A crash course in survival

There are not a lot of places in Germany to get lost in the wild, but Fabian Schmitz managed to lose his bearings. He was 19 at the time, but he still remembers the event 16 years later as a cautionary tale.

There are not a lot of places in Germany to get lost in the wild, but Fabian Schmitz managed to lose his bearings. He was 19 at the time, but he still remembers the event 16 years later as a cautionary tale.

Schmitz, the owner/operator of Bushcraft Yukon, a new survival training and guiding company in the Yukon, recalls the event as a lesson on what not to do in a survival situation.

“That was the first time where I thought, ‘Wow, I’m in real trouble here,’” he says about his incident in the Black Forest. “I was wet, it was dark, I was lost, I was out in the woods.” In hindsight, Schmitz knows to stay put rather than wander in such situations, but he admits he did “everything wrong.” After hours of wandering through swampland, Schmitz eventually found his way back to civilization.

Now, after spending years travelling the world and learning the way of the woods, and notching years of professional guiding experience, Schmitz wants to impart his bush knowledge and tricks for surviving emergency situations to those who want to experience the wild outdoors.

When Schmitz was guiding in Europe and Canada, he found himself naturally gravitating towards teaching his clients basic survival skills while on multi-day excursions, such as building a lean-to, or starting a fire in damp conditions. Born from that pull towards outdoor education, Schmitz started Bushcraft Yukon to pair people’s eagerness to get outside with safe ways of enjoying the wilderness.

The company, now in its first season of operation, offers courses and guided tours that aim to teach attendees survival skills that can save lives in emergency situations. “We focus on the main survival skills,” says Schmitz. “Building a shelter, getting a fire going, finding water, purifying the water.” Other courses listed on the Bushcraft website include map and compass navigation, atlatl construction, and campfire cooking.

When you look closely enough, the forest is not just trees and bushes, says Schmitz. It can also be your hardware store, grocery store, and pharmacy. “The next time you go out after this course you wouldn’t just see a tree,” he says. “You see there is food for you available, you can make tools with the wood. There’s all kinds of stuff.”

Sinew from ever-abundant fireweed can be twisted together to make a rudimentary cord, and fresh sap from spruce or pine trees can be used as an antiseptic for wounds. Certain trees are habitats for small game that can be caught with trapping skills.

For the basic survival course taking place this weekend, Schmitz plans on taking his group to a base camp near Fox Lake and learning the necessities of staying alive. But no one is in jeopardy during the course, he notes. “It’s not a survive or die wilderness challenge. It’s supposed to be a fun, enjoyable weekend out in the bush.”

There seems to be a growing interest in getting deep into the backcountry and living to tell the tale, says Schmitz.

“At the moment when you look at television shows, there’s a lot of this survival stuff going on,” he says. “And I don’t take that very serious, what I see on TV.”

Schmitz recounts one time where a young Swede was preparing to come to the Yukon on an excursion. He had seen the film Into the Wild and wanted a similar experience. “I want to do the same,” he told Schmitz.

“Well the kid [in the movie] died,” says Schmitz. “Why would you want to do the same?”

Undaunted by the challenges, many are drawn by the romanticism the Yukon backcountry holds, says Schmitz, and people want the experience of “living in the wilderness – being one with nature.” Camping, hunting, and paddling all have inherent risks, but the skills that Schmitz’s courses teach can lessen the danger. “If you learn how to start a fire in pouring rain, you feel a lot more secure and safer when you’re out on a camping trip.”

Schmitz, a volunteer with the local search-and-rescue crew, notes that most real-life survival situations don’t have the epic veneer that is often portrayed on television. Surviving is often about staying warm and hydrated while help is on its way, he says. “Most emergency situations, as far as I can tell, they’re not very action-packed. The main idea is to stay put.”

Bushcraft Yukon’s three-day survival basics course started at noon today, but other courses and tours are available at

bushcraftyukon.com.

Contact Joel Krahn at

joel.krahn@yukon-news.com

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