Sunday, November 5, 2017

Vigu Survival specialization, part 2/3

At the end of October it was time for the second part, fall survival, of the Vigu specialization in survival and bushcraft techniques. We started on Tuesday morning in Ekenäs with some theory.

Our main instructor was Ingvar Krancher, who started doing this in the Swedish army in the eighties when they researched the subject a bit more.

The mobile phones are packed down and sealed and only allowed in case of a real emergency.

After eating lunch in Ekenäs we drove to Karis, where we had to leave most of our gear and was given some survival gear instead. After that we split into two groups and my group drove a bit further and were left at the road with a map to a little more gear and instructions.

Still some snow after last week's snowfall.


We arrived at our gathering point sometime around three in the afternoon. We had no instructions what to do now and we had no idea if the other group would come here. With a little more than one hour to sunset, darkness was an issue to consider. Thus we decided to start preparing for the night, making a shelter for seven that could be extended to host all with some good will. The other group did arrive an hour later.

Getting enough firewood for the night take some effort and time.


Albert starts the fire.


Still one side of the shelter to cover. We used tarps for the shelter, since it wouldn't be reasonable to uses spruces for exercise purposes. The amount of spruce branches needed for a shelter this size is really massive.

Darkness came, but we got ready in time. Nothing more to do than to get through the darkness. The day had now shortened to eight hours between sunrise and sunset, so the darkness definitely was a limiting factor. We were of course not allowed to have any sort of flash light.

I was lucky with the fire watch duty, getting the first and last round, which gave me a solid seven hours to sleep in between. I was also not close to the fire, so the night was a little cold. No sleeping bags allowed of course, but we did have a blanket per person.

A letter with instructions for the Wednesday was opened and we took down the shelter, spreading the material in the surroundings.

A walk to the next task.



We were to cross the water with something that looked like a hybrid between an air matress and a raft.


The night had been cold and there was ice on the lake. Luckily Danni from Vigu Office, our second instructor, broke the ice for us, since it might have been a bit difficult without real paddles on something that barely could float.

We had enough rope to make be able to pull the rafts over after the first crossing. Danni secures the whole thing in an Ally canoe.

After getting over we were split into three person patrols. The next task was to go to the next checkpoint 1100 m in a straight line through the forest using a Swedish pole compass (a long pole)  and counting steps.

Gathering lichen for food. Lassalia pustulata (tuschlav in Swedish, kuhmujäkälä in Finnish) is the preferred one, since it can be eaten directly without any cumbersome preparations.

We arrived at the checkpoint surprisingly accurately, despite sections with quite difficult terrain. The distance calculated by steps was 1160 m and we the direction was about 15 m off. Kristoffer handled the pole compass extremely well, but I suspect he used visual cues as much. The next instructions was to prepare for the night by making shelter, gathering firewood and something to eat if possible.

I managed to start the fire without problems, despite everything being wet after a full day of rain. Fortunately we were allowed to have a fire steel. The shelter location was almost optimal, with a vertical wall working as a heat reflector and (just) enough room for the fire between the rock wall and the shelter. You don't want the fire too close to the rock wall: Fatal accidents have occurred when the fire has cracked the rock causing it to fall down. You also want the fire close, but not too close, to the shelter to capture the warmth.


We ate a soup with funnel chanterelle, yellow chanterelles and the Lassalia pustulata lichen. The lichen actually made the soup edible from a taste perspective and also gave some energy, as well as something for the stomach to work with. Otherwise there is no real point in eating mushroom from a survival point of view, since they contain no energy. This particural lichen contains a carbohydrate, inulin, which humans to some point can utilize and is one of the best lichen for the purpose, if you are in an area where they can be found. Ingvar still goes with the rule tested out in the Swedish army in the eighties, which says that 500 kcal a day can keep you going for quite a long time. Currently there is research going on related to that. The rule itself isn't (yet) questioned, but preliminary results show that eating less than that is counterproductive: it costs too much energy to to start up enzyme production and systems, since human body does have a pretty efficient starving mode. And 500 kcal is quite much, for instance in blueberries it would mean seven liters or three kilos, which no stomach can handle.

And then the darkness came. I had fire watch from six to nine in the evening and from midnight to three in the night.

Thursday morning was beautiful with new ice on the lake.


A cup of hot pine needle tea isn't really the same as morning coffee.

The sun still gives some warmth.

We walked a bit away and started a fire for warming water, needed for washing our hands.

A local hunter brought us pheasants and showed us what to do with them. He talked the importance of killing animals without unneeded suffering and did not like the traditional way of killing hens by swinging them around the necks, since he was of the opinion that they suffer for too long. A better way is a quick blow to the head to render it unconscious and then just rip the head off.

We were given one pheasant per three man patrol and I got the honor of killing and taking care of of ours.

This night we would get something to eat.


Back at our shelter we prepared for the night by getting more firewood. We had no axe, so there was a lot of sawing with small folding saws.

The pheasant was excellent. We had no salt, but juniper berries gave a good taste. We started by drinking the excellent stock, finishing with the meat.

And the long night started. I had the same fire watch rounds as last night.


It had rained a little during the night, but Friday morning didn't look to bad.


Our neighbours.

The morning instructions was to show us the traps we had set up last night and then take down the camp and spread the material around, before reporting at the following checkpoint.

The task of today was to go alone. My large 3x5 m tarp was naturally too big, and I instead got one 2x3 m and one 1x2 m, to avoid things being to easy. I was given a small area in which to make camp and walked the three km there. The gear carrying sack made out of the ancient Swedish army rain shelter was rather uncomfortable.

The place was literally in the middle of a mire, though there was a lake at one side.


Gathering spruce branches for use against the ground. We did have a foam pad, otherwise we would have needed a lot more spruce branches still.

The shelter is taking shape.

I did look for quite a while to find the right spot, but I'm convinced this was the best one available. The rock wall working as a reflector wasn't optimal, though, but nothing better was found.

Sounds of trees being sawed could be heard from all around the lake.

I had arrived at the place at 11:30 and was done with the shelter and gathering firewood at 16:30, at which point I started a fire. I had spent some time looking for good firewood without success. A standing dried pine would have been optimal or maybe a tar stump. I finally got two smaller dried pines from the mire, with some risk of getting wet, as well as some bigger dead pin branches. The firewood wasn't optimal, it was a little too wet and the dried pines didn't burn as well as I hoped. It is thus fairly hard work to build a shelter and get firewood and the lack of energy could be felt, but otherwise I had no problems with nausea, headache or tiredness.

The instructions were to sit by the fire and have it going through the night, but it was possible to interpret them. The night was warm enough that I think the best strategy energy wise would have been to have had a fire in the evening and the morning to get hot water and pine needle tee, as well as some warm stones, and to sleep without a fire in a narrow tunnel shelter insulated with lot of spruce branches. I decided to follow the instructions literally, since there are not that many natural opportunities to see what a night without sleep does to you when you already have several nights with little sleep and several days with almost no food to start with.

The night was nice with full moon and everything.


I seem to have a particular pose when having fire watch. Sitting for many hours at a time, I did get some cramps, quite bad ones now and then. The lack of salt probably also contributed to this.

An attempt to get a picture of the moon and shelter. With no tripod the options were few and I only had a old pocket camera with me (sorry for the picture quality). I've destroyed too many cameras lately to risk it again.

After a long night, Saturday morning arrived.


I took down my camp and went to the gathering point at nine. I hadn't finished my snowshoe, but here is Kim's version. Learning to make working snowshoes is an essential skill to practice before the next and final course part, winter survival in the Swedish mountains.

The next task was an orienteering exercise, starting with the Swedish pole compass again. Despite no food and no sleep, I had energy to walk quite efficiently, but my brain didn't work at full capacity this time. Probably more a function of the lack of sleep than the lack of food, since the day before I hadn't noticed any problems. I thus failed the orienteering miserably. The pole compass took me 70 degrees to the wrong direction and when I arrived at a totally unexpected place I opened the safety envelope, which contained a real map, since I didn't want to make the course schedule late. Even now, I made small orienteering mistakes several times, but eventually found my way to the gathering point. An interesting and good experience.

At the gathering point we were allowed to eat our emergency fruit bar and got a little youghurt.

We then made a vegetable soup, which has proved itself to be a good way to start eating again. You can only eat a small amount, but it prepares the body for receiving more food a little later.

The final exercise, making signal smoke. Our team won with a time of six minutes starting from scratch.




And then we were rescued to a sauna in Karis, where we had the final words and feedback of the course.

This was a truly excellent course and very good experience. The last day and night when we were alone was a good way to assess ones own strengths and weaknesses.

Thanks to the instructors for the teaching and the participants for the company. A good and merry gang, and everyone was in good mood despite the circumstances.


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