An Alaskan Wilderness Adventure

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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.

Spruce resin is highly flammable and works great as tinder.

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.

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.

Undepend 48 Hour Challenge 2016

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

undepend-bushcraft-64
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.

01

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.

undepend-bushcraft-06

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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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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Upgrading my kids’ wilderness survival skills

posted in: Bushcraft, Knowledge, skills, Survival | 0

3 days of practicing knots, shelter building, axe handling and more.

May is supposed to be fairly warm in Denmark. But the last few years the climate has been really messed up. This year May felt more like autumn than late spring. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go camping bushcraft style of course.

The trip wasn’t well planned. I had thought about going with my two sons aged 6 and 8 but it wasn’t until the day before I decided to actually do it. So I went to a local Silvan (a Danish DIY store) to buy two tarps measuring 2×3 meters. They sell them for only DKK 13,95 (about $2). A few days earlier I had taken both of my kids to a surplus store where we bought a pack of paracord for each of them. I let them choose their own colour which resulted in us walking out of the store with one neon green and one triple coloured blue paracord. Not exactly my favourites but whatever motivates them I guess.

You see I had a little plan in store for the two who are more than used to primitive camping. This time I wanted them to build their own shelter. The younger one just learned how to tie his shoe laces recently, so I wasn’t expecting him to be able to make everything himself. I felt quite confident that the older one could do it though. I wanted to give them an understanding of how simple it is to make a shelter and at the same time boost their self confidence. I wanted them to be able to build a simple structure that would get them out of the wind and the rain.

At about 12 o’clock we got off the bus and after a short hike we arrived at the camp site which was right next to a lake. My kids were more concerned about playing around. I normally let them run free in the forest. They know the rules: Their knife must be in its sheath and they must wear their whistle around their neck. It’s amazing how fast kids become responsible when you show them that you trust them.

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I went straight to work though. I unpacked my knife and my hatchet, put both in my belt and headed out to find some suited material for building my own shelter. After a short while I asked my kids to come and help me. I told them that we needed to collect some branches for our shelters and that they would need to carry their own. They had no objections about that although they did argue a bit about who was to carry the heavier branch of two. I told the older one to take it. After a while we had plenty of material and I was well underway with my shelter which I also wanted to work as a place where we could all sit if it was to rain. My kids were still playing around.

Had it been a little warmer I would have left it to their own sense to get going with their shelters or I would have let them sleep on the ground. But with only 7° C at night, windy conditions and possible rain I wanted to make sure they were safe during the night. So I asked them to get going with their shelters as I started to clear an area for our campfire. I showed them the principles of a standard A frame lean-to and how to lash the branches together. Amazingly what they did afterwards was to work together and help each other build their shelters. The younger one lashed his tarp to the frame using the same knots he just learned to tie his shoelaces with. To me however the most important thing is that now they have an understanding of how to make a basic shelter for themselves should they ever need to. Even if we didn’t make the shelters with all natural materials, we talked about how to do it during the process.

While they were finishing their shelters, I had build a small fire. So now our camp was ready.

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The next day we took a stroll in the forest and on the shore of the lake a few hundred meters away from our camp we found a natural shelter that someone else had built. So again we had a talk about how it was made with no cord, no tarp or anything. All adding to their understanding of how to make it themselves. The big difference is that even though they have seen me build a shelter a thousand times, it is not until you try doing it yourself that you start to learn properly. And with kids the key thing about learning is that it has to be fun at the same time.

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All in all it was a great trip where we also got the chance to do both some foraging, some fishing as well as some hatchet practice. The weather forecast said the last day would be rainy. And although the kids loved sleeping in there own shelters they missed the cosiness of us sleeping together. So I rearranged my shelter to fit all three of us. I then used one of the kids’ shelter for storing some dry firewood.

The next day when I woke up the weather was still dry so I made myself a cup of coffee and enjoyed the silent morning. While I was still finishing my coffee the rain started dripping though. I then moved the shelter I had used to keep the firewood dry with over the campfire to protect it a little from the rain. Often when it rains in Denmark it is just sporadic showers of rain. It was the same this day. After a while the rain paused, and when the kids woke up we roasted a final sausage over the fire before packing up. The only real downside of the rain of course was that we had to pack all our gear in wet conditions. But everything went well and we finally hiked back out as the rain quietly fell.

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