Gimme shelter: Mounties learn outdoor skills

It’s 4:45 p.m. and as the sun is rapidly declining, 12 men and women are working in the middle of the woods on building shelters for the night.

It’s 4:45 p.m. and as the sun is rapidly declining, 12 men and women are working in the middle of the woods on building shelters for the night.

Temperatures are expected to drop to -25C.

The scene isn’t from an American reality show but rather takes place around the Whitehorse cadet training facility on March 2.

Ten Yukon RCMP officers, a conservation officer and an Alberta RCMP officer are in their final days of their wilderness operations and outdoor skills training course.

Over the course of the past week they’ve learned from experts the skills they need to function outdoors in the North in all seasons, from axe safety to using compasses and satellite phones, crossing rivers and building shelters.

Now it’s time to put those skills in practice.

Cpl. Cam Long, who is organizing the course, has already completed a nice roomy shelter.

Using wood and plastic, he built a structure he then covered with snow, leaving a small opening for an entrance.

Some officers are using tree branches, snow, tarps and reflectors for their shelters. The ones relying on a fire to keep them warm during the night have built shelters with a large open side.

This year the course had a special guest, Manitoba professor Gordon Giesbrecht.

Better known as “Dr. Popsicle” for his experiments dunking people in ice-filled bathtubs, Giesbrecht has been studying the effects of cold and extreme environment on the human body for the past 25 years.

He has demonstrated many times how to survive falling through a frozen lake by taking the plunge himself.

The most important thing is not to panic, he said.

“You have one minute to get your breathing under control, 10 minutes of meaningful movement and one hour until you become unconscious because of hypothermia,” he said.

RCMP officers working in the North could face situations such as boats capsizing in the summer or going through the ice when snowmobiling on frozen lakes, he said.

In the weeklong course, RCMP officers are taught to survive and adapt to even the most dramatic situations.

In one case participants were told to put their packs aside and light a fire, using only what they had in their pockets.

Another day they had to light a fire with only one hand to simulate an injury.

It’s all about the skills, Giesbrecht said.

“You can give some people a blow torch and they (still) won’t be able to light a fire,” he said.

The goal in the shelter exercise is not simply to survive, he said.

“Your goal should be not to live through the night but to be happy and healthy in the morning so you’re in shape so you could do it again tomorrow night,” he said.

“If you just survive the first night, you might not make it through the second night.”

For Const. John Gillis, on his way to completing a cozy shelter for the night, the course showed him there is a difference between knowing skills and putting them in practice.

“We get called to remote locations all the time,” he said. “Even if you’re working in downtown Whitehorse you still cover a big area.”

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Liberal leader Sandy Silver speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Dawson City following early poll results on April 12. (Robin Sharp/Yukon News)
BREAKING: Minority government results will wait on tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin

The Yukon Party and the Liberal Party currently have secured the same amount of seats

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: The Neapolitan election

Do you remember those old bricks of Neapolitan ice cream from birthday… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Exposure notice issued for April 3 Air North flight

Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley has issued another… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Runners in the Yukon Arctic Ultra marathon race down the Yukon River near the Marwell industrial area in Whitehorse on Feb. 3, 2019.
Cold-weather exercise hard on the lungs

Amy Kenny Special to the Yukon News It might make you feel… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

lwtters
Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Most Read