Friday, July 29, 2011

Survival Christmas Island Style

The guide catching our lunch

Tony preparing a fire

Lunch being cooked

It doesn't get much better than fresh fish for lunch!

I spent a week in the Republic of Kiritimati earlier this month.  If you don't know where this republic is look at a map of the Pacific Ocean, travel 1300 miles south of Honolulu to a position two degrees north of the equator and there you will find a coral atoll called Christmas Island or "Kirimati" which, by the way, is pronounced "Kiri- bass."  Kirimati is one of thirty-three small islands scattered over two million square miles of the Central Pacific Ocean which make up the Republic of Kiritimati.  Enough geography.  I went there for two reasons: one to fly-fish for bonefish and trevally and secondly to photograph seabirds both of which I manages to do successfully.  So what does all of this have to do with survival and surviving?

During the week that I was there I witnessed an exercise in "survival food procurement."  While out fishing one day the truck that was transporting us from one place to another didn't show up at the appointed time with lunch!  While this was not truly a crisis the guide and I were hungry and thirsty after a long morning of stalking bonefish on the flats and were ready for some food!  After an hour of waiting the guide took matters into his own hands, asked to borrow my fly rod, walked down to the nearby coral reef where he promptly caught a snapper and a small grouper.  Returning to where I was sitting under a tree in the shade he gathered up a pile of coconut husks and some dead palm fronds and built a fire.  As the husks were burning down to coals he found a piece of old sheet metal, propped it up on rocks and couple of pieces of pipe over the fire and then, when it was hot, put the two fish on it to cook.

Ten minutes later he pronounced the fish done and they were served to me on a platter made from a nearby broad-leafed tropical plant.   At that moment nothing could have tasted better!  They were delicious.

This certainly was not a survival situation but it was a "survival vignette" that reminded me that often the survival resources we need are present all we need to do is know how to exploit them!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Gear I Carry in the Wilderness

High tech gadgets are no substitute for proper training and preparedness!
During nearly 45 years of wandering around the world’s backcountry I have developed a collection of equipment that has frequently saved my bacon! Equipment that, on more than one occasion, changed a potentially life threatening situation into an inconvenient night out.
Some would call my collection of gear a “survival kit.”  The mountain men of the Rocky Mountain West would call it a “possibles kit. I call the collection “my emergency gear” and always have it with me – what good is your emergency kit if you don’t have it along?
Over the years the contents of my kit have changed. As new equipment came along that was better and lighter than the gear I used it replaced the old.
To read the rest of the story, click here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pressing on in the face of adversity

The last time I got in trouble I was in Big Bend National Park in Texas.  This time the location was far less exotic!  In fact my wife and I were at the intersection of I-125 and I-80 on the south side of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  We were on our way home from a week of photographing the red rock country in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and were headed for the RV campground at Warren Air Force Base.  As we topped the hill headed east towards Cheyenne, monstrous black storm clouds stretched across the horizon in front of us. 

Without giving the weather conditions the attention they deserved, we forged ahead anxious to get our 5th wheel set up and bed down for the night.  The closer we got to Cheyenne the worse the weather became until the driving rain and hail forced us over to the side of the road.  Initially we were unconcerned but as the minutes passed, and the storm intensified, our lack of concern quickly evaporated and our anxiety ratcheted up with the increasingly large hail that was now pounding my truck and the 5th wheel behind.  It got so large, and the noise so great, that talking was nearly impossible.  At any moment we expected the windshield to cave in.  I-25 was brought to a standstill with the heavy summer traffic lined up along the shoulders of the road sweating out the storm. 

For fifteen or twenty minutes the storm raged and then, as quickly as it began, it drifted east and the cars and trucks began to move again.   It was time to take stock of the damage.  It was quickly obvious that my insurance company was going to be getting a call on Monday morning!  The hood and the roof of my Dodge truck were a mass of dents.  I didn’t even want to think about the roof of my thirty-foot RV but as it turned out the roof itself was largely undamaged - it fared better than the truck.  The plastic vent hoods, the air-conditioned cover and the external running lights took a beating and would have to be replaced.  All in all it could have been worse.

In retrospect what bothered me more than the damage was the fact that I had placed my wife, my vehicles, and myself in harms way.  I didn’t recognize the looming hazard.  I wasn’t tuned in enough to see what was about to happen.  I didn't turn back! Despite the obvious storm, the thought of hail and the damage it could cause never crossed my mind.  I was focused on getting to the campground as quickly as possible.

It is this mentality that gets people in trouble in the outdoors.  As a society we have lost the ability to sense danger - the ability to detect the “edge of the cliff” and back off.  So the next time you are faced with a situation where pressing on in the face of threats to your safety is ill-advised, pause for a moment.  Evaluate your situation objectively.  What are the threats?  How able are you to cope with threats to your safety?  What are the consequences of continuing?  Is it time to turn back?  Don’t let external issues influence your decision.  You can always climb the mountain another day – but you have to be alive to do that!

For me?  Next time I am going to try to listen to my own advice!