I kid! We all made it out of the wilderness alive and well.
Our two-day adventure started with an hour and a half drive on the most beautiful highway in the world, the Icefields Parkway. We drove out to Hilda Hostel, right by Parker's Ridge, unloaded our gear, ate a quick lunch and then threw on our snowshoes for a quick jaunt to find a spot to test our fire lighting skills. For some, this was the most challenging part of survival. One fellow smothered his fire over and over and over again, until finally he gave it some air and slowly began feeding it tinder and kindling.
Once everyone had made a fire with twigs and sticks, we moved onto shelter making. We learned how to make a tree well, a quinzhee, a trench and an ice cave. The quinzhee, by far, took the most effort. First, you make a big pile of snow that you stomp down periodically, and then you leave it to set. Once it's hardened up, you dig it all out again.
Once the first quinzhee had been hollowed out, there was enough room for three people to sit inside or two people to lie down. There were even snow benches inside, so when you sleep, you'd be off the ground, away from the coldest air.
What I learned:
- A shovel is one of the most important survival items you can carry in the winter. Without one, you're going to have a heck of a time protecting yourself from the cold.
- If you're going to get caught outside overnight during the winter, shelter is paramount to survival.
- Shelter can take awhile to build, so if you think you'll have to stay the night, give yourself a few hours of daylight to get everything set up. It's a lot harder to build and collect firewood in the dark.
- Be aware of where you're building your shelter. Avoid avalanche terrain and build your entrance away from the wind.
- In the case of an injury, tend to your friend first. Make them as comfortable as possible and then go on the hunt for fire supplies.
- A fire is good for warmth and for comfort.
- Don't make your fire until you have enough wood to last you for awhile. You don't want to get it started and then have to run to get more fuel, only to come back to a bunch of ashes.
- Carry multiple fire starters. And, when you're buying matches, be sure you know what kind they are. If they're not strike anywhere, be sure to bring the box or a strip of the box along, so you can light them.
- Dress in layers and avoid cotton. (I knew this already, but it's a good tip!) When wet, cotton gets heavy and cold and it takes ages to dry. You're better off wearing synthetic fibres, especially close to your body, that wick the sweat away. On top of that, wear a fleece or wool. And then top everything off with a Gortex shell.
- Bring multiple pairs of socks and gloves. If you get wet, you'll get cold.
- STAY CALM. Panicking will hinder your ability to think clearly about what needs to be done to stay alive.
Did I teach you anything you didn't already know about winter survival?