Fishing and foraging seaweed in Kattegat

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– and how to make your own seaweed chips.

Last weekend I went fishing with my friend on the coast of Denmark. It was an incredibly beautiful day. Normally temperatures at this time of year would be around freezing point. But this was more like a spring or summer day. We were going seatrout hunting. This very spot was where I caught my first sea trout a couple of years ago. It is recognized as one of the many great seatrout spots in Denmark.

We had the choice between trying our luck in the fjord or in the sea. We were on a peninsula located between Kattegat on one side and Ise fjord and Roskilde Fjord on the other side. Normally it would make sense to go for the fjords at this time of year. Seatrout prefers water above 2.5° C so they seek towards more shallow and warmer water during winter. This winter however has been extremely warm so we thought we would give it a shot on the coast of Kattegat.

We arrived late in the afternoon a couple of hours before sundown. My friend had brought bombarda floats and I went for a couple of traditional spoons. I tried my luck with both the Mørasilda 15g and an Abu Garcia Toby 20g spoon. Sunshine was never my favorite weather for fishing though. And even though we waded our way up and down the coast until the sun was all gone we didn’t catch anything.

On a beautiful day like this where the sun reflects in the calm water to the sound of the gentle waves splashing on the rocks you are completely recharged with energy.

I didn’t want to leave empty handed however so before we took off I went to harvest some seaweed. This is a great place to do it because of the strong current and and a big shift in the water. So it is naturally fresh here. In Denmark there are no poisonous seaweeds so experimenting with it is safe. I picked up some Toothed wrack (Fucus serratus), one of the most common species of seaweed here along with Bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus).

If never tried foraging seaweed I recommend you try it. I normally use it as an ingredient with pasta either blanched or fried. This time I wanted to do something else with it so I made chips out of it.

It’s very easy to make and it tastes great. Seaweed contains a high amount of iodine which can be healthy for you. Many people suffer from iodine deficiency so in that sense it can be very beneficial. Just make sure you don’t eat too much of it too often. The high amount of iodine can cause iodine poisoning. And beware not to eat it at all if you have Metabolic disorder. That said it also contains both vitamins A, B, C, E and K as well a big variety of minerals, amino acids and omega-3s.

If you want to try making seaweed chips here’s an easy recipe for you:

The only ingredients you need are:

  • Seaweed
  • Virgin olive oil
  • Seasalt

Start by cutting the top shoots into bit sized pieces. Pour a few spoons of virgin olive oil in a bowl, toss the seaweed around in it and add some seasalt to it. Take out the seaweed and let the oil drip off before you spread it out on a baking tray. Put it in a preheated oven at 100 degrees C for about an hour and voilà.

Practicing tropical island survival in the Maldives

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36 hours after coming home from Alaska I was on a plane heading for the Maldives. This time I was together with my family. I had missed them on my trip to Alaska but now we had two weeks together ahead of us. This was our summer vacation.

It wasn’t a wilderness vacation in the sense that we lived outside but we stayed in a beachfront bungalow 15 meters away form the water’s edge. A perfect vacation for all of us. We were surrounded by nature in a luxury resort with the most beautiful view and still within close range of a swimming pool and other facilities for my kids.

Staying on a tropical island still made me wonder what my priorities and challenges would be in a survival situation. The first thing I do when I go to a new place is to read nature. What fire making materials are available, what sources of food and water are available, what resources are available for shelter making and so on. It’s not something I think about it has just become a habit to me.

I found plenty of firemaking materials including some palm leaf sheath. Apart from firemaking this fibrous mesh can be used for numerous things. The fibres are very strong and can be used for making both rope, baskets and nets just like palm leaves can. The mesh itself can also be used directly as a brush, washcloth, padding, and much more.

Nature here is so lush that finding food wouldn’t be your biggest challenge. The ocean would probably be your biggest resource of food in a survival situation. When we were dropped off on the island the first thing we saw was a Blacktip reef shark swimming under the bridge where we landed.

One early morning my wife and I took a stroll along the beach. We were paddling in the shallows when we suddenly heard a big splash and snapping jaws behind us. As we looked back we saw a 1.2 meter long shark right behind us. Apparently it was hunting something all the way up on the shore. As it went back into the sea it passed right by us along with a few other sharks.

On the beach we saw both hermit crabs, ghost crabs, Oriental garden lizards, beetles, Grey heron and more and above us smaller birds and the Indian Flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus). We had been swimming in the ocean for a couple of days before buying a diving mask. After this it became clear to us just how lush the ocean was. Twospot Demoiselle, Picasso Triggerfish, Grouper and the poisonous Yellow Boxfish were just some of the fish I saw. One time I was snorkeling in the shallows when I coincidentally looked up and saw a girl looking at me while pointing. I turned around to see what she was pointing at and I saw a huge shadow right behind me. A big stingray was passing me one meter away.

Had we not come during the monsoon water would probably have been an issue here. At this point we had plenty of rain water so this was also not a priority. When people think of the monsoon they often think of endless rain for months but in the Maldives the “Halhangu” as the Monsoon is called here is more versatile and heavy rain can come within a few minutes. During the day time we had perfect weather throughout our two week long stay and most of the rain came during the nights.

So if both food and water was plentiful, what would my biggest challenge be if I ended up on a tropical island like this one in a survival situation? The answer is heat. When I first arrived here I had nausea and felt both dizzy and tired. I wasn’t sure whether it was jetlag from traveling east through 15 timezones or 221 longitudes the last couple of days or whether it was the heat. Either way the heat was humid and intense and it made me lazy and indolent. Not an ideal state of being in a survival situation where you want to stay on top of things.

The heat aside my light skin is not well protected against the scorching sun. So this would definitely be a challenge for me too. Without sunscreen I would need to stay out of the sun most of the time.

Luckily sharks and stingrays are more active after dusk so I could hunt for them without being exposed to the sun otherwise I would need to stay covered up.

My kids and I often go on trips together and sometimes I leave them to solve tasks on their own . Whether the task is building their own shelter, lighting fire or foraging for food they always go at it with passion. This time they were the ones to give me a challenge though. They had been playing around outside for an hour or more when they came in with some coconuts they had collected on the beach. They had been trying to open them for some time when one of the locals came by and showed them how to do it. Now they wanted me to do it too. It was both great fun and a challenge I couldn’t say no to.

Coconuts have edible fruit flesh as you probably know and they are great for many things in a survival situation. Green coconuts contain a lot of water too. Well it’s not actually water rather than a kind of fruit juice rich in natural sugars, vitamin C, and minerals such as potassium. Coconut water is also rich in fibers. Be careful not to drink too much of it though since their high amounts of potassium can cause unconsciousness, uncontrolled diabetes, red blood cell destruction among other things. It also contains natural laxatives which can be helpful if you get constipation but it could also leave you dehydrated. So you shouldn’t drink too much of it. Probably not more than two cups a day.

Climbing a palm tree to get the green coconuts is not an easy task though. And it is certainly not risk free either. I talked to one of the locals who’s job it was to climb the palm trees and cut down coconuts and withered leaves with his machete. His technique was to tie a rope around his back and lean into it as he moved upwards. The rope he used was made from hide and which made it very strong. Others use a rope around their feet which they press towards the trunk of the tree to avoid slipping. These are ancient techniques that require great strength and practice and you don’t want to risk injuring yourself in a survival situation unless absolutely necessary.

Another way to get water is from palm leaves. And you don’t have to climb the trees to get it. What you want to do is to locate some young shoots that grow straight from the ground near the base of a tree. Find a flowering stalk, bend it downwards and cut off the tip. The leaves contain a sugary fluid that you can drink. The next day slice off another thin piece of the leaf and it will give you up to a liter of fluid a day. Be aware that this fluid also contains a laxative so take care that you don’t drink too much of that either.

There are many other ways to get water in the tropics. If you have a plastic bag condensation is another one. There are two immediate ways to do it. One is by tying a plastic bag around the branch of a tree with green leaves and let the sun evaporate the water inside the branch and leave it to condensate on the plastic bag.

The other is by making a solar still. This can be made in different ways but the principle is the same. You dig a hole in the ground and cover it with the plastic bag. In the middle of the hole under the plastic bag you put a container to collect the water. Then you place a small stone on top of the plastic bag right above the container to weigh down the plastic bag a bit. The idea is to make water from the ground below evaporate and condensate on the plastic bag above. Because of the weight of the stone the water will then dribble down into the middle and into the container. You can use this method to render salt water or dirty water drinkable and you can put wet leaves into the hole to extract the water from them. Mind you that this is a method that requires some patience.

The Maldives is a tropical paradise and I would recommend everyone to visit this place. From a survival/SHTF point of view, which is my take on this blog, there are a few things to consider however: First of all remember you will most likely be staying on a remote island with no immediate medical help available so take your precautions. There are some very poisonous fish here so don’t step on the corals. Well don’t step on them anyway since you will destroy them. Also don’t swim in the ocean at night since sharks are more active at night and this is their feeding time. Tsunamis and severe storms happen but I wouldn’t worry too much about that though. It is however a Muslim country where radical Islam is very strong. 200 Maldivians have been known to fight for IS in Iraq and Syria out of a total population of only 345.000. I didn’t know about this until after we visited the country but in Male, the capital of the Maldives Islam was clearly present. At the moment there are no risks for tourists visiting the islands however since tourism is a big business for the country. And the Islamists are able to launder their money through it. Just don’t bring alcohol through customs. You can buy it at the resorts anyway since the government is turning it’s blind eye to it.

Whether or not you want to indirectly support radical Islam the Maldives is definitely worth a visit from a holiday perspective. And boycotting the country would probably only help the radical forces within the country gain more power. So my recommendation is to go and experience this tropical paradise. The irony of it all being of course that by flying here you will encourage global warning and it is believed that the islands will disappear within the next 10-100 years due to sea levels rising.

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!

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.

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.

High altitude volcano hiking with my kids

posted in: Nature, Survival | 0

How often do you go on a holiday without really experiencing the destination you visit?

You can easily spend an entire week or two doing nothing at a nice resort and when you get home you can hardly distinguish the days from each other. It can be really nice of course but we sometimes forget the opportunity waiting for us right outside our door. You already payed for the trip and you’re in a new and interesting place. So what’s stopping you? I have sort of made it a habit finding adventures to pursue on these types of holidays. Sometimes I bring my kids and sometimes I don’t.

This summer I went to Tenerife with my family. A place swarmed by tourists. Despite the unpleasant sound of it, it’s a very convenient way to travel when you have kids because they are entertained most of the time and you get to spend a lot of time together without the hassle of taking care of everyday duties.

My eldest son really wanted to go scuba diving and I had my mind set on hiking Mount Teide. So this year we set two days aside for other activities. We didn’t realize how tough those two days would become though. Especially for my kids.

On August 5th. we were set to do the hike on Teide. The day before I had booked diving lessons for my kids which was a bit of a challenge because of the difference in atmospheric pressure they would experience. My youngest son wasn’t old enough to do scuba diving so he only took part in the snorkeling lessons the first part of the day. The afternoon was set aside for scuba diving.

It was a long and exhausting day for my kids. And as soon as we got into the minibus that was to take us across the island and back to our resort they both fell asleep. Spending a whole day in the ocean with strong current and sunshine just exhausts you and the next day would turn out to become even tougher.

The plan for Teide
Teide is the third largest volcano in the world and at 3,718 masl it is the highest point in Spain. Our plan was to go to the top by cable car and hike from there to Pico Viejo (The Old Peak) and back. Pico Viejo is another volcano part of the Teide volcanic complex. It is also the second highest peak of Tenerife standing 3,135 masl. I had talked to a guide who told me she had hiked halfway to Pico Viejo and that it was an easy trail.

I had filled my backpack with plenty of water and some survival food such as m&m’s, biscuits and some dried fruit. Although the climate is subtropical near the coasts, the inland climate is dominated by the prevailing northeast trade winds. So apart from carrying extra clothes to keep us warm, we also brought some light weight rain gear. Not so much to protect us against the rain but as a protection against the sun and the wind. As always I brought a firesteel, a knife, a first aid kit and a survival blanket. With this gear I feel fairly confident that I’m able to cope with most unforeseen situations.

Leaving for Teide
I had rented a car and I was recommended by a local to take the route to Teide through the Moon Forest (Paisaje Lunar). Let me forward this recommendation to all of you considering taking this trip. It is an amazing place. The views over the Atlantic Ocean and the volcanic landscape is out of this world.
This place is home to the Canarian Island Pine ( Pinus canariensis). An endemic species to this region. This evergreen stands up to 30-40 meters high. And on rare occasions up to 60 meters! It has needles up to 30 cm long enabling it to capture the moist of the northeast trade winds. This is also why you only see the tree in the higher grounds of the Canary Islands. It is both one of the most drought-tolerant pines in the world as well as one of the most fire resistant conifers. It has a beautiful light green colour which makes the whole scenery in the Moon Forest (Paisaje Lunar) extremely beautiful.

We got out of the car on several occasions in order to explore the area. Our ticket for the cable car wasn’t until 1:30 in the afternoon. So we had plenty of time for other adventures.

When we finally reached the cable car it was delayed so we had to wait another hour to get to the top. The sun was really hot and we already felt the low air pressure even at 2,356 masl. We were very excited when we finally boarded the cable car and the trip to the top was extremely beautiful. From here you can see the whole Las Cañadas caldera, the mother of all the craters at Teide which is the result of a major collapse of the magma chamber underneath Teide 160.000-220.000 years ago. It is quite intimidating to see the size of it.

Hitting the trail
When you get off the cable car at the top you’re struck by heavy winds so we soon put on our shell layers. We then had to figure out in which direction to go to reach Pico Viejo. The ascent with the cable car is very fast covering nearly 1.200 height meters in just 8 minutes, so I could easily feel the effect of the thin air as we started to walk. Nothing dramatic but I could feel my breath being a lot heavier. Luckily my kids were completely unaffected.

The first part of the trail is really easy. It is basically a path paved with rocks until some hundred meters down where you enter trail no. 9. There is a small lookout there but we just kept going. Since we had been delayed from the start we were on a bit of a time schedule to make it to Pico Viejo and back in time. The last cable car down from Teide leaves at 7 in the evening during summer. I had estimated the trip to take between three and a half to four hours in total leaving us with only little time for the unforeseen.

My kids were full of energy and anticipation. The trail was quite extreme but also a lot of fun. There were places where you could hardly call it a trail. You basically just made your way down the volcanic rocks. At the same time you clearly get the feeling of being on a volcano because of the solidified lava streams that you see in many places. You also have to be careful not to go off the trail and walk into the gulf in some places.

The hike is amazing. You feel like you’re on a different planet. Raised above the clouds with the crater of Pico Viejo in front of you and the islands La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma engulfed in clouds in the horizon you feel like you are in the middle of a Star Wars universe. As we descended from Pico Teide the landscape suddenly changed from black lave streams to a pumice desert. It is basically a flat plateau with a stabil surface between the two volcanoes. It’s a very barren environment but extremely beautiful with the clouds underneath you.

At this point we had walked for an hour and a half and we still had quite a distance to go. We were in the pumice desert right between the two peaks. My eldest son was full of energy and he started running through the desert towards Pico Viejo. My youngest son however was starting to feel the effect of the hike and the thin air. He was becoming a bit discouraged. We were on our way up Pico Viejo when he couldn’t hold it anymore. He didn’t want to continue. I tried to motivate him and tell him we almost made it to the top but it was a struggle and he wasn’t happy until we finally stood on the edge of the crater. I told him that no matter how hard it felt he now officially made it to the top and no one could ever take that away from him. I knew of course that the hardest part of the hike was still to come. The ascend back to Pico Teide. We sat down to have a break as well as some food and water. We also built a small cairn as a celebration of our success.

The way back
Knowing that the last cable car off the mountain would leave in just two and a half hours, we had to get going. I took us 2 hours to reach Pico Viejo from Teide and the way back would be a lot harder. As we started walking we passed the first and only plants on our hike. We also saw a grasshopper or survival food as I choose to call it. It must have moved for me to discover it because it was so well camouflaged that it’s hard to see it even in the photo. My youngest son was still not completely happy although he just had a break. Little did it help that we were on a time schedule. He was really brave though and just kept going.

The first part of the hike back was easy. We first went down Pico Viejo and then through the pumice desert. As we entered the black lava streams and started the ascend to Teide my youngest son really started to fall apart. He had been really brave through the whole trip but now he was tired. We had a short break eating a couple of m&m’s and taking a sip of water. We had to move on but he was talking about having a break all the time. Motivating him was a fine balance between encouragement and explaining the situation to him in a gentle way. I didn’t want to pressure him so I just stroke up conversations with him and allowed him to walk in front of us. It can be really demotivating if you’re in the back of a group when you’re tired. It emphasizes your feeling of being weak and you are more likely to give up.

We still had a long way to go but now he demanded a break every 100 meters until he finally refused to move on. He wanted me to call for a helicopter to come and get us off the mountain. I gently told him it wasn’t possible and that we would have to spend the night on the mountain if we didn’t get back to the cable car in time. At this point we were only about half way up Teide and I was considering how to make a shelter from the survival blanket that I brought. My biggest concern wasn’t staying on the mountain in itself, it was spending the night in the high altitude because it also means prolonged exposure to low-oxygen air. My youngest son had been crying for the last 100 meters up the mountain now and his big brother was getting frustrated with him. Then suddenly he said something to me that ended up motivating himself in a way that I hadn’t succeeded in: “I think mom will become afraid if we don’t make it back today”.

We were all really tired at this point. My motivation was keeping my kids safe and getting us off the mountain of course. I wasn’t worried at any time. I was actually still enjoying the trip and I think it was a valuable lesson for my kids to experience how much they’re capable of when it really counts. But we only had one hour left until the cable car closed. We still had a break every 50-100 meters and our tempo wasn’t increasing but my youngest sons determination had changed. He knew we had to make it to the cable car. On the way out the trail didn’t seem as long as it did now. Then suddenly I saw something a bit further up the mountain. It was the lookout that we had passed on our way out. Just the motivation we all needed. Seeing the lookout wasn’t the same as reaching it though. It turned out to be quite a climb until we finally reached it. When we got there I saw the sign that I missed on our way out. It said “Difficulty: Extreme. This trail may be difficult to follow because of the weather and the state of the terrain. This trail requires great physical exertion. Be extremely careful”. It turned out the guide who told me the trail was an easy one had probably not gone further than this point.

We now had 40 minutes left until the last cable car was leaving. Although the trail was now much easier to walk it was still uphill and we were tired. About twenty minutes later we were at the cable car and it turned out we caught the second last departure from the top that day. It was amazing to stand there among all the other people knowing that we had just made it through the toughest hike of our life. Everyone else was looking sporty with short sleeves, caps and clean shoes, but not us. We were covered in dirt from head to toe, our faces were sun burned and we were still wearing our shell layers. But we never felt better.



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 too 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.