Some will say "But this kind of situation never happens! And they would not be wrong in any way. For sure, there are people who will never experience this in their life. But for full-air enthusiasts like us, zero risk is far from being the case here.
Hiking on unmarked trails means taking the risk of getting lost. Kayaking in white water means accepting the fact that you could damage your boat without being able to move forward. Putting on your splitboard at the foot of an undeveloped mountain, is to consider that you could be injured somewhere and be forced to remain immobile until help arrives.
So yes, unfortunately it can happen that we have to spend a night or more waiting for help, lost somewhere in the forest. And since I refuse to let "the fear of" dictate my life, I decided to equip myself by attending this survival camp offered by Les Chèvres.
Twenty-four women two meters apart in the woods ready to learn all about survival in the forest, it is attentive and willing. As soon as we parked our cars, our first challenge was to find a place to pitch our tents for the night. When, like me, you're used to going to developed spaces like those found in Sépaq parks, it's not that easy. You have to find a place that meets several criteria: as flat as possible, without roots or rocks, not under dead trees, not close to stagnant water and that is big enough to accommodate a small RV. Let's just say it took us a bit of walking in the woods.
Once the introductions were made, and in order to facilitate the sharing of knowledge, we were separated into three groups, each led by an adventure guide. I was lucky enough to be part of Renée-Claude Bastien's group, an exceptional guide who has traveled thousands of kilometers around the world in her 20 years of experience. I might as well tell you that I felt confident very quickly!
The first day focused on technical training. And because we never learn better than by practicing, we had all kinds of exercises. Do you know how to place a tarp to take shelter in a survival situation? I didn't know either. So my first setup was a picnic with room to put the table underneath and everything. Kind of chill. The problem with this glamping set-up is that placing your tarp high up means minimizing your chances of survival since a smaller space is easier to keep warm. And this is just one example of the many mistakes I made without putting myself in the context of survival.
Because, yes, we learned how to tie all kinds of knots, how to recognize the natural elements that we could use to build a shelter, and how to start fires under different conditions. But the most important thing for me was to understand that we live our lives in environments that take care of us. When we're cold, we turn up the thermostat. When we are hungry, we open the fridge or go to the dep next door. We live in universes of comfort and we have forgotten what it was like to take care of ourselves. And that's pretty much the basis of survival. If you don't take care of yourself and save your energy, nothing and nobody will do it for you. Maybe even nature will drive the nail in...
"You were supposed to take the left junction and you took the right one...you got lost on a hike. You are now much too far from your vehicle, it's getting dark, and so you consider spending the night in the woods."
On this second day of training, we all went into the woods with the equipment we would have carried on our backs for a classic day of hiking. Today, we knew that it would turn out badly and it did not miss... Around noon, we all individually got lost in the woods. A soft bar, a tarp, some rope and a lighter on us: that's when we had to start taking care of ourselves. I'll be honest, I wondered what the hell I was doing out there a lot quicker than I thought...
My plan was to build a safe shelter, set it up to rest in, organize myself to keep warm, keep my mind occupied for long hours and spend the night there until help arrived. And being alone in the middle of the woods and having to trust myself to get through the hours is a real challenge. In almost 24 hours, I think I went through the whole range of emotions that a human being can feel. I won't tell you in detail my experience, because I wish you to live yours fully, but know that it was as painful as it was euphoric.
The next day, someone finally came to "rescue" us! Because I was in training, I knew that someone was going to show up eventually, and even then, I found it long... The average in Quebec would be to spend three nights in the woods before being found by the Sûreté du Québec. In a real survival context, I can easily imagine how difficult it must be mentally to not know when someone will find you. Once I was "freed", the renunciation and frustration immediately gave way to a huge sense of accomplishment!
By taking this training with twenty-four women outdoor enthusiasts, and spending those almost 24 hours alone in the woods, I gained a lot of confidence. First, because I was given the tools to do it on my own and also because I witnessed my own accomplishments. It's not true that by staying in my apartment in Montreal that I would have known the joy of knowing that I too am capable of starting a fire. Knowing that I am capable of spending a night in the woods while having made sure to protect my safety and my resources is not true either. But it was meeting inspiring women like Les Chèvres de Montagnes, Renée-Claude and all the participants of this training that made me feel that I could do it too. To be surrounded by all these women who are passionate about challenges and the great outdoors, to share with them the moments of doubt and success, is priceless. You can live and enjoy it with your feet firmly planted in nature.
Whether it's about energy management, heat creation, techniques for setting up a camp or even the thoughts to develop when going to practice an outdoor activity, I realized and learned too many things during this training to tell them in this text. It is also the kind of awareness that one must live to integrate.
If you too are tripping on outdoor activities, want to see what you are capable of and want to meet new passionate and inspiring women, register for the next survival camp that will take place this fall. There are still a few spots left! This is your chance to step out of your comfort zone once again and gain knowledge that we hope will not only help you.
See you outside,