeseen situations.
Leaving for Teide
I had rented a car and I was recommended by a local to take the route to Teide through the Moon Forest (Paisaje Lunar). Let me forward this recommendation to all of you considering taking this trip. It is an amazing place. The views over the Atlantic Ocean and the volcanic landscape is out of this world.
This place is home to the Canarian Island Pine ( Pinus canariensis). An endemic species to this region. This evergreen stands up to 30-40 meters high. And on rare occasions up to 60 meters! It has needles up to 30 cm long enabling it to capture the moist of the northeast trade winds. This is also why you only see the tree in the higher grounds of the Canary Islands. It is both one of the most drought-tolerant pines in the world as well as one of the most fire resistant conifers. It has a beautiful light green colour which makes the whole scenery in the Moon Forest (Paisaje Lunar) extremely beautiful.
We got out of the car on several occasions in order to explore the area. Our ticket for the cable car wasn’t until 1:30 in the afternoon. So we had plenty of time for other adventures.
When we finally reached the cable car it was delayed so we had to wait another hour to get to the top. The sun was really hot and we already felt the low air pressure even at 2,356 masl. We were very excited when we finally boarded the cable car and the trip to the top was extremely beautiful. From here you can see the whole Las Cañadas caldera, the mother of all the craters at Teide which is the result of a major collapse of the magma chamber underneath Teide 160.000-220.000 years ago. It is quite intimidating to see the size of it.
Hitting the trail
When you get off the cable car at the top you’re struck by heavy winds so we soon put on our shell layers. We then had to figure out in which direction to go to reach Pico Viejo. The ascent with the cable car is very fast covering nearly 1.200 height meters in just 8 minutes, so I could easily feel the effect of the thin air as we started to walk. Nothing dramatic but I could feel my breath being a lot heavier. Luckily my kids were completely unaffected.
The first part of the trail is really easy. It is basically a path paved with rocks until some hundred meters down where you enter trail no. 9. There is a small lookout there but we just kept going. Since we had been delayed from the start we were on a bit of a time schedule to make it to Pico Viejo and back in time. The last cable car down from Teide leaves at 7 in the evening during summer. I had estimated the trip to take between three and a half to four hours in total leaving us with only little time for the unforeseen.
My kids were full of energy and anticipation. The trail was quite extreme but also a lot of fun. There were places where you could hardly call it a trail. You basically just made your way down the volcanic rocks. At the same time you clearly get the feeling of being on a volcano because of the solidified lava streams that you see in many places. You also have to be careful not to go off the trail and walk into the gulf in some places.
The hike is amazing. You feel like you’re on a different planet. Raised above the clouds with the crater of Pico Viejo in front of you and the islands La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma engulfed in clouds in the horizon you feel like you are in the middle of a Star Wars universe. As we descended from Pico Teide the landscape suddenly changed from black lave streams to a pumice desert. It is basically a flat plateau with a stabil surface between the two volcanoes. It’s a very barren environment but extremely beautiful with the clouds underneath you.
At this point we had walked for an hour and a half and we still had quite a distance to go. We were in the pumice desert right between the two peaks. My eldest son was full of energy and he started running through the desert towards Pico Viejo. My youngest son however was starting to feel the effect of the hike and the thin air. He was becoming a bit discouraged. We were on our way up Pico Viejo when he couldn’t hold it anymore. He didn’t want to continue. I tried to motivate him and tell him we almost made it to the top but it was a struggle and he wasn’t happy until we finally stood on the edge of the crater. I told him that no matter how hard it felt he now officially made it to the top and no one could ever take that away from him. I knew of course that the hardest part of the hike was still to come. The ascend back to Pico Teide. We sat down to have a break as well as some food and water. We also built a small cairn as a celebration of our success.
The way back
Knowing that the last cable car off the mountain would leave in just two and a half hours, we had to get going. I took us 2 hours to reach Pico Viejo from Teide and the way back would be a lot harder. As we started walking we passed the first and only plants on our hike. We also saw a grasshopper or survival food as I choose to call it. It must have moved for me to discover it because it was so well camouflaged that it’s hard to see it even in the photo. My youngest son was still not completely happy although he just had a break. Little did it help that we were on a time schedule. He was really brave though and just kept going.
The first part of the hike back was easy. We first went down Pico Viejo and then through the pumice desert. As we entered the black lava streams and started the ascend to Teide my youngest son really started to fall apart. He had been really brave through the whole trip but now he was tired. We had a short break eating a couple of m&m’s and taking a sip of water. We had to move on but he was talking about having a break all the time. Motivating him was a fine balance between encouragement and explaining the situation to him in a gentle way. I didn’t want to pressure him so I just stroke up conversations with him and allowed him to walk in front of us. It can be really demotivating if you’re in the back of a group when you’re tired. It emphasizes your feeling of being weak and you are more likely to give up.
We still had a long way to go but now he demanded a break every 100 meters until he finally refused to move on. He wanted me to call for a helicopter to come and get us off the mountain. I gently told him it wasn’t possible and that we would have to spend the night on the mountain if we didn’t get back to the cable car in time. At this point we were only about half way up Teide and I was considering how to make a shelter from the survival blanket that I brought. My biggest concern wasn’t staying on the mountain in itself, it was spending the night in the high altitude because it also means prolonged exposure to low-oxygen air. My youngest son had been crying for the last 100 meters up the mountain now and his big brother was getting frustrated with him. Then suddenly he said something to me that ended up motivating himself in a way that I hadn’t succeeded in: “I think mom will become afraid if we don’t make it back today”.
We were all really tired at this point. My motivation was keeping my kids safe and getting us off the mountain of course. I wasn’t worried at any time. I was actually still enjoying the trip and I think it was a valuable lesson for my kids to experience how much they’re capable of when it really counts. But we only had one hour left until the cable car closed. We still had a break every 50-100 meters and our tempo wasn’t increasing but my youngest sons determination had changed. He knew we had to make it to the cable car. On the way out the trail didn’t seem as long as it did now. Then suddenly I saw something a bit further up the mountain. It was the lookout that we had passed on our way out. Just the motivation we all needed. Seeing the lookout wasn’t the same as reaching it though. It turned out to be quite a climb until we finally reached it. When we got there I saw the sign that I missed on our way out. It said “Difficulty: Extreme. This trail may be difficult to follow because of the weather and the state of the terrain. This trail requires great physical exertion. Be extremely careful”. It turned out the guide who told me the trail was an easy one had probably not gone further than this point.
We now had 40 minutes left until the last cable car was leaving. Although the trail was now much easier to walk it was still uphill and we were tired. About twenty minutes later we were at the cable car and it turned out we caught the second last departure from the top that day. It was amazing to stand there among all the other people knowing that we had just made it through the toughest hike of our life. Everyone else was looking sporty with short sleeves, caps and clean shoes, but not us. We were covered in dirt from head to toe, our faces were sun burned and we were still wearing our shell layers. But we never felt better.
This years Undepend Challenge started out in pouring rain. We went from ten participants to two in just two weeks prior to departure. I received the last three cancellations the day before departure. I suppose someone had seen the weather forecast.
As my friend Casper and I drove the 300 km to the pre-challenge base it was already raining heavily. And it didn’t stop until the next morning. When we woke up and packed our things to leave for the wild it was dry for a short while.
The rules were similar to previous challenges: Spend 72 hours in the wild with 4 items only. Your total gear was limited to: Underwear, socks, pants, footwear, a shirt, a belt, 2 liters of water and 4 items of your own choice. So no shell layer and no sleeping bag unless you chose them as one of your 4 items. My 4 items were a hatchet, a pot, a fire steel and a knife. I know that the hatchet and the knife are outweighing each other a bit but I just like having my knife with me as well.
The idea behind Undepend 72 Hour Challenge is to challenge the participants and teach them how to thrive in the wild with less gear than they are used to. Once you learn that everything you need can be found in nature you will feel more comfortable and confident if you end up in a survival situation.
Chances are that if you end up in a survival situation you don’t have acces to a sleeping bag or even your rain jacket anyway. Because you don’t normally plan for accidents. You don’t always bring a jacket in your car and you don’t bring your sleeping bag on a plane. Even on short hikes people usually don’t plan for getting lost. They don’t expect their short day hike to turn into a survival situation. However it is often people like that who get lost in the wild. And they are often found exhausted or disoriented close to civilization.
We drove our car as far into the forest as we could before the trail became to rough to continue. We parked the car and got out. The challenge was on.
It was raining just a little bit as we headed into the forest. But the night before it had been poring down so everything was extremely wet and slippery. I think we walked for no more than ten minutes before both my socks and shoes were soaking wet. My pants were wet up to my knees. I had expected this so it wasn’t a problem at all. My plan was to push through, build a shelter and get a fire going later on. The bigger challenge was to find some dry tinder since we couldn’t bring anything with us at all. Everything around us was wet. I found a few semi dry pine branches as well as a piece of fairly dry birch bark that I brought along in my pot.
Walking in circles.
We soon passed a small stream and we talked about camping in that spot since we would have easy access to a safe water supply. We wanted to go deeper into the forest however and figured it would be easy to find water in this weather. After walking for about an hour or so we suddenly realized we had returned to a place we had passed half an hour earlier. With no compass, dense vegetation and heavy clouds, navigation was difficult. We had to try again. We set a tree behind us as a marker and used a tree further ahead of us as another marker. We were trying to avoid walking in circles again. But the terrain was also very rocky with a many differences in height. It wasn’t easy and I think it was down to luck rather than skills that we didn’t end up walking in circles again. Instead we walked straight out of the area and suddenly we stood by a paved road. We had to turn around again and try the opposite direction. At this point we had spent a couple of hours walking around and we decided that we should find a place to camp within the next hour. It had been raining on and off ever since we left the car so we were very wet at this point.
About four hours into the challenge we finally found a spot to camp in. It wasn’t the perfect spot but we were under pressure to make a camp before sundown. Casper had brought a tarp as one of his items, so he was fairly quick to set up his shelter. I was still walking around a bit restless trying to find some leveled ground and a spot with some natural materials to use for my shelter. I decided to build an A-frame lean-to in order to get as much protection from the wind as possible. It’s a classical wilderness survival shelter. Since I didn’t have a jacket or anything else to protect me from the elements, I figured this was a the right thing to do. I made it tall enough for me to be able to sit up straight under it if I wanted to. This is a good thing to do if you have to spend a lot of time inside it. If it’s raining you want to have a fair amount of indoor space to stay in.
A race against time
Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of materials around. We were allowed to stay in the area but we didn’t want to cut down trees unnecessarily. So I spent a lot of time walking back and fourth scavenging for materials. It took me about 4 hours before my shelter was finished. I made it just before sundown. We had spent much of the day hiking so I was desperately trying to gather some spruce branches from the bottom of the trees at the same time as I was collecting branches to use as bedding for my shelter. There was no way I would be able to sleep directly on the ground since it was extremely wet and cold. When I was done with the bedding it was already getting dark. I had only managed to collect a few spruce branches to use as kindling. And they were still a bit wet. During our hike through the terrain, I had dropped the tinder I collected earlier, so I had to look for suitable tinder as well. I found some birch bark but it was soaked. I thought it might dry out so I brought it with me anyway. It was a race against time and I was loosing it. I found a fallen tree where I was able to collect some semi dry wood from the inside of it but now it was so dark that walking around in the forest was becoming too risky. I settled with the thought that I would have to spend the night in my shelter without getting a fire going.
Spending the night
Knowing that the coldest time of the night is usually around 4 to 6 in the morning right before the sun rises, I decided to get some sleep right away while the air was still somewhat warm. Without a fire this was going to be a cold night. On top of that I was wet from my thighs down. And I mean soaking wet. Luckily I was wearing wool socks, a wool t-shirt and a long-sleeved wool shirt on top of that. But my pants were made of cotton.
I was knackered as I lay down on the branches I had used as bedding. so I didn’t pay any attention to the rain outside. I just closed my eyes and fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning I was so well rested that all the struggle I had been through the day before was forgotten … I’m kidding of course. I woke up a few hours later from a drop of water hitting me right between my eyes. I was shivering heavily and I had severe muscle cramps in my left leg. It was really cold and it was only 11.30 PM. I sat up for a while trying to get rid of my muscle cramps before I lay down on my other side and fell asleep again. Throughout the night my body was shivering to stay warm and I remember two dreams reappearing throughout the night. Hugging my wife and eating a burger. Basic needs covered in my dreams I guess.
The next morning
The night continued like this. Me waking up, trying to get rid of my muscle cramps and turning to the other side to get some sleep again. At 4 o’clock in the morning I got up. It was till dark but the cold prevented me from getting any more sleep. I waited another hour or so before I could see a bit of light appearing in the sky. And yet another hour later it was finally becoming light enough for me to see what I was doing.
I immediately started searching for dry firewood. The weather was actually fine right now but it had been raining all night and everything was wet. Even the mushrooms couldn’t hold more water. At the same time I was exhausted from the cold night, the physical activity and a lack of food. Last year we had plenty of berries to eat but this year it was as if we had come later in the season. There were only very few berries to be found and the ones we did find were either tasteless or not ripe. We found loads of mushrooms however but they don’t provide the same amount of energy as berries do. And some mushrooms you have to cook before you can eat them so the lack of fire was an issue again.
At this time Casper woke up. Or at least I thought he did. You see he had been awake for an hour or so without being able to move or speak he told me. Since he was also soaked when he fell asleep it seems his tarp had worked more like a greenhouse keeping all the moist inside instead of protecting him against the rain. He had also suffered from muscle cramps during the night and since he had slept directly on the wet ground with only the tarp as protection he was probably even more cooled down than I was.
We agreed that we would not spend another night out there unless we got a fire going. Since we were both extremely wet it would be too risky and not worth it unless we were able dry up.
The last battle for fire
I managed to find a bit more kindling but not much. However the tinder was still wet so I still wasn’t able to get a fire going. But now the sun was actually shining so I was hoping that it would dry things up during the next couple of hours. Often however if the sun is shining early in the morning the weather becomes cloudy later. This morning was no different. Soon clouds began to fill the sky again. We were a bit low on water now and since we had moved away from the stream earlier we had to locate some safe drinking water soon. We were very close to a lake this time however so we walked down there to fill our bottles. On the way I collected some Broadleaf plantain that I thought would give me some energy later. I was still hoping to get a fire going so I kept them for later.
When we got back from the lake we sat down to make a plan. Casper told me that he had heard me walk around looking for firewood this morning, but unable to talk to me he thought I had woken up well rested and fit for fight. But when our eyes met he was relieved to see that he wasn’t the only one who had suffered. At this point we both realized that we didn’t have any more in us left to give. We looked at each other and ended the challenge right there. About 25 hours after start. It immediately felt like the right thing to do. At this point I wasn’t thinking clearly. My energy and my motivation was gone.
The interesting thing is even before we decided to end the challenge you could tell by our conversation that we had already given up mentally. We discussed how impossible everything was, how little energy we had left and so on. It was a looser’s talk.
So what mistakes did we make and what can we learn from them?
We didn’t S.T.O.P.
It was my own suggestion to keep pushing through in the rain because I was looking to get a bit further into the wild. This was probably the biggest mistake we made and the mistake that prevented us from succeeding. If we had stopped by the small stream in the beginning of the challenge we would have had plenty of time and energy left to build a shelter and possibly even a fire. We would have had easy access to water and we wouldn’t have become as wet as we did from hiking through the wilderness for hours. So even without a fire we probably wouldn’t have ended up on the border of hypothermia. During the hike I also lost some of the dry tinder I had found so the chance of us getting a fire going would have been much bigger.
Walking in circles. Even if the terrain was hard to navigate in without a compass we could have done more to check our direction. Despite the rain clouds we could still sense the direction of the sun and we could also have used the trees to set a direction. But because we were too eager to get going we didn’t do any of it. And we ended up wasting energy unnecessarily.
We picked the wrong spot to camp in. Because of time pressure and fatigue we picked a spot without sufficient supplies in the vicinity. This meant we had to work harder to build our shelters and we didn’t have easy access to food and firewood.
We gave up. It is very likely that we would have made it if we hadn’t lost our motivation. After all it wasn’t raining when we ended the challenge. It was wet but not raining. Possibly we might even have gotten a fire going within a few hours if things had dried up a bit. But we lost the will to try. This is probably the hardest thing to acknowledge but also the biggest lesson we learned from our trip. Never give up and keep a positive mental attitude because mood affects your abilit to act.
Friday May 12th was a Danish holiday called “Store Bededag” or “Great Prayer Day” in English. My two sons and I took advantage of the spare time and spontaneously headed for the forest.
The original plan was to let my kids take care of everything by themselves and so they did, to begin with at least. They had planned the trip themselves deciding which things they wanted to bring, what food and how much. They did very well and I was surprised how little they actually brought. I guess it was partly because they had to carry everything themselves too.
We took off Thursday afternoon right after school as the rain fell slowly from the sky. The next day was supposed to be fair according to the weather forecast. It had been a while since we all went on a trip together and we were all in a great mood as we finally left “civilization” behind and headed into the beautiful Danish beech forest.
We had taken this trip before but not all of us together. My sons are now 10 and 8 years old and we talked about how they used to demand a rest along the way when they were younger. Now they were way ahead of me as well as making fun of my enthusiasm with nature by impersonating me.
We were heading for a spot next to Lake Esrum where we were to set up camp for two nights and do nothing but enjoy spring in the forest.
We arrived quite late and immediately started building our shelters. My kids were supposed to make their own shelters like they had done it before, but my older son decided that he would rather build one with me so we could sleep next to each other. My younger son still wanted his own shelter but right next to ours. So we decided to build them in connection with each other. Unfortunately the wind picked up and we were right in it’s path. We had turned our shelter the wrong way. Although we had great view towards the lake, it was a really cold night.
The next morning I woke up early and thought I’d start a fire. I didn’t have much time for it the night before. On top of that everything was wet so it was a struggle trying to get it going. I was tired so I gave up and hit the sack instead. Now I was set on getting a fire going however so I headed out to find some proper tinder / kindling to be able to cook some breakfast.
I stumbled across a tree with withered leaves that was standing in a clearing right where the sun was shining. I collected some totally dry leaves from it and proceeded to forage some withered stinging nettles from last season standing right next to it.
The old stems stood in between the new shoots coming up. A great place to forage for both kindling and wild food. Had it been a survival situation or an Undepend Challenge I would have been well off in this place. Every step I took I had to take care not to step on escargots. There was plenty of wild food growing here too. From stinging nettles to dandelions, Broadleaf plantain and Oxalis Acetosella to name a few.
I went back to our camp with a couple of handfuls of withered stinging nettles and my pockets full of dry leaves. A few minutes later I had a fire going. My kids had fallen asleep the night before without getting a proper meal, so they were really hungry by now. The older one roasted a sausage over the fire and I cooked some tortellini for his brother. Now everyone was happy.
The kids were playing so I decided to go back to the clearing and forage for some stinging nettles. I had brought some frozen chicken on our trip which was just about thawed now. My plan was to do a bit of wilderness cooking. An improvised chicken / nettle soup.
I took my time picking only the top leaves from all the young nettles. I was really enjoying myself knowing that I had all the time in the world. After I filled my pot with nettles I headed on to pick up a few Oxalis acetosella to add to my soup as well. On my way back to camp I thought for a second that I had just run into bunch of wild garlic which would have been perfect. It turned out however that it was Lily of the valley. A very poisonous plant that you should be careful not to mistake for wild garlic (one important test is to rub the leaves and if they don’t smell like garlic, then it isn’t).
Back in camp I took two nice pieces of chicken thighs, put them in the pot and covered them in nettles. I then added a stick of butter or so, some salt and pepper, and some dried basil that I had also brought with me. I then added just enough water to cover the chicken with, put the lid on the pot and hung it over the fire to boil for about half an hour.
I know that everything tastes better in the wild but this soup seriously turned out delicious. Even my kids liked it, which is quite the recognition.
The rest of the day we just hung out. It was a truly great trip with no rush at all. We just talked and had fun playing.
As evening approached I re-arranged our shelter so that we all slept together in one end. I put a wind shield in the front of that end and used the rest of the shelter as a dry storage for our firewood and kindling. It is always nice to have some dry kindling in storage if it starts to rain over night. After all this is Denmark and you never know what the weather will be like the next day.
I had gradually been building a wind shield by our fire place from natural materials so our camp was getting really cosy now. Too bad we had to leave the next day.
I felt so well rested when I woke up the next morning. We had all slept comfortably without freezing. I got up in order to get the fire going which had burned out during the night. But my younger son insisted that he should do it. I had promised him before we came that he would be allowed to build his own fire. He is quite skilled with a ferro rod but he wanted to use his waterproof matches. So I told him he could only use one match to light the fire with then. Instead he would have to prepare everything properly.
I had filled my bushcraft tinder pouch with dry leaves the day before and we had also kept some dry stinging nettles under our shelter to use this morning. We talked about how to prepare the kindling and I told him to have some firewood ready as well. And without any problems he had a fire going in a few minutes.
I believe that lessons like this really teach you how to make fire. It’s not enough learning just how to use a fire steel or even a bow drill. It is also the understanding of organizing your materials properly and being patient enough to allow the fire to catch on before you add more firewood.
I made a warm cup of cocoa for the kids and a cup of coffee for myself before cooking a last meal. After that we packed up and headed back home. On our way we passed a small herd of Shetland ponies. We fed them some fresh grass. Unfortunately my older son accidentally cut himself on a grass straw so I had to get my first aid kit out and patch him up. This little incident aside I think this was probably the most pleasant trip I have ever had with my kids so far. We just connected in a way we haven’t done in a long time.
A day hike that turned into an illegal border crossing
Usually my blog posts are about my latest trips. Here is a story that happened four years ago in Mozambique.
About four years ago I was in Mozambique working with an NGO. My friend Thomas and I worked on a project in Maputo which took us deep into the townships of Maputo and to some interesting meetings with local entrepreneurs. After about a week in Maputo, we headed for the coast in order to spend a few days in a beach house in Ponta d’Ouro. It was Thomas, his brother Troels, a friend of ours called Anders, his son Henrik and me. Anders and Troels both lived in Mozambique at the time so they had borrowed the house from a friend.
We were all full of expectations as we sat in Troels’s turquoise blue 4×4 on our way to the ferry. We were going to cross the Umbeluzi River from Maputo to Catembe. But on our way through Maputo, right before we reached the ferry, the car breaks jammed and we had to take our car to a mechanic. It was a setback for about an hour. It was a good thing it didn’t happen during our 4 hour long ride through KwaZulu-Natal however. A trip you can only make in a 4×4.
It was a long and beautiful but bumpy ride. And before we reached Ponta d’Ouro it was dark long ago. My friend Thomas and his brother Troels are both keen surfers, so they had already set their minds on hitting the waves the next morning. Knowing that this was one of the most shark infested waters in the world I made other plans.
The next morning I packed my backpack, told my friends that I would take a hike down the coast and that they should start looking for me if I wasn’t back before sundown. The weather was nice and it was quite warm although this was winter in Mozambique. The weather forecast said that there was a bit of rain coming in from the east but otherwise it would be fair weather. And so my trip started.
I went down to the beach from where the surfers took off. The right side of it was cut off by a cliff extending into the ocean. As I walked towards the cliff this black labrador came towards me as if it knew me. I said hello to it and pushed it away gently. I continued to walk towards the cliff but the dog kept following me. As I reached the cliff, I started climbing onto it to see if it would be possible to get around it. Hiking on the coast can be very dangerous if you’re cut off by the tide with nowhere to escape. So I was careful not to go too far without having an escape route. This was completely unknown territory to me so I was being extra careful. I managed to get on top of the cliff to a place where I could walk more easily. It was razor sharp with small holes in it everywhere. – It was almost like touching broken glass. Definitely not a place you would want to get stuck in.
The dog was still following me like we were playing some kind of a game. I made an effort to ignore it and I tried pushing it away more aggressively several times. Little did it help. I thought it might give up once we got further away from it’s known territory.
As I made my way around the cliff I was met by the most amazing view. A desolate sand beach stretching as far as my eyes could see. There was no sign of civilization or human activity whatsoever. Not even foot prints or other tracks. It was like I had just entered a completely different world.
In the horizon I could see a mountain. I decided that to be my destination. Not knowing how far away it was or if I would be able to reach it at all. By now the dog had been following me for quite a while so I thought to myself that I would let him come along with me. Like I had a choice anyway. I thought it might be a good idea to have a dog for protection if I was to meet some dangerous animals on my way. I realized now that I was heading into an untouched wilderness like I had never seen it before. Little did I know at the time that the area I was entering is called Kosi Bay – also known as “Predator Bay”. The home of both crocodiles, hippos, sharks, pythons and more. As I stood there alone with the waves of the Indian Ocean on my left, an endless and completely untouched sandy beach ahead of me and dense vegetation on my right I had this indescribable feeling of total freedom. Something I had never felt before in my life. I hadn’t planned this trip remember. I didn’t bring a map and I didn’t do any research about the area in advance. I had just told my friends was where I was heading and that they should start looking for me if I wasn’t back before sundown.
As I walked towards the cloud covered mountain in the distance I could see thousands of ghost crabs scurrying in and out of the water with the waves. I remember thinking that they would make excellent survival food. I found a cuttle bone in the sand that I brought as a primitive weapon in case I should need one. The cuttle bone is the internal shell of the cuttlefish. It has a sharp edge and is very point in one end. The only gear I had brought was my Haglöffs day-pack with a couple of liters of water in two plastic bottles, a fire steel, my “Victorinox Mountaineer” Swiss knife, a Silva compass and a small back-up compass.
The dog was chasing the ghost crabs around the beach before they disappeared into small holes in the sand. I thought it would be interesting to see if I could actually catch one myself. They appear to be right in front when you see them but once you get closer, they’re gone as quickly as they show up. I tried figuring out their pattern of behavior and realized that if I could cut them off before they reached their small holes I might be able get a hold of one. After a few attempts I finally managed to catch one. I quickly released it again, caught another one and then left them alone. That’s when I looked up and saw a big black silhouette moving over my head. It was an African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) I tried to take a photo of it but by the the time I had gotten my pocket camera out, it had moved too far in over land to get a good picture of it. It was amazing to see it in real life though.
I was walking close to the water. It’s much easier to walk on the wet sand closer to the water than it is in the dry sand. And it’s more fun. Of course I was surprised by a wave leaving me with both my shoes and socks wet. I took off my shoes and socks and tied them to my backpack and then continued bare footed. After all I was just walking on a sand beach.
I had been walking for more than an hour by now – maybe two – and the mountain in the horizon didn’t seem to be getting closer at all. I was beginning to doubt whether it would be possible for me to reach it at all. And now I could see heavy clouds coming in from the east. It was going to rain and I didn’t bring any rain gear or extra clothing. The climate was very warm and I had not expected to go hiking when I left Denmark. I took off my shirt and put it in my back pack. I would rather walk half naked in the rain and have some dry clothes to put on afterwards.
After another hour or so I was finally making progress. Suddenly the mountain was getting bigger. I was getting closer to my destination. I was excited to see what was ahead and it wasn’t long until I was finally there. As I walked closer the first thing I noticed was a river mouth. Another thing I noticed was animal tracks. I had no idea what kind of animals I could expect to see here so it was both exciting and a little bit worrying at the same time. After all this was Africa.
I had reached my destination and my plan from here was to go inland and find the main road back to Ponta d’Ouro. I soon realized that this was easier said than done though. The vegetation here was reaching beyond the shore and the only way for me to get off the coast was to cross the river. I started walking into it head on to see how deep it was but I soon realized that it was too deep and the current also seemed stronger than I had anticipated. I didn’t want to take any chances so I went back and found a place further up the river where it broke into a few more shallow streams. Here I could see the bottom and I managed to find my way towards the bush. I was just about to enter the bush when I heard a loud roar from an animal inside the bush right next to the shore. I didn’t know what it was but my guess was that it might be a monkey that didn’t approve of the dog’s and my presence. It was a deep and loud roar so I wasn’t sure if it came from a monkey or not. I changed direction a bit and managed to find a place where I could get on dry ground. The roars silenced and I made a stop to offer the dog some water. He wasn’t thirsty but we had become good friends by now. This was also the first time I saw signs of civilization since I left the cliff in Ponta d’Ouro. I was on a path now with plenty of human footprints.
As I started to walk inland along the path there were more roars coming from the trees above us. I looked up and saw a group of monkeys moving around. This time time they weren’t as agressive as before though. The path crossed a road now and then. Sometimes I would follow the road. Sometimes the path. I was heading for the top of a mountain. As I continued I passed an amazing thing. A big lake with ancient style fish traps set out by locals. I love to see these kind of techniques applied by indeginous people in present time. As a bushcrafter you can learn so much from these people.
After another half hour or so I finally reached the the top of the mountain and it gave me a chance to look back at the distance I had travelled from the coastline. I finally reached what I expected to be the main road back to where I came from. It was getting a bit late by now so it was a good thing for me to head back as well. I passed a lot of small huts and even a School. I was surprised to see that it had a South African Flag though. After all I was supposed to be in Mozambique.
As I continued I met some local kids and a few cars were passing me by on the way. The road had turned west for a long time which didn’t fit my compass bearings. It was off the direction in which I was supposed to go. After a while I passed a local bar. In this part of Africa it means a small hut full of guys. Outside it 8 men were trying to push a car free from the sand dunes. I went over to help them push and we quickly managed to get the car free. I asked them for directions to Ponta d’Ouro and they said something I was not happy to hear. They told me that all I had to do was to cross the border a few hundred meters in front of us. I realized now that I had accidentally crossed the border to South Africa without bringing my passport.
I considered my options for a second. I could turn around and go back the way I came from. But I wouldn’t be able to make it back before sundown. This meant that I would have to spend the night in the bush. I was unfamiliar with the area and I had told my friends to start looking for me if I wasn’t back before sundown. So this was not a great idea. The other option I had was to try my luck at the border. But you don’t just cross a border without any papers so this was also not an ideal situation. I went for the latter option however thinking I would be able to talk my way out of this.
As I approached the border I was met by two young men in full combat uniforms, bordeaux berets and machine guns. They represented the South African side of the border. I explained my situation to them and they smiled at me almost with indulgence and told me that they could let me through to the Mozambican side of the border. But they also made it clear to me that they would not let me in without a passport. I was happy to get this far however and I thought to myself that I had made it halfway through the border. When I entered the Mozambican side there were a few people here and there. No one seemed to notice me so I just kept walking. I thought to myself that I might be able to make it through without my passport. That’s when I heard a deep voice shout at me. “Hey you! Come here please!”. It was a female border patrol officer in a black uniform. A big black woman.
I explained my situation to her as I had just done it to the border patrol officers on the South African side. She looked at me with disbelief so I pulled out my iPhone and showed her the pictures I had taken along my trip. She then asked me about the dog. She was laughing now. When I told her that the dog had just followed me and that I was unable to get rid of it she was laughing so loud that one of the other officers came out to ask what was going on. She told him the story in Portuguese and now I had two people laughing at me. Another officer came along and soon he was laughing at me too. I laughed with them thinking that I would up my odds if we all became friends. She said something about letting me pass the border so I thought to my self that this was going well. That’s when her boss came along. He was not in the same kind of good mood and he told me that there was no way I would get into Mozambique without my passport and papers. He even added that if I failed to provide it before the border closed he would send me back to South Africa where they would put me in jail. My phone had no connection so he let me borrow his old Nokia to try and contact my friends. I only had my friend Thomas’ number and he didn’t answer his phone. He also had a Danish service provider so I didn’t even know if he had a connection. Further more he was probably still out surfing. It was about 4 o’clock now and the border was closing at sundown which was at 5. I tried calling him several times with no luck. Then one of the border patrol officers suddenly pointed his gun at the dog and told me to look. I didn’t understand what he wanted at first but then I saw it: A big telephone number written in black marker around its collar. “Yes, of course!” I said.
I immediately called the number and this English lady answered the phone. I told her about my situation as well as how her dog had followed me from the beach. She asked me if we just arrived the night before. It turned out that she had seen us when we visited one of local bars. She begged me to hold on to her dog and asked me where we lived so she could make her driver find my friends. I didn’t have the address but I told her that our house was located at the top of the hill and that my friends were probably out surfing. We hung up and I sat down to wait. After about half an hour I still hadn’t heard anything from her, so I called her up again. She told me that her driver had been unable to locate my friends but she was trying find out more. By now I only had half an hour left until I was going to prison in South Africa. When there were 15 minutes left the Chief of the border patrol pulled me aside. He took me to a room next to his office where he opened an approximately 40×50 cm big book almost 10 cm thick. He scrolled through the pages until he found a passage that was supposedly about illegal border crossing. Next to it was written an obscene amount of Metical – the Mozambican currency. I don’t remember the exact number but apparently this was the fine for crossing the border illegally. He then brought me to his office. He sat down and told me that my friends would not come. But he was willing to make a deal with me. Now I knew that I was in Africa. The deal was that I payed a tank full of gasoline for his truck and he would then accompany me to Ponta d’Ouro where I was to show him my passport. If I had my passport there we would be even, if not he would take me “back” to South Africa. I thought it was a fair deal so I agreed. We waited about ten minutes for the police truck to return from another assignment and a minute later I was in the back of it on my way to Ponta d’Ouro. With the dog between my feet of course.
We were driving through the terrain with maybe ten different tracks all leading to Ponta d’Ouro but there was no real road. So when we saw some cars driving in the opposite direction we had to pull to the side. That’s when I noticed that the one in front had a turquoise blue colour. Not the most common choice for a 4×4 here. I knew it was my friends so I told the officer to stop them. It turned out that the English lady had finally found my friends. Anders who was a diplomate at the Danish embassy to Mozambique got out of the car and started talking to the officer. And then they started arguing! Anders looked at me and asked if the officer had taken money from me. I told him that we had made a deal and asked him if there was a chance he could get me out of the police car before he started arguing with the officer. I was finally allowed to go and as I opened the door the dog jumped out and into the car behind which was the English lady’s driver who had come along to pick it up. Safe inside our own vehicle I was officially handed over my passport by Anders. I never got to thank the dog for following me that morning but we had a great trip together and I will always remember him as both my saviour and a great travel buddy.
48 hours in the wilderness with no shell layer and maximum 4 items
No jacket, no backpack, no sleeping bag. Unless you wanted to bring them as part of your 4 items you would have to do without them. Personally I didn’t need any of them. To me having a pot, a hatchet and a fire steel was sufficient. I also brought my knife although I didn’t really need it. I just enjoy having it with me.
Leaving for Sweden
Thursday evening on August 25th I was picked up by one of my friends in his dads car right after work. We were 7 people, driving in two cars from Copenhagen heading for the Swedish wilderness in the Northern part of Jönköping near Vättern.
The destination, a small hut in Aneby, was about 400km north of Copenhagen. A little more than a 4 hour drive. My longtime friend Petrus from Stockholm who had helped me arrange the trip was meeting us there. His family owns the hut which was to serve as our pre-challenge base.
We were full of anticipation as we crossed the Öresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. The sun was shining and the weather forecast looked extremely good for this time of year. We were talking about everything from music and work to challenge related stuff like the terrain and our strategies. As the organizer of the challenge I was also a little bit keen on getting to our base in time to plan for the next morning.
But after about an hour of driving our car started acting weird. We pulled in at a nearby gas station just in time before it came to a full stop. This was definitely not what we had hoped for. There was a roadside service insurance signed for the car but even so we had to wait for more than an hour to get help. We ended up being towed back to Helsingborg which is about half way back from where we came. Everything was closed there including all the car rental companies. It took my friend Thomas many discussions with the insurance company as well as a lot of work and stress before we finally managed to get a rental car. I don’t know how he managed to stay calm but apparently he is a highly trained diplomat. By the time we reached the hut it was 1 o’clock at night and the other guys had gone to bed. They didn’t quite sleep yet so we all had a quick chit chat before hitting the sack. We agreed to postpone next days challenge start two hours because of our late arrival. Unfortunately I never got to meet my friend Petrus who was supposed to meet us there.
Breakfast and preparation
We woke up to a warm and sunny morning. We all helped each other prepare breakfast before challenge start. We had oatmeal with milk, scrambled eggs, sausages and bread with cheese. A last proper meal before take off. Everyone was excited. We exchanged thoughts about the 4 items we had decided to bring as we prepared both mentally and practically for the challenge. It was the right decision to postpone challenge start two hours. It meant we had a calm morning with enough time to clean the hut and get ready without any stress.
Besides your regular clothes, in this case underwear, socks, pants, a shirt, footwear, a belt and 2 liters of water in a plastic container, you could bring 4 items of your own choice. With these items you had to spend 48 hours in the wilderness. These were the rules of the Undepend 48 Hour Challenge. To some it may sound like too little, to more experienced bushcrafters and survivalists it may sound like plenty. Either way the rules gave all participants the flexibility to adapt their gear to their level of experience. And the more experienced still had the possibility to challenge themselves and go more primitive.
Adam, the more experienced participant of them all decided to bring only two items. Well he insisted on keeping his hat on so he ended up bringing three items actually. Apart from his hat he brought a small hatchet and a fire steel.
One participant with long hair was very challenged by the fact that I deemed his hairband as an extra item. It was almost equal to a Buff which would have given him extra protection against the elements. So he had to replace it with a simple hair elastic band.
After gear check we packed up and took off. We drove our cars down some small roads left and right before finally turning up a small dirt road leading us into the wilderness area where we were to spend the next couple of days. We parked our cars between the brush next to the road, grabbed our things and got out. It was time for challenge start.
I briefly outlined some safety principles as well as a few instructions on what to do if lost. Basic stuff like S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan), a little bit about distress signaling, principles about eating wild plants, the Rule of 3 and the like. I also repeated the challenge rules as well as a few rules of conduct. And THEN we took off into the wild.
It was an extreme feeling of freedom and anticipation as we walked deeper and deeper into the forest. The terrain was rocky with a mix of birch and spruce trees growing dense.
We occasionally stopped to collect tinder from thistles, tinder fungi and birch bark. Since it was a hot sunny day it was a perfect opportunity to get some dry tinder for later. It could become a valuable resource in case it started raining later.
As we walked on we saw tracks from both moose and wild boar meaning we were not going to camp in those particular places. You don’t want to camp on an animal path. Both for the sake of your own safety as well as the risk of disturbing local wildlife.
Setting up camp
As much as we had hoped for it, we never crossed any streams or creeks on our way. The weather had been warm and dry for a while so they had probably dried out we figured. It would have been a perfect situation to find running water before setting up camp. But it was getting late considering that we needed time to establish our camps before sunset. So we decided for a suitable spot and started building our shelters.
The first ones to start building had found a nice, well drained spot on flat ground between some spruce trees next to a glade. I was a little jealous of their spot but I didn’t want to camp right next to them. Instead I found a spot halfway up on a small rocky hill. When finding a place to camp in the mountains the general rule is that you want look for flat ground in between the top of a mountain and the valley. Although we weren’t on a mountain, the principle turned out to be quite favorable even on a small scale.
Some of the other participants had built their shelter on top of the rock which gave them a great view. It also meant however that they were exposed to the wind. Luckily for them the weather was fair so it wasn’t a real problem. Another participant had build a cave like shelter all the way at the bottom of the terrain. He didn’t have to worry about the wind. But when he woke up the next day surrounded by morning mist he was freezing.
I was a bit challenged by the fact that I couldn’t find any flat ground to build my shelter on. So I came up with an idea to kill two birds with one stone. I created a raised bed that would keep me off the damp ground at the same time as leveling the ground for me. I used two spruce trees as the foundation for my construction. I put a couple of long logs uphill of the trees so that they would naturally be pressed downhill towards them. I then cut up a lot of smaller logs to use for slats. It was a lot of work but the comfort it gave me was worth every drop of sweat.
I then proceeded to create the roof. In order to fasten the crossbar I went out to dig up some spruce roots. They work excellently as rope for shelter making. They are very flexible and you can easily dig them out from right under the surface of the ground.
To prepare my camp for the night I collected some firewood as well as some big rocks that I found near what appeared to be a dry creek. I used the stones as a reflector for my fire to keep me warm through the night. I was quite tired when I pulled out the thistle seeds that I had collected earlier on and prepared to light my fire.
In need of water
We had brought 2 liters of water each. (Normal Recommended Daily Intake is 2-4 liters for a male adult at normal activity) But the hot sunny day as well as our increased activity meant that almost everyone was already low on water before the first day was over. A few people complained about a beginning headache and so far we had only spent about 8 of the total 48 hours.
We knew there was supposed to be a lake somewhere, but it was a big area and there was no guarantee that it was near by. I talked to a few of the other guys about making a last attempt at locating water. It was about to get dark now, so heading out would be risky. Darkness comes quickly in the forest. And finding your way back in an unknown wilderness in the dark can be both difficult and dangerous.
We still decided to give it a try. Wary of the danger we decided to go to the edge of our camp where we were certain we could find our way back – even in darkness. There we left one person. The rest of us moved on as far as we could without loosing visual and auditory contact with him. Then we left the next person there and so on until we reached a nearby peak. We had seen it earlier on and we were hoping to be able to see something from the top of it. It was really disappointing when we realized that there was no view at all from up there. There were trees all over and we couldn’t see anything. It was getting dark quickly now so we went back down and returned to our camp.
I felt so privileged as I lay down in my shelter with my fireplace in front of me. As I looked up to the sky right before falling asleep, the last thing I saw was a beautiful red sky.
A red sky at night is a sign of fair weather the next day. I have come to learn that the old saying “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight, red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning” is correct most of the time. At least here in the Nordic region. And there is actually a scientific explanation to it as well.
The next morning I woke up with the sun at about 5 o’clock. I fed my fire a few small logs and had myself some breakfast: Juicy sweet blueberries mixed with a few sour lingonberries that I had picked the day before and saved for this moment.
It’s a funny thing about living outside actually, you quickly begin to follow the rhythm of the day. At least when you’re not tugged away inside a sleeping bag. Only one of the other guys was awake. Adam who is also a very experienced outdoorsman. It was a great inspiration to have him as a participant in this year’s Undepend 48 Hour Challenge.
Continued search for water
Knowing that water would soon become an issue for everyone, I suggested to Adam that we should head out to look for a resource before the others woke up. We knew there was supposed to be a lake somewhere but we had no idea about the direction or how far away it was. We also didn’t know if the water would be clean enough to drink if we found it.
As we left camp we had an idea that we would need to go east in order find it. The problem was that it was a very hard and potentially dangerous direction to follow. We would need to climb down a steep cliff and walk through really dense forest. I suggested to Adam that we headed north instead hoping that we would cross a creek leading to the lake.
As we walked on we occasionally turned around to take note of landmarks and change in vegetation, in order to remember what the landscape looked like from the other side. This is a really good idea if you are walking in a place that you need to find your way back from. Even on a trail there may be a fork in the road that you can’t see on your way out. Mind you that we weren’t allowed to bring any compass, GPS or the like.
We continued like this for about 20 minutes when Adam suddenly cried out: “The lake! I see it! It’s right there”. Contrary to what we had thought we had been walking straight in the direction of the lake. And furthermore it was only about 20 minutes away from our camp. When we reached the shore the water looked as clear as it gets. There didn’t seem to be any algae in it. This was almost too good to be true.
We filled our bottles and headed back to camp. This was indeed a motivation boost. Some of the other participants were down to less than a mouthful of water. So it really made a difference. Most of you are probably familiar with The Rule Of 3. It’s a rule of thumb helping you prioritize in a survival situation. It says that you could die in as little as 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. This doesn’t mean that you can go without water for three days however. You quickly begin to feel the effects of dehydration if you don’t drink regularly. Fatigue, mudded thinking, headache are all symptoms of beginning dehydration. The problem with this is that you may end up making wrong decisions or mistakes. This can be critical in a survival situation.
We no longer had that kind of problems though. Our trip had suddenly turned into a luxury trip. This is where my pot really came in handy. For purifying water. Most of the other participants didn’t bring a pot so they had to take the chance of drinking the water as it was. Some of them had expected to be able get by on 2 liters of water for the whole challenge. I believe they learned something here. Luckily no one experienced any problems after drinking the water.
Pure vacation and some foraging
The sun was shining and people either just hung out or they were out foraging for food. We had no permission for hunting or trapping but there was plenty of opportunities for foraging. I collected tons of berries, mushrooms as well as some birch bark and some ants. I was never really starving at any point. I just had fun testing different kinds of wild food.
As we reached evening there was a slight change in the weather. It was getting a bit colder. I started collecting firewood for the night. I had a feeling it was not going to be as comfortable as the first night. I had been running around barefoot with just my pants and a t-shirt on. As I lay by the fire like this I quickly realized however that I needed to put on my socks. A few minutes later I also put on my shoes and my wool shirt. It was definitely getting colder.
A change of weather
The next morning I woke up at about 5.30. It had been a cold night and I had been awakened by the cold numerous times. Each time I had fed my fire, gone back to sleep just to wake up about an hour later and start over again. The first thing I saw this morning was a beautiful red sky glowing through the silhouettes of the surrounding spruce trees. Sailor’s warning.
Almost 43 hours had passed with great weather, what more can you ask for? I knew this morning would be spent taking down our shelters and erasing all tracks before heading back to civilization. So there was no need to feed my fire. It takes a really long time for embers to burn out and we certainly did not want to risk setting the forest on fire.
About 3 hours later we were all about ready to leave. It had started raining now which was actually perfect. Because although we had made an effort to put out our fires you can never be too certain. I have to admit that I also enjoyed the fact that the participants didn’t completely avoid a bit of rain. With only a hike through the forest and two hours left of the challenge this was still a luxury trip.
It was obvious that some of the less experienced participants were feeling the wear of the trip as we began finding our way back out of the wilderness. They felt that they had already made it and all they wanted now was for the challenge to end. Personally I enjoy being outside in the rain and I wasn’t looking particularly forward to going back to civilization either. The trip back was a great one and we even managed to find some big and beautiful penny buns on the way. A couple of hours later we were back in familiar territory. And just as the 48th. hour ran out we finally reached our cars. Everyone had made it with bravour.
In the morning of July 25th there were three fully packed Fjällräven Kajka backpacks standing in the middle of our livingroom. Two Kajka Juniors for my boys aged 7 and 9. And one 65L pack for me with an Abu Garcia fishing rod bag further attached to it.
My boys and I were ready to leave for a canoe trip down Denmarks longest river. The 176 kilometer long Gudenå running through the middle of Jutland from Vejle to Randers Fjord. Our plan was to go from Tørring to Silkeborg which is about a 68 km trip.
Gudenå is known to inhabit a large variety of fish from Salmon, Seatrout, River trout, Rainbow trout, Pike, Perch, Walleye, eel and many more. Our trip was planned to take place on the higher end of the river where there are no salmon and only trout on a rare occasion however.
We left Copenhagen Central Station at 11.25 A.M. After about 4 hours by train we hit Vejle Station in heavy rain. We sat down and grabbed some lunch before boarding the bus that was to take us to Tørring, the starting point of our canoe trip. As we drove off we were surprised to see that big parts of the town was flooded. The roads had been turned into streams and I was a little unsure whether we had actually hit Vejle or Venice in Italy.
The first sight of Gudenå
The bus driver was kind enough to drop us off right next to the campsite were we would spend the night before heading out on Gudenå the next day. We finally stood by the banks of Gudenå. It looked more like a small stream than a river from here really. It was great to see it though. My kids put up our tent as I went to gather some birch bark to start a fire with. We had brought some frozen chicken that had slowly thawed during the time of our trip. It was well timed. We cooked it over the fire and I cooked some rice to go with it on our Trangia. It had been a long day of traveling and the next day we were going to pick up our rented canoe right next to our camp. So after dinner we basically went straight to bed.
The first part of the trip felt a bit like a funpark ride. Gudenå is a popular destination and Tørring is probably where most people start their trip on this part of Gudenå. The first 5 kilometres of our trip we ran into a lot of other canoes. And Gudenå is very narrow to begin with so it felt a little crowded.
I was surprised to see how well my boys did at paddling though. I had expected only little help from them on the long trip. But they did a great job. After our lunch break we started to see fewer canoes. The river became wider and nature was becoming more wild. The weather was perfect and we had great fun on our way down the river. We spent the first two days like this. Paddling during the day then setting up our camp for the night, cooking dinner on our Trangia and hanging out a bit and then going to sleep. But then we reached Vestbirk.
At this point Gudenå turned into three smaller connected lakes. Bredvad Sø, Naldal Sø og Vestbirk Sø. These lakes are the result of a damming made in 1924 to lead water to the then newly created Vestbirk Power plant. The power plant was made after WW1 were supplies of coal and oil were cut off. So after that there was a big interest in creating electricity. The lakes were all created in only 5 days. And right in the middle of them you find Vestbirk Elite Camping. A dedicated campsite with playgrounds, swimmingpools, kiosks and much more. When planning our trip we had agreed to stay here for two nights so the kids could have a break and jump in the pool one day.
When we first arrived at Vestbirk it looked like nothing more than a great place to camp for the night. You couldn’t see the actual campsite which was hidden behind a small forest on a big hill. It was practically a small peninsula with a lake on each side and a canal connecting the two on the northern side. That day we had only paddled a short distance so we were some of the first people to arrive there. The weather forecast said it was going to rain so we immediately set up our camp. After putting up our small tent I also made a shelter for us to sit under during the rainfall. Nothing beats having an outdoor space to sit under when it rains. Meanwhile my kids were foraging some wild raspberries. We normally use wild berries that we find as ingredients when baking buns. We bake them on hot stones placed in the middle of our camp fire. This time my kids had eaten all the berries before we got around to bake the buns though.
Rain and angling
We had only just finished our camp before it started to rain. We put on our rain gear and I unpacked my fishing rod. My kids were playing in our camp as I left them to go fishing. I wasn’t going too far away and they had their own phone in case they needed to call me. I love to fish when it’s raining. It’s like the water comes more to life and you feel more camouflaged when it’s pouring down. I had a tip from a local about a spot on the other side of the campsite in lake Naldal. I crossed the small peninsula and found my way through another small forest to find the lake. There was a lot of trees growing on the bank of it so casting was a little difficult. I decided to take a walk along the bank and see if I could find some better spots. I though it would be a good idea to start on the northern corner of the peninsula where the canal ran into the lake. When I got there I found a small clearing between the branches, just big enough for me to cast my spinner.
I was fishing my way around the water, as much as I could without getting tangled up in the branches. I tried both along the edges as well the middle of the water without any luck. On my way out there I had seen a few other spots that seemed suitable, so after 10 to 15 mintues I moved on. I walked back down along the bank of the lake until I reached another spot. There were a few small islands of trees growing in the water here. It felt like good pike spot. I casted my Mepps Black Fury a few times but quickly hit the weeds. That wasn’t going to stop me though so I kept going still hitting the weeds every other time I casted. Again without any luck. So I moved on again going further back down the bank until I came to a bigger clearing. The lake seemed deeper here, there was a bit more current in the water and also the spot was a bit more windy.
I casted twice before I felt the first bite. There was no doubt that this was a lively fish. It was a great fight with a lot of action. It didn’t take long before I could see it in the surface though. It was a small pike about 35-40 cm long. I quickly released it and felt confident now that I was in the right spot. With my new gained confidence I casted again. To be honest I’m not sure if I did so once or twice before I felt the next bite. But this time it was a much heavier tug. I kept the pressure on the line as I tightened the break just a little bit. The fish took off to the side heading for the bank. A classical pike move. I tightened the break even further and fought back, trying to prevent the line from getting tangled up in debris or weeds along the bank. I felt some heavy tugs on the line as it went back out a bit. I started pulling it in a bit more and it didn’t take long before I could see it right under the surface. It was big pike. As I battled with it I was trying to unfold my landing nets. I had forgotten to do so beforehand and I knew I wouldn’t be able to just pull this one out of the water with the line. The pike was fighting back heavily though and I had to give up on the landing nets. I decided to land it by hand instead and by now it was really close to the bank. I raised my rod as high as I could as I reached out to land it. I couldn’t see where I hooked it though so I was a little careful not to stick my fingers in it’s geels. I managed to land it though and suddenly it was lying there in the wet grass in front of me. Originally my idea was to realease it although I’m not much of a trophee hunter. But it had completely swallowed my hook so I had to take it with me. Afterwards I saw that it had not only swallowed my hook, it had also broken my pike leader. What a fish. I was grateful that I had caught it and I wanted to make sure it had a meaningful death by making a particular nice dinner out of it. So when I returned to the camp I carefully filleted it and wrapped it up for the next day. We already had dinner that day. It was a little difficult to fillet it with my Enzo Trapper knife though. Although it’s really sharp and handy it’s just not a fillet knife, but I managed to make some very fine fillets after all.
I had brought some flour for baking the buns I mentioned earlier so I used some of it as breading for the fillets the next day. I cooked some rice to eat on the side. Then I fried the fillets in butter on our Trangia. I had brought some dried oregano that I added along with some salt and pepper. It was simple and delicious.
After spending two nights at Vestbirk it was time to move on. We were now heading for the harder part of the trip. First of all we had a few portages ahead of us and also we were going to canoe some bigger lakes. What we didn’t know was how challenging the trip would end up becoming.
We took off quite early because we knew we had some kilometres to catch up after our prolonged stay at Vestbirk. Some hours and two short portages later we left a place called Klostermølle – an old watermill. We now headed into the lake of Mossø. A big lake where we needed to locate the place where the Gudenå river continued north. We had been given quite specific directions on where to find it but somehow I misinterpreted the size of our map and we ended up paddling way too far down the lake. It was raining on and off that day and our map was getting totally ruined by water. We hadn’t really needed it before so we didn’t have a plastic pocket for it. Not only did we paddle way to far in the wrong direction, it was also getting late now and the wind direction had changed. So we ended up paddling upwind both ways. The kids were becoming both disillusioned, tired and hungry now. This left a mark on me as well of course. Not a pleasant situation. Had we not decided that we wanted to make it to Ry to deliver our canoe, we would have probably just spent the night in some random place. But we didn’t want to give up and it took us another hour before we finally found our way back to the river. We still had a long way ahead of us if we were going to stick to our plan, but finding the river gave us back some of our good mood. We made a short stop to eat before paddling on through some more windy lakes. Now we even had time and energy to stop and follow a Grass snake (Natrix natrix.) swimming across a smaller lake. It was trying to outswim our canoe to the bank but we kept up with it until we decided to go back to our mission and head on.
The time was 8 p.m. when we passed some locals in a small fishing boat who told us that there was a campsite not far ahead. And finally half an hour later we found it. We were so tired that we didn’t even bother to make dinner. We just put up our tent, had some chocolate and went straight to sleep.
The last day of canoeing – and some more fishing
The next morning we were met by fine sunny weather. This was such a blessing since we were now able to dry all our wet clothes and gear. We also had a proper breakfast and our mood was back on top. Further more we only had to paddle a short distance before reaching our final destination. We took it real easy and it felt great to get the pressure off our backs. An hour of paddling later we hit land for the last time. We pulled the canoe out of the water, called the canoe rental company to tell them where it was and moved on to setting up our last camp of the trip. We had found a really nice but windy place for it on a small headland right next to the lake. To make it more comfortable we built a shelter to block off the wind. We had brough some of the spruce poles that we used for our previous shelter, so setting it up was easy.
We had dinner and afterwards the kids sat down by the fire and roasted some marshmallows. I wanted to do my last bit of fishing so I went to stand by the water 3 meters away. A local angler had come by when we were cooking our food. He told me that you could catch perch and eel here. But with no luck he had given up after half an hour or so. I casted a few times and then I felt the first bite. It was a small perch. I casted again. I could see quite a lot of activity in the water with fish regularly jumping in the water. After quite some time with no action I felt the next bite though. This time it was a bigger perch. In my head I had planned on collecting a few more but it was getting dark now. I called it a day happy about the result. We all went to sleep for the last time before heading back home the next morning. It had been a great trip with plenty of beautiful nature sights and more importantly lot’s of quality time spent together.
A few weeks ago I made a bow for my 7 year old son to shoot for fun. As we went looking for some young straight shoots to use for arrows I decided to try making my first arrow with a flint arrowhead.
The first thing I did was to go looking for some flint stones to make the arrowhead from. I found two equally sized rocks that I thought would work well. With no experience in the field of arrowhead making I just took one and threw it at the other one which I had placed on the ground. It took me several attempts to just hit it since I was putting a lot of force into the throws.
After a while I managed to break one of the stones into some decent pieces. One of these pieces seemed particularly suited for my purpose so I started concentrating on that one. I used the other rock to carefully hit it with as I tried not to break it in the wrong places. As the stone began to look more and more like an arrowhead to me I turned to just knabbing small pieces off the edges in the back. I wanted hollow the edges so that I could later tie some string around it when attaching it to the arrow.
I didn’t bring any special tools except my Swiss Army knife, a Victorinox Ranger, which is my EDC. I guess you don’t really need much more anyway. Except maybe a reall knabbing tool for working on the edges of the arrowhead. Anyway I turned to working on the arrow itself now. First carving off the bark to make the arrow more smooth and then sawing down the center of the thicker end of it. This was the place where I planned to fit the arrowhead into. After a bit of sizing and grinding with the file I managed to get the arrowhead in place.
I later grinded the two flaps holding the arrowhead in place down even more than you can see in these photos. I wanted to make the tip more streamlined. So now the arrowhead is ready for real fastening. My plan is to make some string from stinging netles to tie it down with and use some spruce resin for glue. If the nettle string doesn’t do the job I guess I will try to get hold of some deer sinew to prepare for this which I believe is the original method. But you will have to wait for that part to come in another blog post some time in the future when I get around to trying it.
January 2nd I paid my hometown a visit going on a 2 day fishing trip.
I called up my mom asking her if she would let me stay at her house a couple of days. “I’m going to hunt for sea trout” I told her. Even though I grew up in this small fishing town, I never really payed much attention to seatrout fishing. But the past few years I have really upped my fishing game and I couldn’t live with the fact that I never caught a sea trout yet. So this was my goal for the trip. I had made my studies and found the spot where I was going to try my luck. Although winter is not the time to fish for seatrout on the outer coasts of Denmark, I knew this was normally a recognized seatrout spot. It is located on the mouth of Roskilde Fjord and has a “leopard bottom”. At this time of year the seatrout normally seeks towards the warmer fjords. But I was determined that I would not let this get in my way.
It was two extremely cold days that I had picked for my trip. Temperatures were subzero, the wind was near gale and so far this was coldest day of the winter and the first Ice Day of the year. The first day I started fishing at about 2 PM. Nature along the coast is amazing and the light on the north coast of Zealand is particularly amazing. The best comparison I can think of is the light you see depicted by the old Skagen painters P.S. Krøyer and in particular Michael Ancher in “a stroll on the beach”. It can be difficult to not to loose yourself in the scenery and loose focus. But this time I was determined to keep my Mørasilda lure in the water and stick to my plan. I was fairly methodical as I worked my way through the coast. For a couple of hours I just kept throwing and pulling back in. Never loosing faith. Then suddenly as I was about to pull the lure out of the water, right next to the groyne I was standing on, I felt it. A tempered tug on the line followed by a bright silver coloured trout jumping out of the water. I was so happy and afraid to lose it at the same time. I jumped from one rock to the next as I tried to get closer to land. I was talking to the fish telling it how beautiful it was and begging it to stay on the hook.
When I finally landed it I was both happy and relieved that my mission had succeeded. I think I threw a few more times but I had lost focus now. So I decided to call it a day and head back to my mom’s.
She prepared dinner for us as I filleted my fish. It was really great spending some time alone with my mom. Unfortunately it’s something I rarely get to do. Normally when we see each other there are other family members around including my kids. That’s great too but this time we had some time to sit down and talk one on one.
The next morning I got up while it was still dark outside. I got dressed, grabbed my gear and headed for the coast which is only about a ten minute walk from my mom’s house. The wind direction had changed to onshore wind and it was even colder than the day before. It was low tide too. Not at all ideal conditions but I was still high on yesterday’s success so I just kept going. I fished the whole morning without any luck. It was freezing cold. Some hours later I decided I wanted to forage some seaweed to bring home as well. I found a nice big bundle of bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus) that I wrapped up and put in my bag. I was so happy to be out on the coast and feel the wind on my face. I didn’t want to quit just yet. I had a better idea.
When I was young there was a small kiosk by the harbour where you could buy sand worms. Since I had brought a few snoods I thought I would go and see if they still sold them and hopefully end the day with a few flatfish. It took me no more than 10 minutes to cross the small beach between me and the harbour and reach the kiosk. It turned out that they did in fact still sell sand worms but since it was right after Christmas and New Years they didn’t have any in stock. So I had to give up on that idea. It is funny how some places change so little though. It was like time had stood still for 25 years in that place. It was a really great feeling actually. I don’t know why but there’s just something comforting in knowing that in this world of fast pace change there are still places like this where time doesn’t matter.
I took a small stroll on the pier before I headed home. It didn’t matter too much that I didn’t get the worms I think. It was very windy and I doubt that I would have been able to do any proper fishing out there anyway. And after all I still brought home a sea trout. //