This year, Santa had an emphasis on outdoor skills and preparedness. In each of our stockings, we found a water filtering straw, emergency blanket, and ferrocerium (flint) rod. My son and I also got knives. Surprised at their eagerness, I gave in, and we decided to venture into the woods, braving the cold snow & wind, to learn & try some new things.
In addition to ourselves, we had Grandma Nini on this trip. She has been coming each year to watch the kids over winter break, as I usually have to work. This year, however, I had a couple of vacation days I could use, so we were able to do things as a group. While her presence had made the meals and downtime much more enjoyable, I had my concerns about dragging her through the snow on a hike through the woods. In the end, she had fun and learned lots too.
We started with a long drive into the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, we kept the truck cool, as we all had winter layers on. I had packed everything I could to be sure we weren’t stuck out there. Tow strap, come-a-longs, chains, ham radio, water, etc. Just because we were practicing survival skills, didn’t mean being unprepared. This fact was brought into comical relief when I realized (in all my packing) that I had neglected to grab a coat before heading out the door! My backup had been removed from under the back seat, so I only had a single layer on my upper torso.
At 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and a steady breeze, fire was the number 1 priority. It was time to try out those new ferro rods! As an Eagle Scout, I had some experience in this area, and had taught the skill to other scouters at camp many times. While the kids had watched several ‘survival’ TV shows, I wanted them to see just how hard it was in real life. Therefore, I withheld my help, giving some pointers on building their fires. In deep snow, it’s good to make a base for their fire out of rocks and sticks, so the fire can get going before melting down into the extinguishing substance below.
Next, we gathered tinder and kindling. In our area, this meant light moss hanging from dead branches on trees nearby. After some practice, the kids were emitting sparks from their rods, having found the right angle/pressure combination. With effort, they were able to get the moss to ignite into flame. However, with snowy-wet gloves, they found the moss would not sustain flame well. By this time Dad was feeling a bit numb, so he decided to lend a hand. I supplied each kid with a bit of dryer lint, which created and sustained flame quite well.
My daughter had moved her tinder bundle into her fire, and was trying to sustain it. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated, as her material wasn’t terribly dry, and she didn’t have nearly enough of it. (Lesson learned, gather and prepare a LOT of material.)
It was at this point Dad was done teaching, and ready to warm up! I broke out one of my pre-made fire starters. Made of lint-filled egg carton, dipped in wax, they would sustain a flame long enough to start a fire, even in stubborn conditions. Suddenly, there was a commotion behind me. I turned around to see that my son had ignited his lint, and was starting to kindle the fire. Wasting no time, I wheeled around and applied my fire starter. Then, working as a group, we nursed the fire to health.
Now it was time for a trip to the truck. We were parked about 100 yards away, downhill. Waiting there was a package of hotdogs, and day-old doughnuts I grabbed at the store. No buns, or condiments, just some straight calories.
My son had been itching to carve something with his new pocket knife, so a roasting stick took care of that. I demonstrated creating a split-skewer spear & the uses of a baton as a tool.
We soon found that keeping the fire fed was quite a task in this environment, needing large substantial fuel to do well. Enjoying the warmth and company, we made use of the little hill for some sledding before heading home. At one point, my boy crashed in the snow stating, “I can’t get up…” Sensing the insincerity in his voice I joked, “Well, guess you’re gonna die then…better save yourself!”
(He did, of course.)
In all, the adventure took <4 hours, but it felt like a grand day of adventure. I would recommend it for any parent of 8-12 year olds. Grandma made some left-over turkey soup, and we snuggled up to a movie for the evening.