Wilderness Survival. What can you learn from failure?

posted in: Bushcraft, Gear, Knowledge, skills, Survival, Wild food | 0

Welcome to Undepend 72 Hour Challenge.

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
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 concept
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.

Challenge start
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.

Imperfect spot
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.

 

 

Bushcraft fun in the forest with my kids

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.

From Mozambique to South Africa

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.

 

 

 

Undepend 48 Hour Challenge 2016

48 hours in the wilderness with no shell layer and maximum 4 items

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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.

THURSDAY

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.

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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.

FRIDAY

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.

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Gear check
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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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SATURDAY

Breakfast
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

SUNDAY

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.

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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.

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Challenge end
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.

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Making a flint arrow with my Victorinox Ranger only

posted in: Bushcraft, Knowledge, skills | 0

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.

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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.

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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.

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Back to my roots and my first seatrout

January 2nd I paid my hometown a visit going on a 2 day fishing trip.

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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.

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Day 1

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.

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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.

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Day 2

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.

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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.

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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. //

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A few thoughts on the rule of 3

posted in: Bushcraft, Knowledge, Survival | 0

For people who are accustomed to spending time in the wilderness the Rule Of 3 is common knowledge. A rule of thumb helping you prioritize correctly in a survival situation or before ending up in one. But how often do you reflect over this rule?

 

Here is an infographic I made to show you the importance of getting your priorities right when in the wild (Feel free use it in it’s original form):

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Have you ever considered how long you can in fact survive without food or water though? And did you consider the rule not always being relevant in all environments? Say during summer in temperate climates where shelter could be secondary to water or maybe even food?

I’m thinking it would be nice to know, for motivational reasons, how long people have survived. Let’s say you end up in survival situation where you have to extend the time frames of the rule of 3. Wouldn’t it be motivating to know that someone had made it for even longer?

You only have to look at some of the more recent survival reports to realize that your mental attitude outweighs any other principle or rule in survival. Take for example an incident from Umeå, Sweden in 2012 where a 45 year old man got snowbound in his car for 8 weeks with no food at all and survived. An even more recent incident is from Australia less than three weeks ago where a 62 old hunter survived for 6 days without water. He survived by staying in the shade and eating ants. Something he had learned from watching survival TV.

Our body is capable of amazing things if our mind doesn’t give up on us. And if you can think straight in a survival situation you have a far better chance of making it. Your mind allows you to be creative and inventive. So if you’re in an environment with no or only little risk of hypothermia you may want to start looking for water straight away. Because staying hydrated keeps your mind healthy as well as your body. And although you may be able to survive for three days without water. You may not be able to stay focused without it for more than 24 hours.

I ran a course this summer challenging a few of my fellow bushcraft/survivalist friends to spend 24 hours in the wild with a minimal amount of gear. With 2 liters of water plus 4 items of your own choice it wasn’t a survival test. But what we learned was really interesting: Although everything except long pants, shoes and a shirt counted as extra items the hardest part of the 24 hours wasn’t settling with the small amount of gear, water and food. It was boredom and a certain amount of apathy. Sure I was hungry after 18 hours of being physically active and getting only a little food. But waking up the next morning with all the basics taken care of (shelter, fire, water and food) I was just plain bored and waiting for time to run out so I could get a proper meal instead of what I had been able to forage. 4 hours before the challenge was over we even talked about breaking up earlier because we had basically “made it”. Which in fact would have meant that we had failed our mission.

So getting you priorities right doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to make it in a survival situation. And also not getting them right doesn’t mean you are doomed for failure either of course. But the Rule Of 3 is a great rule and I suggest you use it to get your priorities right. Just remember to stay active and keep a positive mind.

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Links:

Missing hunter ‘survived on ants’ and didn’t drink
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3270216/Missing-hunter-survived-ants-didn-t-drink-water-SIX-days-going-missing-Outback-hunting-camel.html

Sweden snow: Man ‘survives two months trapped in car’
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17088173
How did Swedish man survive in this frozen car at -30C for TWO MONTHS?
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2103339/Swedish-man-Peter-Skyllberg-survives-frozen-car-months-eating-handfuls-snow.html
Sixty days under the snow:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWloyZwSu-I

 

Mushroom hunting with my son and a nice little surprise

September is perfect for mushroom hunting so last weekend I went camping bushcraft style with my 8 year old son in order to hunt for some delicacies. But I also had a little surprise.

I didn’t check the weather forecast before leaving. When you live in Denmark you’re used to a little bit of everything weatherwise. Most times the weather is so changeable that you can’t count on the forecast from one day to another anyway.

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The perfect day
This Saturday morning the weather was perfect. The sun was shining and it was quite hot for a late September day. My son and I were both wearing just a shirt. Our destination was a few hours away by train and we hit the forest at about noon. It was a beautiful hike through the autumn beech forest and along some open plains. I really enjoy being alone with my sons. You get to talk together in a different way than you normally do. We passed a lot of blackberries on our way so we made a few short stops too. About an hour later we reached our destination, a public tent site in the forest right next to Lake Esrum, and I immediately started building our shelter. It takes a little longer than putting up a tent but I prefer sleeping in a shelter because you’re much closer to nature. Also it is more convenient since you can sit under it and still be outside if it rains.

I asked my son to go and find some firewood in the meantime. He was playing around more than he was collecting firewood though. When it was time to build the fire I asked him if he wanted to have a go with the fire steel. I had brought some dry cattail to use as tinder as well as some dry grass. If you have ever used cattail as tinder you know that it catches a spark really easy but only holds a flame shortly. And then it happened: After only two attempts my son had a fire going. I was amazed and proud of course. But also surprised that he did it that easily. I guess we’re moving on to fire by friction next time.

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After that we headed out to do what we came for. Hunting mushrooms. For this purpose I use a mosquito head net instead of a basket. It’s much more convenient when you’re camping out. It takes up no space in your backpack when you fold it in. You can wear it over your shoulder as a bag which is really easy to access and it keeps the mushrooms protected and ventilated.

At first we couldn’t find any edible mushrooms. But then it was like they popped out everywhere. Mainly penny buns (Boletus Edulis) but also a few puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum) and one dotted stem bolete (Boletus luridiformis).

After an hour or so both our nets were full and we had more penny buns than we had expected. In the end we stopped collecting them all together. You shouldn’t take more from nature than you need.

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We had brought some pasta for dinner that we cooked over the campfire along with some sausages. It was really cosy sitting there enjoying dinner with my son who had not only started his first fire using a fire steel this day but he had also found most of the mushrooms we collected. We had a great time fooling around, singing and laughing.

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After dinner we took an evening stroll in the forest along the shore of the lake. It didn’t take long before darkness took over and it was getting difficult to see what we were doing. We headed back to our camp to hit our sacks and end a beautiful day. As we lay there looking out from our shelter we could see a lot of bats flying around. They had come out to feast on all the insects.

The less perfect day
The next morning we woke up to rain. I had already heard the drumming on our tarp during the night. So the first thing I did when I woke up was to go and check on our fire. I had put a big log over the embers the night before. There was still a dry spot under it and I could even feel a tiny bit of heat from the bottom of the ashes, but I couldn’t find any embers. So when the weather cleared up a bit I went to find some dry firewood to build the fire again.

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Meanwhile my son was walking around in the shallows of the lake. That’s when I heard a distant thunder. I went to tell him to leave the water if it was to come closer. And then I saw the horizon. It was very dark and you could see a weather front on the opposite side of the lake moving towards us. I went back out to look for some firewood and found a deadfall where the rain hadn’t reached the wood underneath. I chopped off some big pieces that I later carved into smaller twig size pieces. I then collected some birch bark and after a bit of work I had a fire going. And then it started raining heavily again! The thunderstorm had reached us sooner than expected and all we could do was to wait it out under our shelter.

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After about half an hour or so the sky had cleared up and I started over again. This time I still had an ember going so it wasn’t that big a deal although a lot of the firewood was wet, so I wasn’t getting a lot of heat out of it. And then it started raining again! I was getting really frustrated because we still hadn’t had any breakfast. And I had even prepared to fry some eggs on a stone for us. My youngest son had given me an egg holder for my birthday that I had brought thinking it would be a great chance to use it.

The sky cleared up for the third time. I had managed to cover up the fire with some rocks and a big log this time so even though it had been pouring down I still had some sort of fire going now. Or at least some more powerful embers. I rebuild the fire – again – to a point where I was able to get a lot of embers. I used them to cover a flat rock that I had found, before cleaning them off again and use the stone as a frying pan. My son had been eating all sorts of nuts and biscuits while we were waiting for the rain to stop. So he wasn’t hungry anymore. But at least my little project finally succeeded before we packed up and headed home. The weather had cleared up for good now of course.

Back home we made a delicious stew out of the mushrooms we had collected and served them on a toast.

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24 Hours in the forest with no food.

The biggest challenge came as a surprise though.

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How little gear do you need to live in the wild?
I set out to challenge a few of my fellow survivalists / bushcrafters encouraging them to bring less gear than they normally would. 4 things only to be specific.

The challenge started on Saturday 22. of August at 13.00 and ended 24 hours later. 
You could choose to sleep in a tent, you could bring a rain coat or you could challenge yourself and go more primitive like I did. The choice was yours. The only rule was: EVERY item counted as one of your 4 items. Even your backpack if you chose to bring one. This was the Undepend 24 Hour Challenge:

The idea was not to test whether you could survive or not. Everyone can survive 24 hours in the wild during summer in Denmark. Even without food and water. The idea was to encourage the participants to challenge themselves. To get them used to get by with less gear than normal and learn from it.

It’s all about priorities.
24 hours isn’t a long time. It is long enough for you to start feeling the effects of no or only a little food however. And it’s long enough to feel miserable during the night without a fire. Or to catch a cold without a shelter. Every participant was allowed to bring 2 liters water.

At 13.00 we all met up in Gribskov in Denmark on the specified location which was right next to Lake Esrum. After a short chit chat and exchange of thoughts and strategies we went straight to work. My approach was to follow the priorities of the rule of 3: Shelter first. Water was already taken care of so after I had built my shelter I went out to forage the area.

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Building my shelter and a fire.
It took me about three hours to finish my shelter. And I didn’t even bother to make it completely waterproof all over. The weather forecast had said it was going to be a clear sky all weekend and there wasn’t any signs that it was going to change. My main concern was insulating myself from the ground as well as getting out of the wind really. It always takes a while to find the right materials and I think it’s a valuable routine to know by heart. You don’t want to get caught by darkness before you’re done with your shelter. I built a classic lean-to using a young tree as one of the poles. For cover I used fern leaves. They’re easy to harvest and they effectively cover large areas. The advantage of this kind of shelter as opposed to an A-frame is that you can use it both as place to sit as well as a bed for the night.

Before heading out to forage I went to collect some birch bark to use as tinder. I would rather get a fire going first and risk not having any dinner than to have to sit in darkness all night. It turned out I had plenty of time for both however. When building my shelter I cleaned the branches in the vicinity of my camp. So I had plenty of small twigs at hand for building my fire. Mind you I didn’t cut down fresh branches. It is also easy to find small twigs with no bark on in the forest. You just want to make sure they’re completely dry when using them to start your fire. If conditions are wet you may want to look at the bottom of spruce trees instead of picking twigs straight off the ground. These were dry conditions though and I had brought my fire steel as one of my items. So getting a fire going wasn’t a big deal. I built it to a level where I was sure to have at least a coal burning when I returned from foraging.

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Foraging for food.
It’s funny how you’re able to set aside your body’s needs when your mind is focused on other things. I wasn’t particularly hungry after building my shelter even though I spent a lot of energy doing so. I had also just been without food for about 3 hours so far. But I figured it wouldn’t be long before my inner clock would strike dinner. So I went to look for whatever edible plants I could find. In a real survival situation I would probably have dug out som spruce roots to use as snares as well. That would be both illegal and unnecessary in my present situation of course.

I managed to find quite a few blackberries, wild raspberries as well as some other edible plants such as wood sorrel and some nettles. I had expected to find a lot more mushrooms than I did though. I know that mushrooms are not recommended as survival food in general. However if you can positively ID them they are a very nutritious and can provide you with both moist and vitamins.

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I had planned on giving ants a chance on this trip but I just didn’t get around to it really. It is still something I’m keen to try however. I’m not picky when it comes to food in general and I’m not appalled by the though of eating insects.

I can’t exactly say I was satisfied when I lay myself to sleep later that night. But I wasn’t starving either. I had managed to collect quite a few berries. And even though they didn’t fill my stomach they kept my spirit up.

The night.
Everything was good when I decided to go to sleep. I still had a fair amount of wood left from when I built my shelter that I could use as firewood. On top of that I had collected enough big logs to keep my fire going through out the night.

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At about one o’clock I woke up however. My fire had died out and the night was much colder than I had expected. Being restricted to only four items I hadn’t brought an extra jacket or a blanket. So I had to build my fire again. This time I moved it closer to my shelter to make sure I would get more heat from it. I hadn’t built a reflector so I wasn’t getting the maximum heat return from the fire. It was sufficient to feel comfortable though. The rest of the night went on like that. Me waking up every hour freezing because the fire had died out. Rebuilding the fire then going back to sleep. Until about 5 o’clock where I decided to get up. I wanted to go out and get myself some breakfast as well as some more firewood.

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Foraging some more and watching the sunrise.
I was away for an hour or so. It was a really beautiful morning. The sun was coming up in the horizon as the mist was still hanging over the lake. At this point I was getting hungry. It had been 18 hours since I had my last proper meal. I found a fair amount of berries as well as a couple of small penny buns (Boletus edulis). The berries kept me going but I was missing some protein. I went back to my camp and fried the penny buns. Or rather cooked them. I had no fat or butter to roast them in so I added a tiny bit of water to avoid them sticking to the pot which decreased their culinary qualities. Since food was scarce I found myself drinking more water than I normally would. I wasn’t running out of water but I had to ration it a bit. In spite of the other participants bringing food, I was still the one with the least amount of water left. I think I consume a bit more water than the average person actually.

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Hungry and facing a surprising challenge.
As we entered the 22nd hour everyone was running out of pastime activities and I was really feeling hungry now. I guess it’s a psychological thing. You’re hungry and you know feeding time is getting closer so you start focusing on getting a proper meal. There was nothing else to do. I had nothing to pack basically, my camp didn’t need any attention, I had no food to prepare and I didn’t bother collecting more berries. Everyone was just waiting it out really. But two hours is still a long time so we decided to take another walk. We basically just walked around. It’s really interesting how boredom gets to you. We even talked about breaking up earlier because we had already “made it”. This would have meant failure in fact, but I guess it’s the same thing that happens when lost people die after they have been rescued or found. It is common knowledge among SAR Officers that many people give up mentally when they think they have been rescued. They simply stop fighting too early.

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We walked back to our camp and had a little talk about what we learned from this trip and what we would have done differently. It was an interesting talk that made us forget about time for a while. But the last hour of this challenge was a long one. Everyone just hung out. We were ready to leave. As the clock hit 13.00 we were on our way and I was looking forward to get some proper food.

Undepend 24 Hour Challenge
My four items were a hatchet, a knife, a fire striker and  a pot. The other participants didn’t go quite as primitive. One brought: A tarp, a lighter, a blanket and some meat. Another one brought: A poncho, a sleeping bag, a knife, a lighter and a can of food.

 

 

Morning hike in Gran Canaria – avoiding the summer heat

Right off the west coast of Africa, about 100 km from Morocco is an underrated nature experience waiting for you if you like hiking. When most people think of the Canary Islands they think of the hotel resorts I guess. But these Islands have so much more to offer in terms of wildlife experiences.

Gran_Canaria_3D_version1The Canary Islands are of volcanic origin. 80% of the volume of Gran Canaria was formed between 14 to 9 million years ago. And the last 20% was formed between 4.5 to 3.4 million years ago. The climate is subtropical.

My first experience with hiking Gran Canaria was in 2010 when I hiked to Pico de Las Nieves (1949 meters) – the highest point of Gran Canaria with Rocky Adventure. This year we came back to the island for our holidays and I didn’t want to miss hiking there. Unfortunately August is the hottest month of the year and no guides take people into the mountains at this time of year because of the heat.

I tried hooking up with a local hiker who I was told went up into the mountains every morning, but without any luck. She was on vacation just like me. So I figured I had to plan my own hike.

Somewhat concerned about the heat being a light skinned norse, I decided to get up early the next morning and aim for the nearest top. My 8 year old son asked me if he could come with me which was great. So we went to check out the direction in which to walk the next morning. We had to cross two highways before seeing any terrain. The first one had a pedestrian bridge over it and the second one had a tunnel under it as far as we could see. That was as much planning as we did except pointing out our destination and telling my wife when we planned to be back.

6 o’clock the next morning I was awaken by my phone. I woke up my son, got dressed and packed my backpack with the lunch pack we had made the night before as well as some water. My son got dressed and we were on our way. It was pitch black outside as we left our hotel. I was quite alert walking with my son near a highway in a strange place this time in the morning. So when a car pulled in right next to us I told my son to keep walking away with me. It was just a guy dropping off some workers but at that time of the day you’re always prepared for the worst I guess. We had passed the first highway as well as a small barren area before looking into a long dark tunnel under the next highway. I was a bit worried that it might serve as a shelter for homeless people or the like. So I told my son to stay put as I went to check it out. I turned on my iPhone’s flashlight and went in there. It looked completely safe so I went back to get my son.

The only thing ahead of us now was the mountains. So we started walking towards them, still in darkness. Our eyes had gotten a bit more used to it now however so we dived in to the terrain with excitement. Walking in barren rocky terrain like that is a bit difficult when you can’t properly see where you step, but we just took it one step at the time.

As we had climbed the first hill we were met by a small surprise. On a small hill above us there were about 500 goats looking down at us. We walked past them noticing that the sky had brightened up a bit. And when we reached the next top we had our first panoramic view. Out there in the horizon we could see the coast of Western Sahara in Africa and clouds forming over the Atlantic Ocean. Sunrise was near. If it wasn’t for the cloud cover the sun would have probably already shed it’s light on us. We stood there for a moment in the quiet of the morning looking at it all. We could also see the highways we had crossed.

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As we continued we could see that we had to either walk around a mountain top or jump a small fence similar to the one used to keep the goats in place. We decided to jump the fence anticipating that we might end up in the middle of a big goat herd, which we didn’t though. From here the terrain became more interesting. We now began moving into real mountain terrain. The whole place was rather barren but the rock is reddish and really beautiful. The interesting thing about Gran Canaria is that there are no real trees until you get to an altitude of about 1000 m. This is because the Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) which is a special species of pine with very long needles gets its moisture from the air humidity from the fog and clouds that roll in over the island. The humidity that these long needles pick up then drops to the grown and is picked up by the tree.

We didn’t see any of these trees though but we quickly became familiar with another of Gran Canaria’s specialties. Caves. The first one we saw was just a small hole in a beautiful rock. It was big enough to easily fit the both of us had it been a survival situation however. In Gran Canaria there are still a lot of people who live in caves. We’re not talking about cavemen in the original meaning however. There are some very luxuries homes built into the mountains.

As we walked on we stumbled across quite a lot of goat remains. My son brought back a horn from one. But we also saw craniums and even a leg lying around. I’m not sure whether they were from goats who had strayed off and died or whether they were killed by some kind of predator, a dog or maybe hunters? I’m not aware of any predator that could kill a goat on Gran Canaria though.

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We had our first break right after hitting the first top on our route. As we sat there we watched the sun come up through the clouds in the horizon. It was magical to sit in the quiet mountains and watch it.

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Seeing the rocks turn bright red as the sunlight hit them was a beautiful sight but also a reminder that it would soon get warm. So after a sip of water we moved on.

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Not knowing what had killed the goats we soon encountered a real predator however. The first sign of it was flocks of pigeons flying frantically over our heads. They were flying so low over the mountain that sometimes they had to make evasive maneuvers to avoid flying into us. The next sign was a scream surrounding the mountain. The scream of a hawk. I never heard it in real life before actually. I only recognised it from an outro to a song. I probably couldn’t have identified which bird of prey we saw had I not recognised its scream. Being out there in the middle of it all and watch it happen right in front of you makes you feel so tied to nature though.

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The sun had really started to come up now and we aimed for the top we had set out to reach. We passed some more caves on our way that were bigger than the first one we had seen. It looked like someone had stayed there for hunting. At least we found quite a few shotgun shells lying around.

When we finally reached the top we had set as our destination we realized that a few hundred meters away there was another top which was a bit higher. So we decided that we wanted to go there too. It was a short and stress free walk and after 10 minutes we were finally happy with our achievement. We sat down in the shade for some food and water before heading back down the mountain.

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My son suggested that we took a different route back down the mountain which meant we could walk on the shade side of the mountain most of the way. We were starting to really feel the heat of the sun now so I thought it was a brilliant idea. Also because it would give us a chance to experience some more of the area.

Even though it wasn’t a steep descend it was fairly difficult to walk downwards since most of the surface consisted of loose rocks. Further down it looked like someone had prepared the mountain side with a snow groomer. When we came closer I realised that the striped structure was in fact goat tracks though.

A bit further down we came across a strange looking green rock which we would probably have brought along had it been smaller. It looked like it consisted of copper but it’s structure was more like chalk.

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After we had come all the way down to the valley we walked along a dried out riverbed. There were some big cactuses growing there (Opuntia dillenii). Their fruits are edible and turn maroon-purple when ripe. These were still green. Be careful if you ever plan on eating their fruits though. They have some areoles on them with tiny barbed spikes that you don’t want to touch.

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The last part of the trip we walked along a small dirt road and as we came out of the mountains right before we hit the tunnel back under the highway we were overflown by another bird of prey. Most likely a common buzzard. By then it was getting really warm too so it was a perfect time to get back to our hotel and take dip in pool. My son had done so well and I was really proud of him. And happy that I was lucky enough to share this experience with him.

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