A Reflection on the Forest Survival Training
Take survival training and hope you never find yourself in a situation where you have to use it.
I voluntarily and consciously subscribed to a survival camp. “But why ?” you may ask me. Because I spend more and more time outdoors, in environments where I have little control, and each of my activities brings its share of risks. So when Les Chèvres de Montagnes opened registration for this training, I was apprehensive. I thought it was probably going to be tough and I was right.
The Context of Forest Survival
Some will be quick to say, “but that kind of situation never happens!” And they wouldn’t be wrong somewhere. It is certain that there are people who will never experience this in their life. But for outdoor enthusiasts like us, zero risks is far from applicable here.
Hiking on unmarked trails is to take the risk of getting lost. White water kayaking means accepting the chance that you could damage your boat without being able to move forward. Strapping into your splitboard at the foot of an unpatrolled mountain is to consider that you could get injured somewhere and be forced to remain in place until help arrives.
So yes, unfortunately, it can happen that we have to spend a night or more waiting for help, lost somewhere in the forest. And since I refuse to let “the fear of” dictate my life, I decided to educate myself by enrolling in this survival camp offered by Les Chèvres.
A Group Ready to Face the Worst
Twenty-four women two meters apart in the woods ready to learn everything about survival in the forest, it is attentive and voluntary. With barely all of our cars parked, our first challenge was to find a place to pitch our tents for the night. When, like me, you’re more used to going to landscaped spaces like those found in Sépaq parks, it’s still not that easy. You have to find a place that meets several criteria: a levelled-out area, without roots or rocks, not under dead trees, not close to stagnant water and which is large enough to accommodate a small MSR tent. Let’s say it took us a bit of a walk in the woods.
Once the presentations were made, and in order to facilitate knowledge sharing, we were separated into three groups, each led by an adventure guide. I was lucky enough to be assigned to the group of Renée-Claude Bastien, an exceptional guide who has travelled thousands of kilometres around the world in 20 years of experience. It was safe to say that I was at ease and feeling confident in our survival very quickly!
The first day focused on technical training. And because we never learn better than by practicing, we have had all kinds of exercises. Do you know how to arrange your tarp for shelter in a survival context? I didn’t know either. For my first installation, I organized it in picnic mode with a place to put the table below and everything organized there. Seemed chill enough. The problem with this glamping setup is that placing your tarp high up minimizes your chances of survival – a smaller space is easier to keep warm. And this is just one example of the many mistakes I made without converting my mind to the context of survival.
Of course, we learned to tie all kinds of knots, to recognize the natural elements that could be used to set up a shelter and to start fires under different conditions. But the most important thing for me was to understand that we live our lives in environments that take care of us. When we are cold, we turn up the thermostat. When you’re hungry, you open the fridge or go to the corner store next door. We live in a world where comfort is at our fingertips and we have forgotten what it was like to take care of ourselves. And that is pretty much the basis of survival. If you don’t take care of yourself and save your energy, nothing and no one will do it for you. Maybe even nature will drive the point home…
“You had to take the junction on the left and you took the junction on the right… you got lost on a hike. You are now way too far from your vehicle, the night is falling and you consider spending the night in the forest.”
On this second day of training, we all left in the forest with the equipment we would have on our backs for a classic day of hiking. Today, we knew it would turn out badly and it did not fail… Around noon, we all got individually lost in the woods. A granola bar, a tarp, some rope and a lighter on us: that’s when we had to start taking care of ourselves. I’ll be honest, I wondered what the hell I was doing there a lot faster than I expected…
My plan: build a safe shelter, arrange it for comfort, settle myself to keep my heat, occupy my mind for long hours and spend the night there until help arrives. And being alone in the middle of the woods having to trust each other to pass the hours, it’s a real challenge. In almost 24 hours, I think I went through the whole range of emotions that a human being can feel. I will not tell you in detail my experience, because I wish you to live yours fully, but know that it is as painful as it is exhilarating.
The Endless Wait
The next day, “help” finally came! Because I was in training, I knew that someone was going to arrive eventually, and even then, I found it long… The average wait time in Quebec would be to spend three nights in the forest before being found by the Sûreté du Québec. So in a real survival context, I can easily imagine how difficult it must be mentally not to know when someone will find us. Once “rescued,” the renunciation and frustration immediately gave way to a tremendous sense of accomplishment!
Challenge Yourself to Discover Yourself
By enrolling in this training with twenty-four fellow female outdoor enthusiasts, and spending those almost 24 hours alone in the woods, I gained a lot of confidence. Firstly because I was given the tools to fend for myself and secondly because I witnessed my own accomplishments. This just goes to show that I would not have known the joy of knowing that I too am capable of starting a fire by staying in my apartment in Montreal. Knowing that I am able to spend a night in the woods without having made sure to protect my safety and my resources either. But it was meeting inspiring women like Les Chèvres de Montagne’s, Renée-Claude and all the participants in this training that made me feel that I too could do it. Having the chance to be surrounded by women who are also passionate about challenging themselves and the great outdoors, to share with them moments of doubts and successes, is priceless. You can experience it and savour it, with your feet firmly rooted in nature.
Whether it is about energy management, the creation of heat, techniques for setting up a camp or even the mindset to have when you go to practice an outdoor activity, I have realized and learned too many things during this training to tell them in this text. It is also the kind of realization that must be lived to integrate.
If you too are an outdoor enthusiast, want to see what you are capable of and are tempted to meet new, passionate and inspiring women, register for the next survival camp which will take place this fall. There are still some places! This is your chance to step out of your comfort zone once again and gain knowledge that we hope you won’t need but are confident you’ll be pleased to have.
Looking forward to meeting each other outside,