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 !