Saturday, October 1, 2016
I AM ON BOARD an Air Asia airplane that had already been delayed by two hours for Manila. The flurry of announcements and non-announcements about the prohibition of the carrying of guns and deadly weapons during travel in an election period have left me fang-less. It is strange to travel without my blades considering that I need these in the course of my work. I am now a full-time survival instructor and I am coming over to teach people wilderness survival. For that matter, my bag even if it is the bigger Habagat Viajero is strangely light.
The Climbers League for Ideal Mountaineering and Balanced Environmental Responsiveness (CLIMBER) had contracted me to have 34 of their graduates of previous outdoor trainings take the BASIC WILDERNESS SURVIVAL COURSE for two days. CLIMBER is a non-stock non-profit organization registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission that is dedicated primarily for outdoors education with the 7 Principles of the Leave No Trace as its bedrock. Contrary to common perception, it is not a mountaineering club.
It is composed of responsible outdoorsmen whose skills and experience are varied and wide and pooled these together to create the best Basic Mountaineering Course syllabus in this country which, as of this writing, is now on its twelfth class. They have some of the best instructors which are the best in their fields like Reggie Pablo (high-altitude mountaineering), Lester Susi (land navigation), Billy Morales (ropesmanship) and master educator Erick Suliguin (LNT). CLIMBER is ably lead by Bong Magana, Jay Z Jorge and Sidney Orendain.
The plane touched down at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Tarmac 4 on the evening of January 22, 2016 and I was whisked by Sidney and companion to the Mall of Asia’s Bayfront area where I was treated to an al fresco dinner and cold beer. In a little while, Jay Z and wife Carla fetch me from there and we proceed to their home in Navotas which, perchance has it, becomes my home away from home. I am not tired from the travel but overly excited for tomorrow’s activity.
In the early morning of January 23, Jay Z, Carla and I travel from Navotas to Antipolo City in their old but very reliable Toyota. I learned that most of the participants for my training are already at the Spring of Life Adventure Camp. This is the same place that I have taught members of the Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines (MCAP) in October 2013 where both Jay Z and Carla attended. Basically, this is the same course that I am teaching today except that I have added a single new chapter.
Setting up of shelters are ongoing and I choose my spot to secure my rust-colored Tingguian Tribe Sierra hammock underneath a silvery white Apexus canopy between two trunks. The weather is perfect and I do not expect rain today although it would be cooler than usual at this latitude which is four degrees north above my dearly warm Cebu. Over my shoulders, I expect the swarm of mites that originate from a nearby stag farm which have tormented me the last time but it never came.
After the opening ceremonies, I got my chance to be introduced to the 34 individuals sitting inside the main hall facing me which I locked in memory with selfie shots. Speaking about myself would have to be minimized because, from this moment onward, there will be eleven chapters which would need to be discussed within a span of two days. I feel the pressure but I am used to it and I would have to improvise later on if it fits to be so. All are excited at the prospect of learning survival and bushcraft.
While I would love to teach bushcraft, it might go against the grain of each individual’s belief in and interpretation of Leave No Trace. LNT, to the most cerebral amongst us, is but a guide and an idea by which self is bound to live by, whereas, to those who cannot see beyond the true spirit by which LNT was established, it is used as a rule instead and imposed upon on other individuals. That said, I rather not antagonize the latter by taking the middle ground teaching Basic Wilderness Survival Course to the mountaineering community.
Survival is different from bushcraft. It is immediate and would bend rules and morality in the pursuit of life – of surviving. That is a hard reality which all survivors must live with while in the course of their dire consequences and the thereafter. On the other hand, the mountains consists of harsh environments, steep inclines, high elevations and unpredictable weather patterns. It is remote yet people visit these places to chase passions and desires. Accidents are most likely to happen there in a flash.
Chapter 1 is Introduction to Survival. While nobody has that ultimate technique and answer to survive accidents and calamities, a prepared mind would, at least, be blest by chance. Surviving the initial impact is one half of it while ensuring your survival until help comes in is the other half of that. In between, the mind controls everything from the way you think and even to the release of adrenaline. Your brain is a supercomputer but, unfortunately, it could only process one thought at a time.
When in a survival situation, your brain works double time and, in the process, use up huge amounts of body heat, water and oxygene and inadvertently releases adrenaline for no apparent reason just like you would experience when getting lost or just plain hiking in darkness. It is best that you stop and sit still like a rock, close eyes and breathe deeply, gather all your senses and rehydrate. You would need water and it is your first priority to keep your blood flowing so your brain would work properly.
In the hierarchy of needs and of nutrition in a survival situation, water is tops on both. Why? Because we are in the tropics and the body is surrendering perspiration due to humidity and by your exertions. Along with that, goes our body heat also which you do not know. To sit still would minimize these wastage and keep these confined by setting up a shelter – if you still have one, or make one from scratch. This is the second need. The third would be food then warmth. Last is security which would complement well with the rest.
Our body has four hypothetical tanks that needs to be replenished during survival. First is constant rehydration that would offset dehydration. Second is food that would give you nutrients, carbohydrates and proteins. Third - sugar converted by enzymes for your adrenaline rush. Fourth is fat, hardest to find in the tropics yet are wrapped as tissues in our body. Then, lastly, make sure your body is supplied with adequate oxygene. Keep those air passages free of obstacles. Might as well practice personal hygiene during survival. It helps to have both a healthy body and a healthy mind.
Chapter 2 is about the Survival Kit. It is better that survival kits are made from scratch than bought commercially because a survival kit’s size and its components depends upon the type of the activity you are in to and the kind of environment you are going on to. Your personal touch on a vital equipment is very important to you should it be needed. Its components are the medical kit, the replenishment pouch, the repair kit and the survival knife. It could all be integrated in one container and should be waterproofed.
I came without my knives because I am beholden to CLIMBER to come here without a snag and make their event successful. If I had insisted to, it could go either ways. Anyway, Dr. Arvin Sese of Seseblade had provided me the free use (and its ownership later on) of a Seseblade Nessmuk. Aside that, Jay Z brought his Seseblade Tabak which I also have the good liberty of using later on. The participants will have their hands full with eighteen Seseblade knives available for sale like the Mountaineer, the NCO, the Pinahig and the popular Sinalung only after I have discussed Chapter 3, Knife Care and Safety.
The knife is a tool and should not be used to what it was not designed for like digging latrine holes and as pry bars. It is a vital piece of equipment that should be properly handled and cared for because it is your link to your surviving. Carrying and using it demands good knife etiquette which you can only learn in this type of trainings. Besides that, there is a knife law that forbids the display and concealed carrying in public places unless you are in a lawful activity, which we are right now. A knife should be in a sturdy sheath when travelling - for safety - and should be unsheathed when at home to keep it from rust.
I jump to Chapter 5, which is about Water. The first chapter had mentioned the importance of water during survival. Water could be sourced from natural springs, water seeps, man-made water holes, flowing streams, the atmosphere and from plants. It could be cleansed by boiling, by chlorine tablets, betadine drops, exposure to heat, through filtration and by desalination. It is wise to cache water in your survival camp or travel early and take advantage of shady places and breeze if you happen to have less.
We take a lunch break 30 minutes before 12:00. Everybody proceed to their tents and group campsites to prepare their food. I see fire being made to work up embers on charcoal. There will be meat grilled above it soon. While it had not started yet, I secretly place a small can filled with cuts of denim on the fire. I will make charclothe for tomorrow’s fire-making activity. I believe my meal is taken cared of by the organizers and I will be joining them. After lunch, I foraged used bamboos for a class activity and other materials for my next lessons.
By early afternoon, all assembled back at the main hall. I need to jump further to Chapter 7 and discuss Foraging and Plant Identification. During survival, you would need to gather food and non-food items. Food could be meat and proteins which would only be sourced from animals and insects. Catching animals would be very tricky and you would have to make use of traps and snares. Food can also be sourced from edible plants. It is fundamental that you know these because it is everywhere. It is also important that you know the harmful ones. Showed them photos of stingy, thorny and poisonous plants.
We go back to Chapter 4. This is Survival Tool Making and, after this, they can use their knives. Tool making is essential in survival or even when not in that situation. I showed them the most basic of tools like the digging stick, cordage from a banana trunk, traps and snares from bamboo, and the batoning stick, which they would need when cutting up bamboos for their cooking pots and for their spoons and drinking jugs. I assign 5-6 participants each to six groups for the conjoined pots employing each the Trailhawk System of cooking.
The cooling temperature of a late afternoon coupled with rest have soothed the nerves caused by pressures to which I exposed myself teaching, talking and making my mind work a notch higher than was expected to deliver the lessons coherently and consistently. The chance to take a bath made half of this outdoors seminar a history. Now I am joining the organizers in their long table for a fine supper of medium rare liver, mung bean soup and a huge tuna jaw. Cold beer flowed thereafter and it becomes a long night. By 01:30, I checked into my inviting hammock.
The second and final day – January 24 – started with Chapter 6. This is about Shelters. Before setting up one, it must be noted that you are in the safest of places. It should not be near streams, dead trees, trails, water sources and underneath a forest of pines, cedars, pulpwood, eucalyptus and rubber trees. You should take advantage too of early evening thermals. Then the lecture proceed to Chapter 10, which is Traditional Navigation. It uses the natural terrain, shadows and the sky fixtures for travel; avoiding obstacles and exposed areas; and knowing signs on trails made by animals and by humans.
After a short break, we go to Chapter 9 and discuss about Cold Weather Survival. Since mountaineering is about high elevations, exposure to the elements is expected. There are five physical mechanisms that steal away body heat and the things that we should do to keep us constantly warm. The morning’s last discussion is Chapter 11 – Outdoors Safety. This is the new chapter that I added and it is but excerpts from my yet unpublished book, ETHICAL BUSHCRAFT.
After a lunch break of two hours, I begin the last one – Chapter 8 – that discusses on the most exciting aspect of the training course, Firecraft. You cannot make a fire if one or all elements are not present, namely: fuel, heat and air. Lately, they added a fourth element – chemical reaction. Fire-making is 80% common sense, 10% skill and 10% perspiration. We are talking about the friction methods. Your fire can start if you can acquire and identify the right tinder, if you are in a dry place, and if you have the patience.
Aside from friction, there is the conventional or modern method which are matchsticks, lighters, ferro rods and the flint and steel. Then there is solar magnification which can be done with any lens, reading glasses, water and even ice. Then you have pressurized air, exemplified by the fire piston. Since I do not have the luxury of time, I limit my demonstrations to the flint and steel, which I paired with charclothe, and the ferro rod. I showed them how to make charclothe and how to make a tinder bundle, popularly known as the “bird’s nest”.
Then I demoed how the bow drill method is made and spun. Unfortunately, I could only make thick smoke as sawdust embers refused to light up my tinder. I let others try the bowdrill, the ferro rod, and the flint and steel. All my charclothe are exhausted to an afternoon of smoke and flames. A participant, Khai Fredeluces, does the bamboo-saw method. Just like my bowdrill, only burnt smoke emitted. The humid conditions might have something to do with that.
Anyway, that sums up the two days allotted by CLIMBER for the 34 participants of the BASIC WILDERNESS SURVIVAL COURSE. Before closing the activity, Melo Sanchez of Tingguian Tribe Outdoor Equipment gave out some freebies. Likewise, I have a surprise for all with dry-fit jerseys, dry bags, cellphone pouches and coin purses courtesy of my outfitter – Silangan Outdoor Equipment; and stickers of the Warrior Pilgrimage Blog and of Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.
I leave Metro Manila on January 27 for Cebu on another Air Asia flight that had been delayed also, this time, for more than two hours. I unpacked my bag once I reached home and surprised to find a Seseblade Nessmuk inside. I completely forgot about it. I never knew I have it all the time starting from the campsite to Navotas to NAIA and to home and I could not hide my delight with what all those noise created by COMELEC. Well, it is mine anyway and I will have it for keeps. Thank you Doc Arvin.
Thank you to Bong and the rest of the CLIMBER community for bringing me back to Luzon; to Melo of Tingguian Tribe for the Sierra hammock; to the Servano couple of Silangan Outdoor Equipment, who always supported me in all my outdoor endeavours; to Mr. Victor Francisco, for the treat of fine dining at the five-star Crowne Plaza Hotel; and to the couple Jay Z and Carla, for hosting me in their home and for sponsoring my tour of Corregidor Island. Your kindness are all very much appreciated. God bless you all.
Done in LibreOffice 5.1 Writer