Posted by: Jeromie Jackson
Wilderness self reliance and survival skills are both challenging and comforting. The ability to be comfortable outdoors with a minimal kit makes time outdoors almost stress free. What use to just look like random plants now are seen as aspirin, cordage, food, poison, and many other resources. After successfully passing Phase I and Phase II of the Pathfinder System and just returning from the Pathfinder School Advanced Class, here’s my top 10 summary of the event:
- Kit Reduction- There is a clear list of what you are allowed to bring, and there was no slippage here. I had hoped to bring in Frog Toggs as we expected rain. The only way I could have brought them in is if I were to have worn therm. Going through thorny briars they would have been useless by the time we hit camp, thus they got left behind. No food, no water, no paper products, no deviation from the pre-defined kit, period.
- Hydration/Hypothermia/Hygiene- Hydration was primary concern throughout the course. At every point boiling and drinking water was critical. One of my buddies during the class almost got pulled for dehydration. On two of the days we had rain, and as I had to leave my raingear behind (grumble) staying warm during night became an issue. Luckily a requirement was to have wool blankets. Wool maintains 80% of it’s thermal properties even when wet. Hygiene, well, Mullein & wet rocks are your friends.
- Navigation- After gear was checked we headed out. We were put into 2-man teams and brought to various start points. This first navigation course was based primarily on map and terrain navigation. Working the course was difficult with the briars, streams, downed-timber, and other hazards. Making it to the last location on the course we found a tag, right in the middle of a beaver pond. Up went the packs and down into the water we went to traverse the pond and acquire the tag. Once the course was complete we headed into our initial camp.
- Fire- Having no water, and already being thirsty from the navigation course we quickly moved towards primitive bow-drill fires. Several fire skills were tested throughout the class to ensure we could get our flame on in many different ways. Time limits pushed us to be quick with making our sets and getting embers.
- Water- Our water was from the beaver pond. Boiling the water makes sure it is safe to drink, just be sure you’re not operating around pesticide or other contaminants. The class was extremely physically intensive for a guy who is a computer security guru in his day job. We were constantly looking to boil, transfer, drink, and boil again. At one point one of my buddies almost was removed from class due to dehydration. Getting 32oz and a little more into him helped get him back in the game.
- Shelter- We knew it was going to rain. Our tarps were taken away and we were required to build primitive shelter. Our lean-to, and a 55 gallon drum liner filled with my wool blanket and me kept me dry through the night. We did not have enough time to complete our shelter as we had hoped and the rain that night consistently reminded us of it through the night. The drum liners were a fantastic resource to stay dry in.
- Tools- Primitive cordage, hooks, gill-nets, dip-nets, frog gigs, and other tools were created as deliverables for the class. The ability to create tools outdoors with the resources at hand gives an individual a great sense of comfort. Even though it was early springtime for Ohio we were able to find a lot of available resources.
- Medicinals & Edibles- We did not spend too much time on the edibles and medicinals in the environment. We did have some deliverables to make sure we knew a few good plants and trees to use for resources. Coming from San Diego the operating area was very different than what I’m use to. Luckily dandelions grow almost everywhere!
- Meat Acquisition- We were tested on both our land and water meat acquisition capabilities. A group or two ate well, most did not. The quality of traps, the locations of the set, and other variables were evaluated to ensure the students were putting themselves in a good position to acquire meat. Traps are great as they continue to work even while you’re doing other things. It is hard to sustain oneself on greens and plants alone. The ability to successfully capture fish and/or game is critical.
- Signaling- In a survival situation you’re generally looking to signal for rescue. We were tested on our knowledge of signalling and how to use our creations. My group created a smoke generator and took an orange bandanna and split it into 3 parts on a tall set of sticks. 3′s of just about anything indicate distress. Most of the groups also did some kind of signal in a 3-way pattern.
In summary, the class was some of the most difficult days in the bush I’ve ever spent. The skills, knowledge, and resources I was fairly comfortable with. They physical demands, and the lack of food and water made things very difficult. Headaches, cramps, dizziness, and lack of dexterity caused tasks to become MUCH more difficult than normal. In reality, if I were in a survival situation I would certainly take a much slower pace- the pace and stress were intentionally pushed on us to test our limits. I can’t count the number of times I wondered why I was putting myself though the 4-day class. Now that I’ve recovered and reflect, it was an awesome experience. I really had to push myself. I now know how my body responds to the lack of nutrition/hydration/sleep, and I feel much more confident about my ability to get things done under stressful situations. I would highly recommend this class if you’ve got solid dirt skills and want to push your limits. By no means is the above list everything we did while out in the bush, but provides some of the highlights.
Thanks go out to Dave Canterbury, Kevin Baxter, Brandon, and the rest of the instructors, and to Iris for getting some great shots of our event. Here’s a great video Dave put together summarizing our event.
- The Pathfinder School (Ohio)- Dave Canterbury’s School
- South West Outdoor Travelers (San Diego)- San Diego MeetUp I run
- Elements Gathering (Santa Barbara)- Huge gathering on the west coast
- Transitional Gastronomy (LA)- Wild foods turned into phenomenal dishes
- Ancient Pathways of Southern California (LA)- I HIGHLY recommend this group. Chris Morasky rocks the outdoors
- Urban Outdoor Skills (LA)- Master Forager
- Outdoor Self Reliance (LA)- Alan Halcon’s group