Sunday, October 03, 2010

Survival Trip 1

This post is actually one month overdue. I have been distracted by many things and am finally getting around to writing this survival trip debriefing. My friend Andrew and I drove out to the Tillamook State Forest west of Portland. We didn't have a definite spot we were heading for. A water source near our camping spot was a requirement and there were plenty of streams on the map. We discovered that there was BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land on the way to the state forest and opted to camp there. We passed many official camping sites as we drove towards the eastern boundary of the Forest.

Another requirement was that we were fairly isolated from other people. It kind of kills the survival vibe when you see other people around. We turned off the main road and drove a ways. We stopped when we saw a grassy clearing among the Fir trees. We inspected the area and found heavy Elk sign. Besides scat everywhere we saw where they had laid in the grass.

I immediately wanted to camp there. It was 50 yards from a stream and had nice shelter possibilities. Because we were in the hills a lot of the terrain was sloped but the clearing was flat.

The first night we eased our way into survival mode. No tents or mattress pads. We gathered grass for bedding and used our sleeping bags. The next day we began in earnest. I allowed myself the following items: the clothes I was wearing, a knife, and a 40 oz. stainless steel container full of water.

Typically shelter is the first priority, but we kind of cheated by finding our shelter location the day before. Because the weather was mild and the sky was clear we bumped water up to our first priority. Since we had also found our water source the day before we made fire our first priority so that we could sterilize water for drinking.

The biodiversity of the forest was low. We theorized it was because of the logging that had gone on there and because of the elevation (1500+ ft). As a consequence, we only found a couple of tree species to make fire by friction with. We tried alder first, constructing a bow drill kit from trees by the stream. I dug up roots to use for the bow string.

Andrew assembled the kit and gave it a try while I prepared our shelter. The roots snapped before too long. After a few more tries he quickly exhausted the supply of roots. At that point we could have made some cordage from plant material, but it would have taken a lot of time and likely would have broken too. We decided that in a real survival situation we would have a used a shoelace. We substituted in some paracord instead.

Neither of us could get a coal, although we made plenty of smoke. We decided that alder wasn't going to work and set off on a hike to find a different type of wood. We took the opportunity to graze on thimbleberries on the way. Eventually we found a Big Leaf Maple tree along the road. We took several dead branches with which to make a fireboard and spindle.

When we got back to the camp we made the kit and tried again to make fire. We had hope because Andrew had made fire with Big Leaf Maple before. Despite our best efforts and plenty of smoke we could not get a coal.

By that point it was close to 4pm and we had been working on making fire most of the day. We built a fire and lit it with a lighter. Once we had a fire going Andrew filled my bottle from the stream and set it in the fire. Before the trip I bought the stainless steel bottle specifically so we could boil water in it. Otherwise we would have had to make some container to boil water in.

We had fire and water and I had somewhat prepared a place to sleep. Because the weather was nice we decided that instead of a shelter from the rain we would use the fire for warmth and try to reflect as much of its heat at us.

In the clearing there was a downed tree that provided a natural wall. I cleared out the area and made it level. I laid down the grass we gathered from the night before and gathered more as well.

We then built a reflecting wall opposite the downed tree. This way we would have the heat reflect off both walls onto us. We added branches to the top to contain more heat. Finally we gathered a bunch of firewood to feed the fire all night. We finished at dusk. In truth it was a pretty sloppy shelter and if the weather had turned bad we would have been sleeping in the car.

It was interesting sleeping on the grass bed with no cover. It was a balancing act keeping the fire small enough to be in control and big enough so I didn't have to wake up every 20 minutes to stoke it. I woke up cold several times throughout the night to feed it and eventually just grabbed my sleeping bag as a cover.

The next morning we contemplated our situation. We had fire and water. We could definitely improve the shelter. I had eaten naught but thimbleberries and wood sorrel for the past 24 hours. Food became our priority, but throughout the past day we had seen little in the way of wild edible plants. The stream had little to no fish. We could attempt to make and set traps and then wait till the next day to see if we caught anything.

We decided that in a real survival situation we wouldn't have stayed there. We would have headed downhill along the stream until we found more diverse life. At lower elevations we could have been fat on blackberries and hazelnuts.

We returned the camp to the way we found it and headed out. The donuts I left in the car were delicious, but truthfully going a day without substantial food was pretty easy. I didn't really think about eating that much and by not eating, I was able to make the water I brought last a long time.

So it seemed that we failed in most aspects of survival, but the experience taught us a lot. Next time we go out we decided that we would focus on one or two aspects of survival instead of trying to do it all at once.

Later that day we met up with some of my friends for a long labor day weekend camping trip. It was back to cozy camping. We had a great time and used the opportunity to practice and teach some skills. Andrew gathered cedar and made another bow drill kit. After a couple people tried it, I was able to make fire, somewhat redeeming our failure of the day before.

We taught a few of the other guys how to make some traps. My friend Dan set up his first figure four deadfall. I made sure he knew that that log was going to fall too slow to catch anything.

I found a fresh (one hour old) roadkill squirrel near the site and brought it back to the camp. I pulled out the plastic sheet I keep in my car for just such an occasion. :)


I improvised a hide rack with a plastic water bottle on top of a piece of wood. It's dried and ready for tanning.

I cooked the squirrel legs and back straps on coals and several friends joined me in the treat.