Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Almost Time

With Christmas just a day away the malls and stores are a buzz with last minute shoppers looking to pick up that great gift for their loved ones.  Given our wonderful winter playground here in Eastern Ontario it's no surprise that many gifts revolve around winter sports and hobbies.

Over the next week many people will head out on their new cross country skis, snowshoes and even snowmobiles.  Many of these people will have a novice or beginner level of experience but their excitement will blurr any fear of the danger that exists in our forested environment during the harsh winter months.

From us here at Beyond the Fire School of Survival we wish you and your loved ones a very safe and happy holidays.  Please remind your family and friends to plan ahead, be prepared and always be vigilant and aware of the dangers.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winter is here - Are you prepared !

The ground is covered now with a blanket of white snow and the air has quickly turned brisk as a stark reminder that winter is now upon us.

With this often dramatic change in seasons it often becomes uncomfortable for the average person to run outside to start their car before work or to complete the evening long shovelling marathons that become common place this time of year.

However, as the body acclimatizes to the temperatures we start to venture out to enjoy our favourite winter past times.  Whether snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking or even ice fishing often those involved forget the dangers that they will face shortly after leaving the comfort of home.

When we speak of preparation and the items required as part of your trip planning people often brush me off stating that what I believe as a base set of skills seems rather overkill for a half day hike or one loop around the bush on a set of skis.  However, when you speak to any person that has been rescued during a winter SAR incident and they will tell you that the winter emergency that they found themselves in brought clarity to their lack of skill and preparation.

Over the next few posts we will discuss cold weather essential kit as well as base skill levels suggested prior to venturing out with your family on your favourite winter adventure.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Where does the time go ?

Wow... Is it really October already ?

It's amazing how family and work life can make days into weeks and weeks into months.

This morning I received a call from John who excitedly reported on the progress of the cabin extension.  It was in that moment of listening to that excited tone in his voice that I realized how long it had been since I posted on the site.  It's often hard to maintain a blog or website during the off season due to the other things occupying time and energy.

However, as the cooler nights and amazingly brisk mornings arrive I find myself energized and enthusiastic about the winter season that is soon upon us.  With the soon arrival of that season I am not shocked to see the snowmobiles hitting the shops for their tune-ups.  The outdoor adventure stores starting to stock their shelves with cross country skis and snowshoes.

These sights also remind me of the endless amount of winter activities that are carried out every day in these parts with little or no training in the functional education of survival.  Whether that be the equipment preparation, the survival mindset or the actual skill set required to survive a winter survival emergency.

With the success of last seasons Winter Survival Level II Course and the seemingly endless emails and enquiries about this upcoming season, John and I have decided to run several courses to deal with the demand.

This winter season will prove to be our toughest challenge as teachers as we endeavour to deliver a great adventure while focusing on preparation, mindset and skills.

Over the next several weeks John and I should be scheduling our course dates and at that time they will be added to the site.

"Fail to Plan.  Plan to Fail."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You Must be Kidding Me !!

That is what I hear from my students every time I get to the point where I issue the teams with their rations for the next two days.

I am a firm believer that to truly consider a course a survival course you must develop sound teaching skills, provide realistic environmental surroundings, allow only the bare minimum in equipment and push the comfort level of your students.  In doing so your students will develop the knowledge, skills and abilities of survival while actually struggling to survive in an extreme environment.

We can all complete tasks while rested, warm, well hydrated and with a belly filled with food.  However you will never truly gain the confidence necessary to survive in a real winter survival emergency unless a good mentor or teacher allows you to test your survival mindset for real.

Team 1 and Team 2 both had four students each and were provided a ration pack which included the following items:
  • 1 Lipton Chicken Noodle Cup a Soup packet
  • 1 Bullion Cube
  • 1 Mr. Noodles dried noodle packet
  • 2 pieces of gum
The ration packs were designed to be minimal and mimic what a hiker or snowshoer might take in his backpack for a bush lunch.  It doesn't take a long look at that list to realize that is barely enough food for one guy for one day let alone a full team working constantly over two days in extreme conditions. 

That's the reality of a true survival emergency.  You didn't plan to be lost.  You didn't plan to get injured.  You didn't plan to be stranded.  You didn't plan to get snowed in.  Cause if you did you would have brought steak, potatoes and a few pints to help you get through it.  This is survival.

As instructors we monitor the ups and downs of team members.  It's always awesome to watch people's reaction to hunger, fatigue, thirst and strangers.  Sometimes it provides great comical relief and other times we fear for people's safety from their teammates !!!

We took this opportunity to show the students one of the greatest survival foods out there.


Very few of the students had ever heard of Bannock and only one of them had ever tried Bannock.  When we rolled into their camps at 2200 hrs we found them fatigued, cold, hungry and miserable.  So when I displayed a Rubbermaid container of the Bannock mixture they became extremely excited.

Armed with marshmallow roasting sticks in hand I wrapped a length of raisin filled Bannock mixture around them.

As the mixture began to rise and brown the excitement was written all over their faces and once they consumed their first taste it was like heaven had just arrived in camp.

It was important to show them what one little zip lock bag filled with Bannock mix could provide them in a survival emergency.

Bannock on a stick on the slow cooker.
Paul getting ready for his first taste.
Dean watching intently as his Bannock cooks.
Preparing for their first taste.
I think they just found Heaven !! Look at their
faces - PRICELESS.
Team 2 cooking their Bannock.
The boys of Team speechless for
the first time in 15 hrs !
What an amazing experience for both student and instructors.  Great job guys !!

Monday, March 19, 2012

If you Build it ...

In my last post I discussed some of the ups and downs that Team 1 faced during the first several hours of their journey.  However, when the team came together they became humble, hard working, creative, flexible and most importantly they became Team 1 !!

As instructors we teach based on our knowledge, skills and abilities.  Those teaching aids come from successes and more importantly from close failures.  So when we teach, share and mentor we bring with us everything, both good and bad, to the table.  Anyone who knows me knows that I always share my stories of near failure and destruction.  I do that because those were the experiences that I learned the most from and truly believe that my students will learn from them as well.

When we talk about and teach winter survival we always discuss the survival pattern and survival priorities.  With the winter climate in Eastern Ontario it is no secret that after first aid that fire and shelter are of equal importance.

Shelter is an instructional topic where I always try to preach creativity and flexibility in location, design and materials.  With that being said there are always fundamentals that must be considered and followed when possible. 

I also believe that constructive criticism is an amazing way to learn as long as it's delivered in a positive manner.  Team 1 struggled with their shelter because they weren't flexible or creative.  However, with some mentoring they realized this and came together to ensure that regardless of a poor location selection that they maintained the fundamentals of a great shelter.

I had never seen a shelter like it before and although it looked like an A-Frame from the outside it was more like a double lean-to on the inside.  During the last visit before the night fell upon our school I was concerned about heat retention, smoke retention and exit area.

When we returned around 2200 hrs I was pleasantly surprised.  Although the smoke was an issue there was warmth, space and a great team atmosphere.

Through these courses I am as reminded of the true task at hand as the students are.  This is not college construction.  This is not camping.  This is not a walk in the park.  This is SURVIVAL ! 

Here are some more pictures from Team 1 working on their shelter and supply collection.

Matt starting to build-up the outside wall.
Mike working hard at collecting the bedding
and roofing materials.
Dean, the workhorse, felling trees for
fire wood and reflection walls.
Team 1 hard at work.  Notice the team unity
as they are all working closely for one
common goal. SURVIVAL.
As the sun begins to wander low in the west sky
the lads start taking stock of their supplies.
A great shot of Team 1 about an hour shy of
dusk.  Ready for the night !
In the next post we will show pictures of what each team looked like when the temperatures dropped to -25 degrees plus windchill.  A true test to their work ethic, their survival priorities and most of all a test of their survival mindset.  Did they find the animal within !!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Team 1 Needs Some Photo Love !!

Well, as promised, I finally had a few minutes to get my Team 1 photographs organized.  Team 1 was a great team to watch as they worked through the ups and downs of the team dynamic and how individuals fall naturally into leaders and followers.

Team 1 decided quickly to go with a primary leader who would utilize his knowledge, skills and abilities from our previous course to lead his team to success.  Unfortunately, as with most things in mother nature, you can't possibly be prepared for everything that might be thrown your way.  This team found an amazing nature "Y" in a tree that could be readily used for their shelter.

However that nature "Y" forced them into constructing a shelter on uneven ground which presents many camp issues.  These issues began to creep into their minds and effected team morale.

As an instructor I could see that the guys were working harder and not necessarily smarter.  As instructors we preach that each task and each movement in a survival situation must be made with maximum effectiveness and efficiency.

John and I brought the lads together for a group discussion and briefing.  That simple act of bringing them together and stopping all work for a few moments truly changed Team 1's morale.

The next time we came back Team 1 had become a new team.  The morale was high.  Each member had become a part of the leadership system and each member's contribution became important and appreciated by the other members. 

I truly could not have been more impressed by their flexibility, resiliency and determination to succeed in the difficult winter survival conditions.

This team had trouble in the early stages of the day however they improved so much that they were a treat to watch and instruct.  There is so much to learn from their experience.  In a real life survival emergency every member of your group will have anxiety, desperation, hunger, chills, discomfort, knowledge, skills, abilities and opinions.  At any given time morale can be killed or improved.  Each team member must be an equal to ensure a balance of power, work and success.

Great work Team 1.  Let the photo's flow.

Dean-O and Mike discussing the shelter.
Dean, Matt, Mike and Paul making decisions on
the shelter as a team.
Team 1 listening intently as I discuss the pros and
cons of location, location, location !
Dean and Paul discussing the progress.
Team 1 member - Fire guy Paul.
Mike "Hatchet Man" with spirits high ! Great
work Mike.
Matt taking a break to let me capture a
photo .
Dean, a true workhorse..
Stay tuned over the next couple of days as I will be posting the pics of each students favourite part of the whole experience !!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Always be Prepared !

In a real life winter survival emergency you must always be prepared.  Whether it's being prepared to build a shelter, start a fire, provide first aid, procure and purify water or collect materials.

But one often overlooked task that you must be absolutely prepared to complete is the emergency travel, removal or rescue of a casualty.  The whole purpose of learning these knowledge, skills and abilities in a controlled atmosphere is to create a mental task list so that if you ever find yourself in a true survival emergency that you won't hesitate, won't panic and won't sit idle while daylight rushes by.

As part of any survival emergency you must be prepared to signal your need for rescue and just as importantly you must find a location within your setting that provides you the best clear line of site for that rescue.  If you're lucky enough to signal rescue you must be capable in a quick manner to transport injured causalities as well as vital supplies.

As part of the course we built in a casualty transportation and smoke signal portion.  However, unlike all of the other skills necessary we tasked the teams with determining how they were going to transport their identified casualty.  We chose not to show them or teach them the "right" way to construct a stretcher to transport the casualty.  Over the 28 hrs in the bush the teams learned to be flexible and to think outside of the box while constructing their shelter, water purification area, bedding area, fire wood area and general camp area.  It is amazing to see what people do when you remove the control and instruction.

Team 2 was provided 5 minutes to prepare to move their casualty approx. 200 metres out to a trail known to have snowmobile and vehicular traffic.  Rather than wait and attempt to construct a specific stretcher they utilized what already existed at their camp.  They simple took their shelter door and re-inforced it making it capable and ready to transport their casualty.

People must remember that simple tasks become extremely difficult after 24-28 hrs of extreme bush work, minimal food and temperatures that keep the bravest inside the comfort of their homes.  So the survivor must be efficient and effective in everything they do.

Below are a few pictures of Team 2 moving their casualty out to the rescue location.  Note that a foot path had been created over the two days while constructing their survival camp.  However one poor sap was going to get stuck walking off the trail.  The depth of the bush snow was extreme for this type of movement making it exhausting.  Another task much more difficult than it looks like.

Dusty and Steve-O prepping to hoist Austin.
Austin was truly nervous while being carried
 underneath the mistletoe !!
An exhausting task requiring strong men to put
casualty down to rest.
3 members struggling through the snow.
A great shot of the sun coming up while Dusty is
 forced to pull his weight while walking through snow
above his knees.
Note the casualty carrying the vital tools to construct a
smoke signal. Cutting tools and fire starting materials.

Great job by both teams of transporting their casualties to the rescue zone.  A task that cannot be overlooked when in a true survival emergency.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


While looking over all of the pictures and preparing for the next blog post I came across a picture that I just kept being drawn to.  Not for its beauty.  Not for its educational importance.  Nor for its hidden story.  Instead this picture just kept drawing me in because of its simplicity and the fact that it captured an unplanned lesson.

When you offer an open course you invite people from all walks of life who show up with all kinds of life experience both positive and negative.  You ask them to come together and work within a team to complete tasks with the goal of surviving.  It is amazing to see what happens when people are forced to endure extreme work, extreme cold, extreme fatigue while living amongst strangers.

One of the most rewarding moments of my 3 days with these 8 amazing students was on Sunday morning at 0700 hrs.  As John and I were up and about preparing for another day of instruction we watched as two members of Team 1 came walking down the trail towards the cabin.  It was -23 degrees but the sun was starting the shine in the Eastern sky.  The snow was crusty and the bush was silent.  It was a moment straight out of a movie.

The two members were Matt and Dean.  Two men who could not have seemed any more different from one another when we convened on Friday night.  Matt, a young man chasing his dream of being a police officer.  Young and full of life with a future filled with possibilities.  Then there is Dean.  A grown man who has a successful life filled with memories and moments of a beautiful family.

It is truly amazing how two seemingly different people from different worlds became such close friends.  An outcome that I had never expected.  I will forever remember this moment and the new friendships that we helped create.

Matt and Dean . . . Teammates...New Friends !

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Home Sweet Home

With both groups working hard to select their site and clear the ground around it, the hard work really got started.  With any task in life that involves multiple people with multiple ideas it's always interesting to sit back and truly see what transpires.

As instructors we truly had two amazing groups.  Great students with great mindsets and who each brought their own life skills and experiences.

It is easy to choose a site and to clear it.  Only once that has been completed does the team actually have to start experiencing the differencing in opinions, work ethics, strengths and weaknesses.  It is the groups who accept the challenge, work within their own strengths, recognize their individual weaknesses and come together to collectively complete the job that will succeed in survival.

Both teams worked together and discovered weaknesses within themselves but also the strengths with which they brought to the table that effected their teams production in a positive manner.

As promised below are some more photos attached to chronicle the journey.  The photos are a great visual description of how Team 2 constructed their shelter.  Team 2 took this shelter task very seriously knowing that with -25 soon to roll in that their ability to have fire and a shelter that would reflect and trap heat was going to be essential to their survival.  Their mindset was right.  Their work ethic was unmatched and they completed tasks as a team.  Great work lads.

Team 2 arranging their couch prior to constructing their shelter.
Team 2 showing great team chemistry and pure enjoyment of the skills they were learning.
Team 2's shelter starting to take shape.  Classic A Frame.  Awesome Job !
A great Father and Son picture.  Austin (son) was a true work horse and a great surprise for a 17 year old.
Steve-O starting to roof the shelter with Den Father Antaire looking on with great approval.
Dusty was the crazy tree man.  He possessed a great amount of tree specie knowledge and he was in charge on dragging, limbing and became the first guy I've ever seen have a nap on two spruce trees in the middle of the trail. 
A great view of Team 2's shelter coming together.  The solid side to protect them from the west wind.
Young Austin manning the fire and keeping the snow melting and the water boiling.  A view from behind the early development of the fire reflecting wall.  Note the brightness of the sun.  This group was very advanced at this time of day.  Great work !!
The same thing photographed from the inside.  The the two different survival cans and their height difference.  One for melting and one for boiling.  Very efficient use of time and energy.
Team 2's shelter from the back with roof complete.
Steve-O plugging the holes after the instructor told them how small cold drafts in the night will drive them crazy.
Stay tuned in the next couple of days for the journey of Team 1's shelter.

For the 8 guys who are now true survivors feel free to send comments about the pictures to share your experiences and opinions with each other as well as those who follow the site.  It helps the site be a truly interactive form.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Let's Get Started !

With teams separated and the journey ahead the teams travelled into their respective site areas.  The instructors provided some advice, direction and reminded them to think about what they learned in the classroom lectures as well as the field exercises.

The instructors, confident with the lads, stood back and watched the magic happen.  It is amazing to watch guys look at each other and immediately take on the task and divide the responsibilities. 

Even though many were not aware of what lie ahead they all had a healthy respect for what could lie ahead and what might happen if they didn't heed the warnings from the instructors and the weather network !!

The forecast for that night was -24 degrees plus windchill.  That really says it all !!

In this post I will focus on chronicling Team 2's journey through site selection and the commencement of shelter construction.

I was very proud of this crew and the way they gelled as a team.  They focused on the survival priorities and almost immediately cleared the site as a team and communicated well.  This communication makes a world of difference in the efficiency of tasks.

Site location.  Note the depth of the snow.

Great Team Chemistry !!

Site clearing.  Hard work but essential to ensure a great camp space.

With site cleared Antaire prepared the fire location.

With the site cleared and the team tasks divided Team 2 member Antaire quickly moved to start the team fire and get snow melting to provide the team with hydration.  This would prove to be one of the most important tasks and allowed Team 2 to stay hydrated and healthy.

Stay tuned for more of the Survival Chronicles.  Team 1 photos soon to follow.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What ... NO SLEEPING BAG ??!!

Knowing very little about each other, the lads posed for the pre-course photo.  With nervous energy and unsure of what lay ahead they all smiled showing their excitement and genuine enjoyment of the -20 temperature and cool breeze that met them when they secured their vehicles.

However, I know exactly what they are all thinking in this great photo ! Two minutes prior to us all meeting on the trail I quarantined their kit bags and removed all forms of comfort including food, tools and more importantly their sleeping bags !

The nervous laughter and banter back and forth quickly turned to silence and fear.  As an instructor this is the first opportunity to see the students mindset.  We talk at length about the survival mindset.  You must be prepared physically, mentally and emotionally to survival any wilderness survival emergency.

There was no time to dwell for the lads as I quickly re-issued the packs and hustled them to the rally point.  Their teams were identified and they had but a few seconds to re-align themselves and prepare themselves for the next 28 hours.

Team 1 travelled into the bush with Instructor John and Team 2 travelled into the bush with myself.  The snow was deep and heavy and gave the lads their first taste of the effort and energy level it takes just to move through the bush in this climate.

This became a quick learning experience about how easy it is to sweat while moving through the bush and how you must use the layering system when dressing for the bush.

Stay tuned as I continue to chronicle the journey of 8 lads who earned the title of Survivor.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Camp Mistletoe !

Well the temperature has risen and bush is quiet again.  But last weekend the calm of the Beyond the Fire School of Survival bush was stirred by the hustle and bustle of 8 hardcore students clearing, constructing, collecting and surviving.

At 0700 hrs the 8 students stood nervously at the entrance to the bush lane awaiting their scenario, safety briefing and final instructions.  With kit bags containing nothing more than a single change of clothes, a draw saw, water bottle and a survival can they were separated into two groups of four.  Led by an instructor they followed eagerly to their designated site area.

Once at their locations they divided responsibilities and commenced the tremendous task of surviving in the wilderness.

As the evening quickly stole the days wonderful sun the temperature dropped dramatically.  An absolutely amazing test of each groups survival priorities, their team work, construction methods and ability to collect enough fuel wood to sustain their fire for a full night.

Each student experienced the highs and lows of survival and what effects limited food, extreme work and the extremely cold temperatures have on the body, mind and soul.

As an instructor I could not have asked for 8 more prepared and excited students to share the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to survive in the harsh Canadian winter wilderness.  

I was humbled by their willingness to learn as well as the amazing effort they put into the experience.  Before they left the briefing I told them that they would only get out what they were willing to put in.  I did not know how they would truly take that message to heart.

Over the next few weeks I will be posting pictures, stories and a slide show of the weekend's experiences.  I truly can't wait until next winter when we run both the Winter Survival Level II and the Winter Survival Level III.

You may have asked "What is Camp Mistletoe?" well that story is simple.  Take 4 hard working guys, throw in a great camp morale and some down time before dark.  The picture says it all !!

This was the gated entrance to their camp !! Hilarious..
Note the Spruce trees trimmed into Palm Trees and the mistletoe hung from the arch!!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Walk where they walk and you'll see what they see.

With the course fast approaching I took advantage of an amazing day of sunshine and fairly mild temperatures.  With lots of preparation still to do to ensure that all of the course logistics are in place I opened up the cabin, looked around and realized - it's all ready !

So with that, I collected an arm full of wood, some tinder and with trusty fire starter in hand I walked away from the cabin and into the bush.

Within a few minutes I had the fire going in front of the instructional shelter we set up for the course.  With grand plans to refine and add to the project I found myself quickly distracted by the sight of a snowshoe hare.  I paused and watched as this amazingly quiet and efficient animal made its way through the bush pausing to look around and scout out its next move.

As the hare travelled out of my sight I realized what an amazing moment that was.  A friend and mentor of mine once said "If you want to see what they see - Then walk where they walk."

With that in mind I began wandering the trail until I found a fresh "Bunny Highway".  I stepped off the trail and followed the highway through the bush until I found a junction that was littered with tracks, both fresh and forgotten.  I gazed around until I found the perfect location to sit, look, listen and smell.

It was here that I got to see what they saw.  I got to sense what they sense.  I got to respect what they respect.  At the junction of the "Rabbit Highway" was track evidence of the hare, the fox, the coyote and some wild birds.  I felt in that moment that I was one of them.  I was mesmerized by the bush, the suns rays and the cool breeze as it whipped through the bush.

After 30 minutes or so of taking it all in I decided to depart back to the shelter to clean up for the day.  However, that plan quickly changed as the swooping sound of a large wing span filled my ears and powered my senses.  Landing no more than 30 feet from me was a lone, beautiful and majestic snowy owl.  I sat and stared in amazement.  I dared not move for fear that he would leave.

Amazed at how his colours provided camouflage for him in the perch of that tree.  After a few moments it dawned on me what that snowy owl was doing in that location.  I felt blessed to have been right there, right then, it that place where the wild animals cross.  I was amazed at his hunting instincts and his knowledge of the bush.  He was at that junction to hunt.

It is truly amazing what you see, hear, smell and sense when you turn off the technology and travel into the great Canadian wilderness.

Walk where they walk and you'll see what they see !

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Take a Second and Click the Mouse

Awhile back we thought it would be fun to have a weekly poll on the blog to gain insight into the knowledge, skills and abilities of the loyal followers to this site.

Although our followers are growing in numbers and a lot of you have become monthly or even weekly visitors our onsite polls have been a bit of a lunch box let down.

As the manager of the site and as an instructor of survival skills it is educating to see what the majority thinks about various topics related to survival, equipment, skills or even favourite seasons.  The hope was that enough people would participate to allow me to tally the votes and create blog entries based around those results.

So if you're reading this - do me a favour and scroll down the right side of the site where you'll find the onsite poll.  Take a second and click the mouse.

Let's make this weeks poll the best one yet !!

Thanks again to all the loyal followers and also to the newcomers.  If you're interested in a specific survival or bushcraft related topic fire me off an email and we will endeavour to create a post about that topic.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Road to Heaven is Paved with Snow !

With the Beyond the Fire School of Survival Winter Survival Level II Course only 10 days away Instructor John and I have been feverishly preparing for the arrival of the students.

With the classroom instructional phase ready, the field exercise equipment sorted and ready, the survival locations selected, GPS'd and ready, and the instructor's itinerary complete, John and I stood staring out into the white wonder and realized - we were ready.

This year has been an amazing year of growth and discovery for Beyond the Fire.  From the decision to construct the cabin in the bush to the extremely tough decision to start offering courses outside of our non-profit work.  We have spent countless hours in the bush sharing, teaching and learning.

It all hit me yesterday when I was driving to the cabin with Junior Instructor Luke.  I stopped the van, placed it in park and got out.  He asked me what I was doing.  It was in my response that I realized the bush, the cabin and the winter wilderness were my heaven.  In that moment of time I was lost in the perfection that existed without the sights and sounds of the city, the coffee shop, work or any other of life's stresses.  This place just off the beaten path was a piece of relatively untouched land that mother nature had blessed us with.

It was then that I knew - My road to heaven is paved with snow.