Tuesday, December 16, 2014

BLOG 80. A Smart Survival Kit For the Northwoods

BLOG 80. A Smart Survival Kit For the Northwoods
by Cliff Jacobson
Stuff happens: Steel River, Ontario

My first job after college was as a forester for the Bureau of Land Management in Coos Bay, Oregon.  It was 1962, long before GPS and cell phones. One rainy January morning I was re-marking the cutting line that defined the area of a timber sale.  It was Thursday and I had Friday off and big plans for the weekend, so I hurried to get the job done.

Space doesn’t permit details other than to say that in my haste, I became hopelessly lost. And lost in an Oregon rain forest is a very big deal.  Here, huge trees cloud the sky and downed trees and winding vegetation limit walking to at best, one mile an hour. Visibility is measured in feet; only occasionally can you see the sky. Walk a few yards off a beaten path and you may become hopelessly lost...and never found! 
Stuff Happens: Kopka River, Ontario
Since it was Friday, no one from the BLM would look for me until Monday when I didn’t show up for work. So instead of waiting for help, I decided to find may way out. I had these “survival items” on my person:

·      A Thermos of coffee and lunch
·      Matches and a Zippo cigarette lighter
·      A Silva Ranger compass
·      A sturdy pocket knife
·      A roll of yellow surveying ribbon (to re-mark the sale area)
·      A red cowboy bandana
·      Pencil and spiral notebook

I was wearing a cotton T-shirt, a medium-weight wool long sleeve shirt and a Filson cruiser’s vest; Filson tin-pants, a two-piece rain-suit, metal hard hat, and corked boots for safety while scrambling over logs. The air temperature was about 50 degrees with occasional light misting.

Most important, I had a “mental map” of the area: For example, I knew that highway 101, which parallels the ocean, was about 20 miles west of me.  If I headed west, I should make the highway in a few days. I thought about backtracking to the winding, unimproved mountain road where I’d parked the Jeep (about a mile away) but decided against it.  Without a proper compass heading, my chances of intersecting it were small. Besides, the road did not run parallel to my position.

Momentarily, I panicked and ran a few feet. Then I sat down under a tree, poured some coffee and formulated a plan. I decided to go for the highway even though it was two days away. I figured I could make about eight miles a day. It was January (the rainy season) so there was standing water everywhere. I wouldn’t be thirsty. And I had packed a big lunch—enough for two days if rationed.

I set my compass for due west and started walking. When it became dark, I cut some Douglas fir boughs, piled them up and crawled between them. Surprisingly, I was reasonably comfortable and not cold. I headed west as soon as the sun came up.
Impassable rapid + no portage around it  = bushwhacking!
On the morning of the third day I intersected a logging road which I followed to the tiny town of Remote, Oregon. There, I hitched a ride back (on a logging truck) to my jeep which I drove home.  I never told a soul. Why? Because foresters don’t get lost!

A commercial “survival kit” would not have helped me. It’s what I had in my pockets that saved the day! A positive mental attitude (PMA)—knowing you’ll survive—beats any commercial box filled with clever stuff. That highway 101 was within reach was the fuel that kept me going. Without this belief, the most complete survival kit would have been useless. Indeed, in a real emergency, a kit (box or bag) may be left behind or lost in a canoe capsize. More than likely, you’ll have to rely on just “what’s in your pockets”.

Commercial survival kits commonly contain these items: waterproof matches and fire-starters, a single-edged razor blade or cheap knife, a near worthless miniature compass, a lightweight space blanket, fish-hooks, fish line, aluminum foil, signal mirror, whistle, sewing needle and thread, band-aids. Maybe energy bars and salt. And of course, an “instruction manual”.

Contrast this with what wilderness  paddlers should always have on their person:
·      Waterproof matches and/or a waterproof butane cigarette lighter (I carry two butane lighters).
·      Sturdy knife—fixed or folding blade (in a sturdy sheath or on a lanyard)
·      A seriously good compass, preferably with a mirror (for signaling)
·      A paper map—or at least a mental map of the area
·      Large colorful cowboy bandana
·      Insect head-net (if tripping in the north country) and bug dope
·      whistle

Assume you're solo canoeing a remote northern river where help is days away. Here’s what I would carry. All will fit into a small fanny pack that buckles around the waist:

In Your Fanny Pack:

·      SPOT satellite messenger. Extra batteries. All sealed in a Loksak® waterproof plastic bag.
·      A few heat-tabs (fire starters)
·      Disposable butane lighter—sealed in plastic wrap (this is in addition to the lighter(s) in your pocket)
·      50 feet of 1/16” inch diameter nylon cord, cut into 10 foot lengths. 
·      Two Band-Aids
·       3 feet of duct tape or Gorilla tape wound around a pencil stub.
·      Two sheets of paper torn from a small waterproof notebook.
·      Two fish-hooks and one jig. 50 feet of high-test fishing line.
·      2 ultra-compact space blankets (each, about the size of a pack of cigarettes)
·      Small roll of bright orange or yellow plastic surveying tape.
·      Small stainless steel or titanium cup—a Sierra cup is ideal.
·      Some bouillon cubes in a Loksak® waterproof bag.
·      Optional: small coil of snare wire
·      One or two energy bars if space permits.

On Your Body:
Knife, matches/lighter, compass, multi-tool, head-net, bug-dope, bandana, whistle

Add the above items (which should be on your belt or in your pockets)” and you’re good to go. Note that I prefer the SPOT over the DeLorme inReach for use in a survival kit. Why? Because SPOT is lighter, more compact and less expensive to buy and operate. If the weather permits a good fix, it will bring rescuers fast. Use the surveying tape to create a trail rescuers can follow if you wander. Boil water and prepare bullion soup, spruce or fireweed tea in your metal cup. Fish you catch can be hung from a tripod over the fire, grilled over green sticks or boiled in your cup. The space blankets can be taped together and rigged to provide shelter.  An insect head-net can be used to catch crawdads and minnows.

If you’ve ever been lost or, as Daniel Boone once said, “I was never lost, just confused once for three days!” I’d love to hear your views on survival stuff.

Cliff Jacobson


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Just Because it is Winter Doesn't Mean the Boundary Waters is Closed

One of the last paddles of the year that I took was into the setting sun with the wind pushing us back through the lingering lilypads and the tall brown grass.  The blue colors of the sky reflected in the water were more steel grey and dark shadows as if autumn had sucked all the summer heat out of them.

Returning to the landing with a big largemouth bass to clean was exciting.  As we twisted and turned through the tall dying grasses and the path narrowed -- the yellows, oranges and reds called to us from the approaching shoreline.  The wind had already begun to dry them out and they crashed against each other like tiny snare drums.

The water dripping off our paddles was already cold.  The lakes, dark and mysterious, definitely not as inviting as August -- now seemed quiet, private and full of secrets.  Shadow birds, shaking reflections of their higher selves, flew by on the waters surface and disappeared over our canoe.

Fall is most often our last taste of open water.  Our last memories before the Spring and ice out leave us with the natural world in decline and sleepy.  It's no wonder that when Spring finally arrives we are so excited.

It will be a while before the waters wake up again.  Right now we're all walking on hard water and drilling holes to fish through.  With a few warmer days ahead, as we write this, snow is softly falling and covering Ely in a new white blanket.

Remember that we have free standard shipping on orders now through Christmas Eve.  Use promo code:  FRP14 on all your orders.

Looking for a new adventure this winter?  How about a trip to Ely. You may think the fun stops once canoeing season is over, but you are missing out.  There are lots of activities for the whole family all winter long.

Camping in the Boundary Waters during the Winter months requires an adventurous spirit.  It gets cold here, we're talking nights 30 below zero to 50 below zero in February.  Twenty below is a common low for many of our winter nights.  However when you are warm and cozy inside a winter sleeping bag, near a wood burning stove inside a canvas wall tent, you can let the wind howl outside.

That's where we come in.  We prepare you for the outdoors, summer and winter, by having top-notch gear for rent.  Did you know that just like in the Summer when you carry everything with you in a canoe as you travel the lakes, in the winter you carry everything packed in a pulk sled.  The difference is that you ride in the canoe and paddle when the water is soft and when it is hard enough and thick enough to walk on, you ski or snowshoe and pull the pulk sled and all your gear behind you with a comfortable harness system that includes poles that keep the pulk from sliding into you on the downhills.

We did say ADVENTURE, right?!  Imagine hearing the lake pop and crack as the ice grows and contracts while the temperatures drop at night.  Imagine finding yourself surrounded by the greens, purples and dancing whites of the mysterious northern lights during a midnight ski.  Feast on fish caught right through holes drilled in the ice, and enjoy a festive winter night around the stove as the snow piles up outside.

Call us today to talk about Winter Gear Rentals  800-223-6565