Well, our 2011 winter adventure is behind us now and so is the resulting flu ! We spent weeks preparing and planning for our week away and now we have spent weeks recovering from winter temperatures rarely experienced by the average outdoor winter enthusiast.
We had a very rare and amazing opportunity to attend and be mentored by CF SARTech Paddy Mercer while he ran a small group of helicopter pilots through a winter survival experience.
Although armed with advanced knowledge of survival, it's enemies, and it's priorities there is something that no one can ever be truly prepared for - mother nature's violent weather wrath. She is the great equalizer.
On day one we saw unseasonal temperatures of -2 and -4 degrees through the daytime hours. This would normally seem like a gift as you work through identifying a survival location, dividing survival responsibilities and getting to work constructing your survival shelter. However, shortly after we started the site construction the clouds opened up and we received a record dumping of 17 cm of wet snow in less than 5 hours.
The mild temperatures and wet snow made layering of clothing extremely important and vital for survival. As Les Stroud says - "If you sweat, you die!"
Unfortunately, if you weren't soaked from sweat, you were soaked from the wet snow. This may not normally seem like a do or die situation however it quickly became just that.
At around 1700 hrs as we slowly began to shut down operations for the dark hours we were hit with a vicious and brutal cold snap. The likes of which I have never experienced.
The mild temperatures ended and the mercury dipped to a very frigid -38 degrees plus a 15-20 km/h wind chill.
So with clothes and equipment damp if not soaked straight through we prepped ourselves to be warmed and dried out by way of a large mesmerizing fire. Cue mother nature and all of her wrath. Each and every beautiful piece of firewood laboured on throughout the day and stacked to perfection was not only soaked right through from the wet snow but was then frozen solid by the temperature.
Never had I experienced such devastation as I had right there in that moment. After 4 hours of nurturing a smoking fire that produced minimal heat, minimal cooking assistance and no clothes drying ability, we made a team decision and shut it down. The smoke had become so unbearable that we choked, gagged and begged the good Lord for fresh air.
So, when Plan A fails - Plan B gets rolled out. We quickly identified the danger we were facing with the temperature falling and our inability to maintain fire due to those violent conditions. So, with headlamps affixed we moved swiftly and enclosed our shelter completely. We quickly removed all of our clothing from the daytime and replaced it with fresh, dry and warm clothing from our rucks.
The next 48 hours saw many attempts to maintain a fire with negative results. Our ability to remove gloves and perform simple camp and survival tasks were diminished due to the constant -30 degree temperatures and wind chill.
In the end we survived. It was a struggle and provided us with a valuable survival lesson that can only be learned through experience. You can read all you want about the survival mindset but until you are truly tested whether in a simulated emergency or a real one you can never truly understand its effect. It will determine whether you live or die.
You can never truly be prepared for everything however you can understand that your limitations whether man made or created by mother nature can be overcome by your heart, your courage, your knowledge and above all your survival mindset - your will to live regardless of how bad it gets.
-38 degrees... It's colder than it sounds !