Cold Weather Survival

 

Being afraid of extreme cold weather is a natural thing. Most people have the tendency to stay indoors next to the wood burning stove when the temperatures dip into the sub-zero ranges. But, some of us enjoy the challenges of facing the extremes—a Man against Nature challenge. Most people think that I’m nuts when they hear that I’m heading 150 miles into the Northern interior of Alaska. Sometimes I believe them too…
Nonetheless; being out there in the thick of winter is both a way to test my gear, and myself. It allows me the quiet time that I need to recharge myself, and the opportunity to get my survival mind-set used to the frigid weather.
 
But it starts at home through meticulous selection of the gear that I will be trusting to keep me safe…
 
Clothing:

Base Layer:

  • Fleece (Stretch) Union Suit
  • Polypropylene Socks
  • Thermax Sock Liner
  • Polypropylene T-Shirt

 
Mid Layer:

  • Wool Pants
  • Wool Pull-Over Sweater
  • Polar-Tec Insulated Jacket

 
Outer Layer:

  • Gortex Parka
  • Gortex Gaiters
  • Gortex Gloves
  • Fleece Face Mask
  • Fleece Watch Cap
  • Snow Goggles
  • Cold Weather (Bunny) Boots
The list above includes everything that I wear. It looks like a lot of clothing, but in reality, it is three layers that help to trap body heat, and keep the cold wind, as well as the wet snow from the “creeping chill” that signals the start of hypothermia.
 
Choosing my gear is very important. If my life will depend on a piece of equipment, or clothing, you can be assured that a lot of thought has went into it, before I lay down my money. The Parka is one such piece of gear that is essential. I don’t play around when choosing what Cold Weather Parka.
  • Snag proof Zippers
  • Multiple Inner-Pockets
  • Multiple Outer Pocket
  • Draw String Waist
  • Snow Skirt
  • Adjustable Collar That Reaches To The Nose
  • Fur Trimmed Hood
  • Nylon Sleeve Skirt: (Keeps the snow and wind off the wrists)
  • Waterproof (Not Water Resistant)
  • Armpit Venting Zippers
The multiple inner-pocket hold the survival gear that I consider essential out in the cold weather.
Extra Insulated Socks are layered in both (large) lower pockets. Having them rolled-up creates unwanted bulk, so I keep one sock in each pocket. It reduced the bulk; most times it’s easy to forget about them until they are needed.
 
Extra Cell-Phone Battery is stored in one of the upper zippered pockets. The battery is wrapped in wool, and then placed inside of a small zip-lock bag. The wool helps to protect the connections from snapping, and in a pinch, the wool can also be used as an emergency fire starter. The zip-lock bag can be used to melt snow for water.
 
A Mini-Flashlight is kept in another chest pocket. During the Alaska winter months there isn’t much daylight. The sun rises about 10:30 AM, and stats setting around 3:30 PM. By 4:30 it is already dark. Having a flashlight handy is a blessing.
 
Disposable Lighter & Waterproof Matches are likewise stored in a zip-lock bag inside of the Parka.
 
In one of the upper-pockets an Emergency Blanket rides along in case I am forced to hunker-down and get warm. I carry both the standard blanket, and the Emergency Space Bag. Both are essential survival gear that I don’t want to get separated from.
 
Zipper-Pull Mini-Compass and Temperature Gauge complete the ensemble. Sometimes it’s beneficial to know what the temperature is, and during darkness or white-out conditions, the little compass might help to determine travel direction. But, during a blizzard, hunkering-down is the only way to survive. It’s easy to get lost out there, or walk right off the edge of a cliff, or stumble into an ice filled stream.
 
A small Water Bottle that is kept half-filled rides near my chest. Keeping it half-filled insures that in the event that I fall down, the water bottle isn’t crushed, and end’s up exploding inside of the parka. Keeping it next to my chest insures that it doesn’t freeze.
 
A pair of Extra Gloves are not only an essential item, but a part of the survival gear. Gloves get wet, or ripped open on sharp ice. Having a spare set of gloves insures that my time out in the woods is uneventful.
Oftentimes a few granola bars, and chocolate bars are stashed away in the pockets for added energy during the arduous trek across the frozen landscape.
 
Peppermint candies gives a little energy boost. A few soft tissues will help to defray the “runny nose” problems that are associated with cold weather. Soft Berber Fleece works really good, as does pieces of Marino Wool from worn out clothing.
 
 
 
Having quality Cold Weather Boots is paramount to survival out there in the snow country. I prefer the military “Bunny” boots. They are rated to –60 below zero. Topped-off with a set of gortex gaiters to keep the snow out from the top of the boots—keeps my feet in good condition.
 
Tinted Snow Goggles are also a must out there. The sun reflecting off of the snow can quickly create conditions called “snow blindness”. Blowing snow, or ice-fog are likewise deflected by the goggles.

Basic Survival Equipment:

  • Rucksack/Backpack
  • Cold Weather Sleeping Bag
  • Gortex Bivy Cover
  • Sleeping (Ground) Pad
  • Folding Stove w/ Heat Tabs
  • Canteen Cup
  • Arctic Canteen, w/ Carrier
  • Eating Utensils
  • Ka-Bar Knife
  • Sharpening Steel
  • Leatherman Multi-Tool
  • Toilet Paper
  • Fire Making Kit
  • Parachute Cord
  • 8′ x 8′ Canvas Tarp
  • Chemical Lights
  • Chemical Heat Packs
  • 3-Piece Mess Kit
  • Individual First Aid Kit
  • Lensatic Compass
  • Waterproof Map Case
  • Lip Balm
  • Complete Change of Clothing
  • Small Thermos Bottle
  • Water Purification Tablets
  • Poncho

The one thing that I always try to keep in mind when I am out there, is that weight can be the enemy. Humping around a heavy backpack means that walking in the snow requires more effort. Minimal gear which fulfills the requirements for cold weather survival is the only way to go. The added space in the backpack is filled with extra food.

Food Supplies:

  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Instant Coffee
  • Instant Soup
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Tea Bags
  • Raisins
  • Dried Pineapples
  • M&M (Crushed) Candies and mixed with Brown Sugar
  • Emergen-C Vitamin Drink
  • Sugar Packs
  • Non-Dairy Creamer Packs
  • Salt Packs
  • Pepper Packs
  • Mountain House Freeze Dried Scrambled Eggs & Peppers
  • Mountain House Freeze Dried Chili Mac
  • Mountain House Freeze Dried Beef Stroganoff
  • MRE Wheat Bread
  • MRE Crackers
  • MRE Peanut Butter
  • MRE Jelly


Emergency Gear:

  • SPOT-Satellite “Messenger”
  • Arial Signaling Flares
  • Signaling Whistle
  • Orange Signaling Smoke Markers
  • Fluorescent Orange Marker Panel

When I am “just playing” out in the woods; there’s always a chance that I could get myself into serious trouble. Being alone out there when the temperatures are 30-50 degrees below zero, can mean death if a broken ankle, or deep laceration occurs. Having and extra cell-phone battery is alright as long as there is a signal, but most times there isn’t a tower nearby. The SPOT Satellite device works wonders. It’s easy to summon assistance. But once the search and rescue airplanes are overhead, you have to help them find you. Orange panels, smoke bombs, and signal flares will make it easier for SAR to get to you. All of these items can be wrapped inside of an old Blaze Orange hunting vest, and then secured with rubber bands.

 

READ THE FULL ARTICLE: HERE

Sanctuary Among The Trees: (Part 1)

 
 

It’s 2pm Thursday afternoon; as my ride pulls away, I wave a final goodbye to civilization. The next few days will be spent living out of my Bug Out Bag—testing my own survival skills.

Quickly I creep into the thick brush and squat down. Listening and watching to see if my infiltration has gone unnoticed. I’m surrounded by thick brush, tall trees, and downed-timber from the recent ice storms last season. The air is slightly nippy, but the sun peeking out from behind the clouds brings a little light into the otherwise gloomy Alaska boreal forest.

My Lensatic Compass gives me the bearing that I will be taking. It’s nearly fifteen miles to my Safe Area; a little spot on top of a remote hill surrounded by a large boggy marsh. It’s one of the intermediate areas that I have set-up as a cache point. I hope to reach it as soon as possible.

The leaves squish underneath the soles of my hunting boots as I stalk through the maze of Alaska jungle. It’s quiet out here; other than the sounds of mosquitos, and the occasional sounds that nature makes, for all intents it feels like I have stepped back into time itself.

A Rugger .338-Winchester Magnum rifle is held close to my chest. It’s my grizzly bear rifle. The powerful cartridge kills moose and bears with impunity; That’s what they are designed for, that why I carry it. A shoulder holster carries my defensive handgun; a Taurus “Raging Bull” .454-Casull Magnum. The powerful handgun serves as my last ditch protection, and a back-up hunting weapon. But it doesn’t belay the fact that some bears like to wait in ambush, and then pounce out of the brush at speed equal to a horse. Many hunters and hikers have been savaged in this way—with little or no warning. I don’t intend to become a victim if at all possible.

My steps are quite but sure. Each step brings another fifty yards into view. Each brush is scrutinized, each downed log is searched with my eyes, each step through the maze of lumber carries me deeper into the dark gloom that has slowly surrounded me like a fog. My eyes take in every nook and cranny that could harbor a predator. Making my way silently through the million year old forest—my friend and my adversary.

I am at home here. The lush green wraps itself around me like a warm coat. The air flowing into my nose is filled with clean air, the scent of old dirt, and the aromatic spice of nature’s returning from its winter sleep. The varied hues of colors dazzle my eyes—overhead  the shrill cries of a Raven remind me that I am a trespasser in his home. But I smile and send my mental signals of friendship up to him, asking him to keep watch over me—but he is already out of sight—a mere dark speck against blue skies.

My nose picks up the slightest scent of wood smoke. It’s faint, and far off. But that means other people are out here with me. I check the wind; it’s coming from my left. The upper leaves in the trees confirm this. I cannot allow anyone to see me out here. They must be made oblivious to my presence. Dropping to my left knee I listen for sounds; closing my eyes-willing my senses to reach out beyond the horizon. Using my mind to comb the area—tuned for the slightest disturbance in the energy field. After a few minutes; satisfied that I am alone, I resume my solitary trek deeper into the forest. I alter my compass heading three degrees towards the right, and count each step using my pace-count beads.

My feet carry me through twisting ravines, steep hills, and have me scrambling across countless downed trees, I notice the ground underneath is getting a little firmer. I have made it out of the valley; somewhere ahead of me rises the snow-capped mountains—my destination.

Throughout the afternoon the shadows creep along beside me. The air grows thinner, and I feel a change in the air. Night is coming soon. My eyes take in the sun’s position, the quietness creeping through the forest. There is a slight perceptible change around me—a primitive, almost ancestral-nocturnal fear reaching forward from the dawn of my ancestors time; reminding me that night brings death. It is time to find shelter, and appease my gnawing hunger.

A small hillside beckons me to rest; a cozy patch of sunlight illuminating a small comfortable circle of light. A downed log replete with soft moss–It cries out to me, demanding that I take rest upon it; but light and clearing is death in these woods. I choose the dark foreboding scrub-filled bog; a place better suited for defense—a place that hides my unnatural form and actions.

I kneel and listen; analyzing each sound, processing every movement of leaves and twigs; tasting the air as it flows part me. Sensing beyond my eyes for a tell-tale disturbance, an unnatural color or line; for the smell of something foreign. But all that returns to me is quite—I am alone out here, at least for now.

Moving quietly and slowly, I shed my rucksack and pull it behind me as I crawl deeper into the thorn filled thickets. My cheeks are ripped by the thorns, and somewhere on my right knee I feel a stab of pain, but I cannot stop until I am firmly inside this protective wall of punishment. The ground gives way to peat-moss; until at last I am crawling through knee deep water; my destination a dry clump of tall grass, a tiny island of dryness large enough to fit my form. This will be my home for the night. This will be where I can sleep without fear of a slow-creeping ambush.

My folding stove balances precariously on the lid of my mess kit. The boiling water being fed by the blue flames of my home-made fuel-tinder. A freeze dried food packs awaits the hot water, as does a tea bag. I am famished, and ready to sustain myself—to feed the fire that drives me further into this unreal place that I have called home.

While the water boils, I crawl forward and replace the thickets and brush that I have moved while crawling in here. There cannot be any sign of my passing or occupation of this place. A small black length of twine is tied near the entrance and woven back to my area so that I can be warned of an adversaries approach. A stick near my head will fall—thus alerting me to unwanted entry. I am surrounded by prickly thorns that thrive in muddy marsh water; and overhead the gently bowing branches of many birch trees lean down towards me—creating a living green cave.

My home for the night is small and uncomfortable; a mere three feet wide by six feet long protrusion of land; it is the only dry spot in sight. It will have to do—it will serve me well when darkness once again shimmers among the heavenly stars that will be my only company.

 

There will be no camp fire tonight; no lights to betray my presence. The stillness will not be broken by my voice, or caused by my action. I will remain quiet, a ghost among the gently swaying trees; I will fade into my respite, become part of the vegetation that so hides my presence.

My belly full, and legs stretched out ahead of me, I revel in the stillness around me that is mine. Laying back against my left elbow I sip at the Camille tea, swirling the dark liquid around inside of the canteen cup; allowing my eyes to travel across the quickly darkening skies overhead. It’s vast expanse making me feel small and inconsequential, a singular speck of humanity against the dark forest stretching infinitely around me. I ponder at the eyes of my own ancestral lineage that have witnessed these same sights, perhaps thought these same thoughts, and felt the the smallness that is felt among the towering pines and endless skies. A contentment sweeps over me, the peace that only can be realized in moments such as this. The connection across time eternal to First Man and First Woman—the pulls of generations yet unbroken.

With my gear re-packed, I make ready to get some sleep. Everything must be ready to go at a moments notice. There can be nothing laying around, nothing that will require me to stop and scoop it up. I must rest; yet I must maintain my defense as well. This requires that I not allow the shameful sloppiness of humanity into my camp. A poncho and poncho liner serve as my bedding. There will be no warm and comfortable sleeping bag tonight. The wetness all around me precludes it.

I strip off my outer-wear, and don the warm fleece pants and sweater that will substitute for my sleeping bag. My gloves and cap, also of fleece, complete the sleeping gear. Slipping back into my waterproof outer-wear, I roll into the luxurious warmth of my poncho; my head resting against the rucksack. With my rifle laid underneath the poncho; my last conscious thought is of the claustrophobic feeling that the mosquito head-net gives me—but soon the pleasure of slowly spiraling into the void of sleep…

It is night, something has awakened me. I dare not breath, hearing my heart pounding inside of my chest. I have to relieve myself, but movement might spell trouble. The comforting outline of my bear rifle is felt along my left leg under the poncho. My mind conjured images of a slathering grizzly bear trashing its way through the cold dark water—our eyes meeting each other in the surreal darkness around me. I quickly push the thought deep back into the corners of my thoughts, and reach out with my hearing and senses to see what has roused me from sleep.

My breathing sounds abnormally loud, and I will my lungs to slow down some. My eyes slowly scanning through the tangle of undergrowth, sensing movement, seeing nothing, hearing nothing but the wind rustling the leaves in top of the trees. Somewhere in the far distance I hear the faint howl of a lonely wolf. I hold my breath for a moment, listening for a return call; but only silence greets me.

Scooting over a little towards my left, I roll over onto my side, and relieve myself into the sloping ground leading into the dark waters. Standing up would make noise, attract attention; whatever awakened me might still be close—I cannot move right now.

It seems like a lifetime before the urgency of danger leaves me. With it, the taste in the air changes as well. My heightened sense detected something out there. Something that alarmed my inner being, something that awoke me to the dark night’s fear. It is a feeling that I have counted on in the past—a feeling that I can trust.

Still unsure, I lay my head back down determined that I may hear it again. but soon the swirling drops me back into the bliss of sleep…

Its been a long night; daylight has finally returned. Many times I was awakened by something moving around outside of my little fort. It was only during the last few hours that my mind and body finally rested; dropping me near exhausted into a deep satisfying sleep, the kind that rejuvenates the tiredness of body and mind.

The diffused sunlight peeks out from behind the trees; I gaze up into the skies and watch the low hanging clouds moving slowly by; it feels like rain today. Putting away my sleeping gear I reach into the rucksack and pull out the small thermos bottle. Hot water boiled after last nights dinner make the task of breakfast easier. Oatmeal, coffee, and some vitamin-c drink, help to get the day started without much fuss.

Using my map and compass I am able to triangulate my position against the nearest mountains. I’ve travelled about halfway to my destination.  Today’s travel will take me through the low-lying foot hills, and across many streams that I will have to ford. It’s the most difficult part of the journey. The high-snow capped mountains in the distance fills me with a sense of awe, and at the same time reminds me that man has struggled against them for millennia. Many have perished amidst those ragged peaks. A broken ankle, a sliced artery; the mountain has its own way of getting even with those beating themselves against it. The mountain’s ominous warning proclaimed by the thick fog drifting to and fro near the top. A cold barrier, a sign reminding me that nature is in control—I am but an unfamiliar inside of these tangled trees.

My gear once again rests comfortably on my shoulders. The food and coffee invigorating me; giving me the energy that will be required. The swarms of mosquitos rush toward my exposed face; quickly retreating from the scent of the repellant that has been liberally applied. These pesky-insects congregate around my head like a dark cloud, seeking to drain blood from my already battered and bruised body. The tiny aches and pains of my journey a reminder that out here, the human body is soft. This is evidenced by the throbbing in my right knee. Yesterday a small thorn punctured into the flesh, forcing me to strip down and cut it out with my multi-tool. It was a painful and slow process, but in the end the tiny sliver of wood coated with toxic resin was removed. Antibiotic from my first aid kit helped to quell the infection that would have surely resulted had I allowed the wound to fester.

Two hours later I drop my rucksack and squat carefully beside a small stream. The crystal clear water pumping through my water filter will insure that I m hydrated. Crossing over these life-giving streams without refilling my canteens is suicide. It’s then that I hear a splashing noise further upstream. Slowly I withdraw into the thick bushes, my rifle quickly filling my hands. With my back against a tree, I search the banks of the streams with my eyes for the source of the noise. It could be anything, a salmon jumping, a rock moving, a scampering rodent—but I hear the splashing sound again, this time a little closer.

It’s the unmistakable sound of paws padding through the waters shallows. It’s then that I catch a glimmer of movement; a patch of brown fur, the realization that I am seeing a large grizzly bear—and it isn’t aware of me. This is a dangerous situation. To surprise the grizzly is certain to cause it to charge, to stand up and let myself be seen, is sure to surprise this carnivore.

With a soft click I release the safety on my rifle; edging further backwards around the tree, I mentally will my body to fade into the green. Praying that my camouflage will help to hide my outline. I don’t stare at the bear; fearful of sending out a signal that his inner-senses will pick-up; I keep my eyes on the ground in front of him. My eyes watching the ground as his slow gait brings him closer to me. Close enough that I can hear his breathing, seeing as his small eyes flick back and forth—close enough that we are separated by only a distance of five yards.

 

The bear slows; his nose sampling the air; the nose seven times more sensitive than the best hunting dog. He has caught a whiff of me. I watch the muscles ripple along his chest as he assesses the area that I am hiding in. He starts to come towards me, my heart sounding like a bass-drum; my breathing excited. I edge further into the bushes; my rifle slowly coming-up into the firing position. I can smell the musky aroma emanating for this powerful king of the forest. I can smell my own fear as well. I steel myself for what is sure to come…

Suddenly; I hear a shrill cry of a Raven; overhead the black shadow circles twice, his screams matched by the quick dives towards the ground—and just as quick, the Raven is gone out of sight.The bear stops, swinging his massive head back towards the water; he plods along on his original route. I’ll never know if I was spotted, if this North American carnivore allowed me to remain; but I am thankful that the two of us didn’t have to encounter each other in violence. It’s time to be on my way again.

Hours later I find myself resting against an over-turned tree trunk; munching down a power bar and dried pineapple fruit. My tired muscles complain as I shift position, and I feel the trickle of water creeping down the side of my neck, travelling onto my chest. Even the best-made rain suits cannot prevent the cold rain from penetrating into my body’s warmth.

The rain began soon after the encounter with the grizzly bear. It began with a slight drizzle; culminating with a frenzied down pour sending sheets of driving rain through the trees. The forest around me becomes darker, the leaves dripping water; the wind arcing the rain sideways across my vision. I hope the rains would let up a little, but I know better. These rain storm blow in all the time with little warning. They can last for days on end, and then just as suddenly as they appeared, they withdraw and allow the Sun to regain a foothold—having nourished the foliage with its life-saving sustenance.