Psychologically speaking, I had it pretty easy. I grew up exposed to the outdoors. I’ve been fascinated with wilderness craft and survival since I was a kid and I teach primitive skills and survival techniques as a hobby. In fact, this in part is why I was asked to do these surveys. Also, my likelihood of rescue was very high and I knew it. Even if the helicopter crashed, our office supposedly new roughly where I was hiking and even if a freak winter tornado took the people back home out, the helicopter company would have come for us too. So unless some worldwide disaster took place my ride would be back for me after a day or two (weather pending).
Knowing that someone was for certain coming for me was perhaps the strongest morale booster that I experienced during that time. Despite the positive situation though there was still apprehension. After all this was an extreme winter environment and that changes the game up considerably. I spend most of my free time in the bush in the spring/summer/fall but that is easy compared to this. I only hoped that I hadn’t missed learning some fundamental winter survival skill that was needed to get me by for however long I was going to be out here.
My survival strategy.
I took a quick look around. It was just about 16:00 and the day was already getting a lot colder. I had been standing there for a few minutes doing paper work and was starting to cool down. I was in a small valley which was much cooler than being on the level ground above, so I carried on for a few minutes until I was back up in a warmer area. During this short walk I made a mental list of the risks I faced in this environment and made sure I had a way to mitigate each of them.
Freezing was the first thing that came to mind. My feet were soaked but the rest of me was relatively dry. That was ok, I was wearing -100F rated boots and I could dry them anytime so long as I could get a fire going. The area was heavily wooded so there was no shortage of fire and shelter supplies. It was actually a very good place to survive if one had to.
Another concern that crossed my mind was wildlife but bears were all asleep for the winter, and wolverines are far and few between in this area. Moose are only dangerous during the rut and that’s about the end of the list. Again I had lucked out.
I’m a huge fan of Ray Mears. I figure If I could choose one person to be along with me in an extreme survival situation it would be him (or Jessica Beal, tough call actually). I remember him providing a great piece of advice. He suggested that you always set up camp in the late afternoon so that you don’t get caught trying to do it in the dark. Despite that I decided to continue on toward the end of my line and the pickup point. There are several reasons why. First, with the light disappearing as fast as it was I would have been setting up most of my camp in the dark anyway. Second, I wanted to finish the line if possible. Protocol dictates that if my line and my teammate’s opposing line are not completed in one day then it has to be done again. I didn’t want me or anybody else to have to do this crappy, Alder infested line again. What I didn’t know at the time is that my teammate didn’t manage to get their line done either so it all had to be done again anyway. At any rate the plan was to do the line in the dark for a while. I would wait for the helicopter to get home, and then try to get a hold of the team on the satellite phone and see if it was within protocol to continue tracking at night with my headlamp. If so I would finish the line before setting up camp. If not I could pick up speed and make camp near the pickup point a bit sooner.
A third advantage to continuing on is that my survival pack was within a couple hundred meters of my line’s end point. I checked the GPS to see where it was exactly but there was a problem. The survival pack location was no longer in the GPS. I wasn’t too worried. I ALWAYS have some survival gear on me in case something goes wrong. I knew roughly where the pack was anyway and I figured after I set up camp at the end of my line, if I had the energy I would go and have a look for it.
When I experience what may turn into a survival situation I start collecting things along the way that may be helpful. Occasionally there were areas apparently wet enough in the warm season to support birch stands. I stuffed my pockets with birch paper and cat tail heads. I was carrying plenty of fire making materials with me but why use it up when nature can provide for you. Birch paper will produce flame directly from a fire steel spark and burns long enough to get most kindling going. Mix some Cat tail fluff in with it and it flares up on the first strike.
I got ahold of my team on the satellite phone at about 17:30. They informed me that my teammate had not quite finished their line but it might be salvageable. I confirmed that I was allowed to track in the dark and continued on my way. I got to my endpoint at 19:30, sent a “Check in” satellite message (which includes my location) with my Spot device to head office and proceeded to set up camp.
What I had with me.
I am very careful about how much gear I take with me to minimize weight. In fact it has come down to a serious science and I even found myself counting out exact numbers of Tylenol for my first aid kit. I only weigh 70kg (155 pounds) so every extra gram counts. With that, here is what I carried with me every day.
SOG Multi tool
North 49 Mini Axe
One liter water in a stainless steel water bottle
150ft of multifilament 60 pound test fishing line
One foot of bicycle inner tube
12 extra strength Tylenol
16 Yunnan capsules
Triangular band aid
Small assortment of band aids
Light My Fire, Swedish fire steel
Two Bic lighters
Spare mountaineering mitts with inserts
Dry bag with spare clothes
Four Cliff Power Bars
Three survival broad heads
Package of char cloth
Stainless Steel camp cup with folding handle
Two GPS units
Six mechanical pencils
Two way radio
Silva Ranger Compass
20 feet of TP
Four pairs of gloves
Also on this particular day because we weren’t familiar with the terrain in this area I had a poly tarp with me that I don’t carry anymore. I also had over 30 meters of 7mm climbing rope for crossing creeks that I don’t carry once the ice gets thicker later in the season.
edit on 3-4-2012 by dainoyfb because: (no reason given)