One Woman’s Battle to Conquer the Elements
As outdoor men and women, we embrace what nature has to offer: lush wilderness, fast-moving rivers, sky-piercing mountains, still waters and an abundance of wildlife. Spending our days hunting, fishing and being present in nature is where we find our best time for solitary reflection. It’s where we go to elevate our well-being and allow pre-existing stressors and pressures in our lives to dissipate, making room for our inner grounded soul to feel alive.
Whether I’m in a hunting camp with friends or family, embarking on a do-it-yourself fly-in fishing trip, sleeping on the ground or venturing out on solo hunting and fishing expeditions, I find that four fundamental requirements are crucial. They are shelter, water, fire and food.
However, have you ever considered what might happen if these essential needs were absent? Would you be able to survive? Would you possess the necessary knowledge to handle such a situation?
To me, survival encompasses not only the courage to venture into the great outdoors and embrace the adventures I cherish (hunting, fishing or camping)—but also the confidence to handle any unforeseen challenges that may arise. Survival means being equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to take care of myself so that even in the face of harsh conditions, I can emerge unscathed and continue to thrive.
An ’Alone’ Test
I decided to test myself on an “alone” experience in the boreal forest of Northern Alberta. I went there having no food, water, fire or shelter; however, I took along a dozen essential items. These were an axe, knife, tarp, rope, snare wire, metal pot, Ferro rod, recurve bow, arrows, sleeping bag, fishing line and fishing hooks.
As a passionate advocate for the great outdoors, I firmly believe in honoring the immense power of Nature. It is our responsibility to be well-informed and adequately prepared for any situation, such as when the weather changes from a delightful, sunny afternoon to a powerful atmospheric disturbance. I believe we also must be ready for emergencies where we might find ourselves without essential needs and facing the forces of nature. It is during these challenging days that our survival skills and outdoor capabilities are genuinely challenged.
I was dropped off in the forest with my items in my backpack and my bow in hand. The first half of the day was spent walking until I found an area with a good mixture of aspen, birch and spruce trees. These would help build my shelter and provide both a good windbreak and wood for my fire. To the west was a water source and a thick grove of spruce trees. It was a suitable habitat for rabbits, squirrels, and grouse, allowing me opportunities to find much-needed protein for the next five days.
Building my tripod teepee tent.
The weather was not stable, so I spent the remainder of the day building my shelter before the wind picked up and the rain set in. I decided to construct a tripod teepee from aspens I chopped down and tied together with the paracord rope. Then I leaned more aspen trees on each side of the tripod and wove spruce boughs between them to close the sides before adding the tarp. Using my knife, I crafted wooden stakes that I could drive into the ground to secure my tarp in its position. The final touch was creating a door-like structure on the teepee from a large spruce tree that had numerous branches. I felt like a child again, when I built forts in the woods with my brothers.
The wind was whipping through the trees. Although I couldn’t see the wind, it caused the entire forest to sway and dance. It allowed me to hear each tree differently, like instruments in an orchestra. The rustling leaves whispered melodies, branches creaked in musical harmony and the gentle swaying of the trees provided a beautiful backdrop. It was a captivating performance, a symphony created by nature itself, that filled the air with magic and made me feel connected to everything around me.
How I feel about my “alone” adventure.
Logs and Kindling
Before the rain came, I gathered wood and kindling and piled these in my teepee. Then I collected birch logs, longer than me and twice as wide, to make the base of my bed. I filled the spaces between the logs with grasses and smaller boughs. I built a soft mattress of spruce boughs piled relatively high to keep me off the cold ground. The delightful scent of the freshly cut spruce filled the interior of my teepee, bringing back memories of cherished family moments during the Christmas season.
At the end of Day 1, I was exhausted, I had no food, but I was dry and warm. Earlier in the day, I had collected water and boiled it in my metal pot to stay hydrated for the day’s work. That night, as I watched the flames of the fire dance and listened to raindrops fall on my tarp, I nestled into my sleeping bag and drifted off into one of the most beautiful and rejuvenating nights of sleep I had experienced in many years.
My “bladder” water holder.
I spent the next few days building and setting snares for squirrels and rabbits, trying to find any protein to provide some subsistence. With the lack of food, I needed to increase my water intake. Since I had only one steel pot, I tied a knot in the legs of my rain pants and used them to make a “bladder” to hold more drinking water.
Each day my snares came up empty. However, on one of my morning walks, I spotted two ruffed grouse shuffling among the dead leaves on the ground. I was excited and instantly imagined fresh game birds fried over the open fire. The grouse scuttled under some thick brush. I walked west of them, taking time to place each step quietly on the ground. With my recurve bow in hand, I just needed another glimpse of the grouse. Each of us was silent, yet I could hear my breathing. I decided to take one more step. As I did, the two grouse made a break for a large spruce tree about 50 yards away.
With my heart pounding and my stomach growling, I assessed the situation. There was still a chance; the grouse hadn’t gone far. Determined to secure a meal, I cautiously made my way through the dense forest, scanning the surroundings. As I navigated the undergrowth, my instincts kicked in to guide my steps. I carefully climbed over a fallen tree; its decaying bark promptly crumbled beneath my weight.
That’s when I caught a glimpse of it—a black object to my right. Instantly, my body froze, and my breath caught in my throat. Slowly, I crouched down on my knees to try to blend into the wilderness. There, only a few yards away, was a majestic black bear roaming gracefully among the towering spruce and quivering aspen trees. Its presence commanded respect. I knew this was his area and that I was a visitor. I turned my gaze to the left, where the grouse had taken refuge on a sturdy branch. Though my stomach was empty, I acknowledged that the risk of confronting the bear outweighed the reward of a simple meal. Feeling a sense of defeat, I silently withdrew from the bear’s territory, carefully retracing my steps back to the safety of my teepee.
That night, as I settled into the cozy embrace of my tent, a mix of exhaustion and disappointment washed over me. The absence of protein in my stomach served as a constant reminder of the missed opportunity to secure a meal and deepened my respect for the untamed wilderness and its unpredictability. However, a sense of accomplishment resonated within me, too. I had managed to fulfill the other three essential needs: shelter, water, and fire. The sturdy teepee surrounded me like a guardian, shielding me from the elements. Nearby, a steady stream provided me with the life-sustaining water I required. And through diligent effort, I had ignited a crackling fire, its warm glow casting flickering shadows on the tree walls. Despite the emptiness in my belly, a sense of pride welled up within me, knowing that I had embraced the challenges of the wilderness and had emerged successful in many respects.
A firestarter tip.
As I lay there, gazing into the darkness, preparing for my final night of sleep in the wilderness, I took comfort in the fact that although I was alone, I never felt lonely. Instead, I experienced a connection to nature and a deep sense of belonging.
The following day it was time for my “alone” journey to end. A part of me did not want to leave my custom home, spruce-bough bed and the quest to find new areas to set snares or hunt with my bow to try to find daily food. However, the smell of the dew on the grass, the security of the tall trees, the howl of the coyotes, the morning songbirds and moose-laid tracks are memories I will forever cherish.
Here’s what survival means to me.
As I bid farewell to the Alberta boreal forest, a profound sense of pride accompanied my departure. I know that if something happens on one of my outdoor adventures, I possess the necessary skills to address the four essential needs: shelter, water, fire, and sustenance. The experience instilled a deep sense of honor in my accomplishments, and it kindled newfound courage, strength and heightened self-awareness.
If you have yet to embark on an extended outdoor adventure, I encourage you to seize the chance to immerse yourself in the remarkable tranquility and establish a deep bond with nature. Allow yourself to experience the awe-inspiring solitude that exists within, because it has the power to awaken a profound connection that is truly extraordinary.
“It’s only in the sound of the wild winds that you can hear yourself breathe, and that is magical.”