Published: November 18th 2008November 17th 2008
I turned up to a small farm on Friday night to start my survival training weekend with Intrepid Expeditions. A company run by an ex-Royal Marine called Nigel. (Fantastic company - I thouroughly recommend them)
It was a surprise to turn up, and see Chris - one of the members from my Everest trek. Turns out he is on the same trip. It was nice to have a bit of a catch up.
We headed on up to a small copse nearby to start building our survival shelter. I teamed up with those accompanying me to Sweden in February (most were members and listeners of Severn Sounds Radio
The new team quickly got to work on creating a shelter for 14 people, using a tarpaulin and the surrounding trees (check out the photos).
As it neared midnight the latrine and shelter got finished and the Bannack Bread rose and baked on the open fire. Throughout the night we took it in turns to watch the fire . Little did we know then that this was a test. Nigel wanted to see if we were disciplined enough to follow instructions to carry out this task.
When we're in the snow hole, we'll be candle watching. If the candle goes out, it's an indication of lack of oxygen in the hole and time to evacuate to evade suffocation.
Saturday was cram packed with training. Starting with a tasty breakfast snack of cooked meal worms, crickets and porridge. (Take a look at my video of my first bites). Personally I loved it and ended going back for seconds and thirds, but then I'm a bit strange like that. Another grub (I forget it's name) that we ate alive. Having its guts explode inside my mouth was a memorable experience. Not unpleasant, more like biting into shell fish really. The grub itself didn't really taste of too much.
The details throughout the day covered all sorts of topics: First aid, frostbite, hypothermia, lighting fires, finding water, purifying water, and setting traps . Lunch was a case of using the flour leftovers with water to make some flatbreads. We were all hungry so by the time 20 rabbits and 20 woodpigeons turned up for dinner (8pmish) we were all happy. Together in the dark, we learnt how to skin and pluck. The nights feast was a veritable
banquet of roast rabbit, pigeon and root vegetables. I'm not too sure how the vegetarian in the other team got on?
Unlike the most meat you'll find in the supermarket, these creatures had the opportunity to reach their natural maximum potential and live free organic lives. I still think we need to eat less meat in out moderns lives, hence my annual vegetarian campaign
, but it's also important to think about where your meat comes from. This was good sustainable practice.
The day finished with a night navigation exercise, reading compass bearings and working as a team to find a number of markers that Rich (one of the instructors) had placed around the local area during the day. By the time we were done, it was time to hit the bivi for a couple of hours kip before my firewatch shift. 2am came and I awoke to James's torchlight, 'You're up'.
The moon was out and my 30 minutes went quite quickly. there was something quite humbling about being up shuffling that fire around in the moonlight as the rest of the team snored their way through.
Sunday's dawn broke. I found myself soaked with condensation.
I had been breathing onto the base of the bivi bag (the non-breathable part). I learnt a valuable lesson, one thing I don't want in the Arctic is condensation!.
A short 15 minute foraging stint in the woods to practice our new skills (Burdock roots are great for carbs), a detail on kit and another on signaling. The course was about to end.
There was just time to dismantle our camps put out the fires and make sure we left the place as we found it.
In Sweden we'll need to eat around 5000 calories a day to keep warm so we won't just be able to live off the land. Nigel gave us all 3 high calorie ration packs before we left. .
I had learned a number of new skills. I'm not the next Ray Mears yet, but I've got the confidence to survive, and together we've built a great team, ready to go to the Arctic.
Oh and I now know that your skin freezes at -25c!
There are more photos below