Wilderness Survival Weekend - 4/4/14 to 4/6/14

by Alex P

We had a great trip last weekend and the scouts had an opportunity to show off many of the skills they learned throughout the past six months. Despite the initial weather forecast, we had excellent weather and our Scouts did great! Remember, on this trip, they did not have tents, sleeping bags, extra clothing, or the usual amount of gear they travel with, and were challenged to function as teams with minimal adult guidance.

On Friday, we gathered at Friendship Presbyterian Church shortly after 4, checked survival kits and our three teams reviewed their final plans for the event. Tyler M led Camo team (Ethan H and Nicolas P), Conner T led Blue team (Jake F, Jake A, and Will T) and Kaleb M led Red team (Nathan P, Miles M and Collin P).  We ate sack dinners en route and got to the Buckeye Plantation, near Covington (special thanks to Robbie McD for setting up access and the platform for conducting the trip). They were conducting controlled burns throughout the weekend, and had downed a lot of vegetation and trees, so there were plenty of supplies to be had with no cutting necessary. 

Mr. Chris T and Mr. Alex P established the three campsites for our teams, while the adults set up a “base camp” by the pond. 

Each survivor had the opportunity to bring along a small “survival kit” in a sandwich-sized plastic container. In addition, they each received some TP, water bottles, and a garbage bag; and each team received safety essentials including water, sunscreen, bug repellant, and hand sanitizer. Paul M and Craig P managed the Cornucopia, where our contestants were also able to choose 2 items per person to aid their teams in their survival and competition.  Items such as saws, trenching tools, mats, tarps, buckets, etc were chosen, and this was a moment for the scouts to coordinate and strategize.  This moment to a degree would have impact on the how well the teams would endure the weekend with regard to shelter building and the games.

The Cornucopia

The Cornucopia

The teams were taken to their assigned sites to start work on their shelters and fires and prepare for the next day’s activities; the adults brought water jugs to each site.

The adults set up camp and went over the schedule for the next day and determine the components for evaluating the teams.  The testing and evaluation of the 7 key priorities of a. Positive Mental Attitude, b.  First Aid, c.  Shelter, d. Fire, e.  Signaling, f.  Water, g.  Food. would be at the core of the weekend's activities. While the teams were spread across a large area, the adults regularly checked on them, and all teams made a good start to their shelters (Red team’s was especially well done) and wisely settled down for the night’s rest fairly early.

The next day (Saturday), the adults checked on each team around 7, providing an opportunity to forage for eggs and bananas. After adult breakfast, we mustered at the crossroads at 8:30 am to start the competition.

Fishing: All teams had the chance to try their hand at fishing. Despite securing bait, they did not catch any fish.

Boiling Water: To start the day's events, Paul had the scouts purify water using a fire and an orange peel.  Yes, you can actually do this.  After Paul demonstrated the technique, each team went and gathered supplies, built and lit fires using battery and steel wool, and prepared their orange peel to boil water in. Blue team won this event handily and did this in minutes.  They were a great example to the other teams in terms of speed and effectiveness.

Boiling Water in an Orange Peel

Boiling Water in an Orange Peel

Search and Rescue: Teams were challenged to find the “missing adult” (Craig P), treat his wounds appropriately, and use lashing to construct a way to drag him to the “helicopter landing area”, then signal for help. Oranges were provided upon successful completion. All teams did well, especially Red team’s lashings!

Primitive Skills: Teams started fires using flint and steel to “smoke out bees,” resulting in a candy reward; they wove baskets or other items out of wild grape vine (strawberry reward); and also got to make projectiles using river cane (and dowels & duct tape), practicing launching these at a target with a slingshot. Blue team used their team tools (tinder) to get their fires the fastest, while Red team made extra projectiles and creative weavings; Camo leader Tyler was especially skilled at the marksmanship.

Signaling:  The priorities of a survival situation were gone over in detail and the scouts worked on the various types of signaling including use of mirror to signal planes and far off distances, setting up air signs to signal for help, building and managing a proper signal fire.  All scouts performed well and completed this element above and beyond the requirement.  So the speed of set up became a priority.  Additionally, all scouts had the opportunity to start their individually made fires with a magnifying glass and we were only able to get the fires smoking; no fire was lit primarily due to the crosswind at the area we chose.  Some scouts refused to give up and were rewarded with sun burnt hands (Collin and others).  Blue team inadvertently put out their signal fire before they added the grass to create smoke, but quickly remedied the situation with speedy firestarter!  All teams were essentially "neck in neck"; their skill exceeded my expectations!  Red team won this event by the slimmest of margins, as they were able to get all four fires smoking with a magnifying glass and signaled using smoke very quickly with the signal fire. The “rescue plane” saw all teams’ signals and rewarded them with tasty canned meat.

Marksmanship: At the end of the afternoon, all teams mustered and each participant had three tries to shoot their projectiles for accuracy. The blue team emerged victorious, receiving some additional food; all teams were sent back to their camps with carrots, sweet potatoes, and wild boar shoulder to prepare in creative ways, ranging from shish kebob on arrows, to stew.

Some teams (Red, Camo) did even more work on improving their campsites that evening, and all did well with morale, buddy system, and safety. By our final check of the evening, many were long asleep! Even a few showers in the middle of the night did not throw the survivors off their game.

Sunday:  On Sunday morning, after checking in with apples for each survivor at 7, teams were charged to return their sites to “leave no trace” condition and mustered at 8:30 am near the adult site. Each team checked their gear back in and washed hands, and the boys were fed a meal of fruit and cold cut sandwiches, chips and cool aid.  The scouts spirits were still high and after a short worship service, the awards for best team were given out. Each team did well and according to Paul, the level of skills and teamwork were some of the best ever for this trip. The scouts of Red Team came out on top, especially due to their Positive Mental Attitude, excellent shelter construction, and strong teamwork; they were able to choose a recognition item of titanium sporks for hiking trips or waterproof first aid kits.

We checked campsites, loaded and left camp reasonably early and were back at the church by 10:20 am.  Exhausted, but happy in a job well done.

Special thanks go out to those on the trip and those who helped including Robbie McD (who provided the site), Cyd W (who filed the trip permit), Cris T and Craig P (whose participation and cooking made the trip an absolute blast for the scouts and adults alike).

Scouts who did not complete the Wilderness Survival Merit Badge in previous years, got many requirements completed this weekend, and should check with me or Paul about finishing the rest!