Sadly, we only ate one animal on our survival trip…
So, here’s how it broke down:
Taylor and myself hiked the John Muir Trail several years back together and found a similar sense of adventure within each other. That said, we were both watching Survivor Man and Man vs. Wild and realized this was something that we both had a keen interest in.
A quick phone call and a few text messages later and we were on our way to our on survival challenge. The sierras, in fall. (this presented it’s own problems)
Our trip started with a late Sunday afternoon drive to Kennedy Meadows where we quickly checked in at the general store to get some direction as to the best location for our trip. Sadly, we were informed that rifle hunting season had just started two days before and that the woods were chuck full of hunters and their guns. We were also told that the area we’d hoped to hike into had burned out a few years back and was nothing but shrub right now… we prefered a more forested area.
After some scouting on a map we decided on a location in the middle of nowhere (near the George Bush Tree if you must know) in southern Sequoia National Forest, maybe two hours outside of Kernville)
So, we left Kennedy Meadows with a goal in site, Johnny McNally’s for some tasty steaks (everyone we talked to said we HAD to stop for some amazing steak! well, two hungry men about to head into the woods aren’t about to say no to that!)
(they offered a 40 0z steak!) – oh, and a heads up, the steak wasn’t anything to brag about, we each had a 16oz steak and agreed we’d eatin much better. This was middle of the road, but since we were in the middle of nowhere, it was PERFECT!
So, after chowing down we drove the two hours into the wilderness to camp out for the night. We woke up the next morning and started sorting gear (I think we’re both gear whores and LOVE gear, and funny enough, even though we were taking so little, we still found the need to sort and compare)
So here’s the breakdown of what we carried and such:
A military issue utility belt with a knife, cantine, tin cup, and a pouch containing an emergency survival kit with the following items we used – thread, fishing hooks, wire, flint – there were other things we didn’t use such as a minature compass, a magnifying glass, mirror and not really sure what else (definitely some instructions that I pulled out and threw away). in the pouch we both also had an emergency blanket (those really really thin aluminum foil type ones) and in my pouch some trail mix (the rule was bring what you’d bring on a long day hike) oh, and we both also had little tiny squeze flashlights, really tiny ones.
Then, we both had a daypack on our backs to carry our cameras, and because we wanted to be sure we didn’t really get ourselves in trouble, I carried a fleece (which I normally carry on extended day hikes) and what I don’t normally carry – fleece pants and a wind breaker and a beanie and a map. (oh… and we hiked in with a few beers – not gonna lie, on a nice day hike I’d likely bring some for the end of the trail)
That’s all we carried, no sleeping bag, no tent, no lighter, no matches, no guns, no cell phones, no watch, no gps, no sleeping pad, no water filter, no trekking poles. We were the ULTIMATE ultralite hikers!
The first deal in a survival situation is that you need shelter, fire and water. Well, we planned our trip along a stream that fed the Kern River called the Little Kern (very original huh…) So the water was taken care of. So, we hiked in maybe 5-6 miles from the car (which was already parked in the middle of nowhere) and found a nice bend in the stream/river where we thought we could live for a few days in the wild. And we began building our shelter for the next few days.
We built a little on the big side because there was two of us… this bit us in the butt in several ways: we wasted a TON of energy building the shelter with no food to sustain our activity level, we ended up not being able to insulate the shelter as well because it was so big, so it didn’t hold heat very well (or at all) and it barely served as a wind block. But, it felt good to have a shelter and there was definitely something to say about a place to call home!
Next, we needed a fire. We had collected some pieces of wood on the hike in that we thought would serve well for the different fire starting methods we wanted to try out. First, Taylor was dead set on starting a fire with the bow drill. (I wanted to do the fire saw)
The bow drill proved to be very difficult at first, though after a while Taylor really had it flying and was getting a ton of smoke. But, after many many attempts, we could never get a hot ember to fall, and the same went with my fire saw method as well. Smoke, but no fire.
The night was beginning to set in at this point, and we realized we hadn’t taken any time to set traps, and that we were incredibly hungry from a long day of very hard work! (I definitely learned from this trip just how much energy you burn and how much that equates to your body SCREAMING for food!) At this point I honestly began to feel like I might pass out, but I told myself to hold it together and to get over it. I headed to the stream really quick where I’d seen some fish about 2-3 inches long and threw a hook on some thread, grabbed a raisin from my trail mix and tossed it in the stream. (at this point my small bag of trail mix is about half gone and we decide not to eat it but conserve for later)
We had collected acorns during the day from a random oak tree we past by. The local indians used to grind acorns with rock and then boil it and eventually make a sort of corn meal with it for breads and such. We were super super hungry and decided to bring our efforts together to make a meal of our acorns. We spent a solid two or three hours cracking the acorns, grinding and then finally boiling.
After the first boil we taste tested… WOW!!! BITTER!! we strained the mush through a hankerchief and headed to the stream to rinse thoroughly and then boil again. After a second boil we had a go and each started eating, we were sooo hungry. I think I got about three knife fulls in before I couldn’t handle the bitterness and the grittiness (from all the rock grinding into the mush) I think Taylor may have made it two more knife fulls before tossing in the hat!
With the failure on the first night of the bow drill and fire saw methods we grabbed a piece of flint and began striking away to create a fire. Sadly, the tender we had collected wouldn’t catch a spark, and we had to use a small piece of cotton t-shirt to catch the spark and start the fire.
This marked the beginning of a VERY LONG and MISERABLE night. I don’t think it ever dropped below freezing, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t cold! Hungry, cold, tired, if we went to sleep our source of head would go out, and the sooner we went to sleep, the longer the night was going to be. We had no clue what time it was, so we kinda just waited it out til we had to sleep. We dug out our sleeping spots, filled that with hot coals, then covered over with a few inches of sand (did I mentioned we slept on sand… the WORST thing ever… it just sucks the heat out of your body!) Well, the coals provided some warmth from below, but they definitely didn’t keep us warm! I don’t know if I ever slept longer than 10 minutes at a time through the night, and I never was warm. I think after an hour or so of trying to sleep I finally gave in and pulled out my fleece pants, wind breaker and emergency blanket, and I was still absolutely miserable! The worst thing was that at some point in the night I made up my mind that morning was approaching, so I kept waking up expecting to see the sun rising, but it just wouldn’t happen!!
Needless to say, when I finally did wake up and see the sun finally, I was incredibly happy for the night to be over, even if I didn’t truly “sleep” Time to get the fire stoked back up and warm up. Then, the hunger started to hit me again, with a real force. At this point I was incredibly over the whole survival thing… I was pretty much ready to pack it up and head back to the care before the night. We made it one night and I was HUNGRY!
Then it hits me… we might have caught a fish… let’s go check. Taylor checks his… nothing. I check mine… nothing but a DUMB dead piece of wood… but wait… the piece of wood is fighting me… crap… I caught a fish!!! wait… why is this 2-3 inch long fish actually fighting?? WOW!!! It’s like a 12″ fish!! (mind you, we’re in the golden trout wilderness) and I’m stoked about trout for breakfast/brunch! As I land the fish, I realize this is the UGLIEST trout and second ugliest fish I have ever seen!! It’s mouth is inside out and has all sorts of bumps on it!! (I find out later it’s some sort of sucker fish, not a trout!) but whatever, it’s food!! All of a sudden I was on top of the world!!! I could kill anything and provide for myself NO PROBLEM!! Let’s stay a week, we’ll eat like kings!!
ok… LOTS of fish pictures… it was sorta a big deal!!
Honestly, the fish was so ugly that I didn’t even really wanna touch it!! But Taylor was game!
Next came gutting, and the decision on how to cook this little guy… Tay suggested whole and it sounded good to me!
Yeah, I know, gross, but that’s why I posted it…
So, Taylor set up cooking the fish while I quickly went and put as many hooks on thread as possible and tossed them in the stream! If it works once, it’s gotta work again and again! We’re gonna eat well!
I don’t think I’m supposed to let anyone in on this… but if you look closely you’ll catch on anyway, but one of those two beers found it’s way into our meal. Soooo Yummy!!
Taylor was kind and let me finish off the meat, and being as hungry as a guy with a belly like mine can get after more than 24 hours without food, I didn’t let any meat go to waste! (I even got some really awesome pieces of meat out of the head!!)
So, after breakfast we decided to head down stream to where we’d seen a TON of fish on the hike in, we also thought we’d look around for more animal life because up til now we had only seen one gray squirel, and nothing else living!!!! Honestly, we’d gotten to the point of turning over logs to look for bugs of any type to eat, but there were NONE to be seen!! For the entire trip we’d see one grass hopper, two gray squirels (which could have been the same one in two spots) some fish, and that’s about it…
We threw out probably for or five hooks with raisins on them into the part of the stream that was just teaming with these fish!! We were SURE to catch at least three and eat like kings for dinner!!!
In the meantime we looked around for more food and a better spot for shelter, and we struck out repeatedly. Finally we headed back to our campsite to set traps in case there were any warm blooded animals to make a meal of. At what felt like dinner time (though I guess the whole trip felt like a time we wanted to eat – but couldn’t…) we headed back down to our fishing lines to see what we’d caught… NOTHING!! but, alas!! There was a bit of moss in the water!! You can make soup with that stuff!! And if you’re really hungry like we were you can just eat it straight!!
But it looks soooo gross!
And tastes gross!! (I have video of this, but I’m too tired to try and figure out how to embed it here tonight… I did manage to swallow a small piece though)
We vowed at this point that we didn’t need to experience a third night to learn anything more. We were realizing quickly just how much of a struggle it is to survive in the wild!! It’s totally doable… but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a walk in the park!
Our pride called us to stay all week and do what we’d set out to do, but our brains and bellies spoke even louder and told us to just spend one more miserable night (and yes it was MISERABLE trying to keep the fire going, falling sleep, waking back up, starting the fire again, falling alseep, waking up shivering, starting the fire again – repeat – repeat – repeat for a very very long night!)
In the morning we woke up, stirred the fire up again, warmed up, packed what little stuff we had and started the hike back to the car. Checking our traps and fishing lines on the way out, there was no breakfast to be had. There were no living animals anywhere nearby… and the ones that were had no interested in what we were offering as bait. Turns out, the sucker fish didn’t go for the grape, it was probably just sucking along the bottom, and it accidentally sucked the grape with everything else on the bottom of the river.
We started heading the car, knowing that having not eating again for the last 24 hours, our hike out would not be easy. We shared a half bag of trail mix (not much) and a small payday bar (what taylor brought as his normal food on a day hike) and began our trudge. What normally would have been a super quick and simple hike turned into a long drawn out walk up a trail climbing about 2,000 feet from the river up the canyon to Taylor’s X-Terra.
Back at the car we decided our adventure couldn’t end here. So, we decided to aim for the eastern Sierra’s and specifically the Whitney area for Horse Lakes and some interesting hiking in the area. We hoofed it for Lone Pine because we knew exactly where we could find good pizza and beer to get us ready to hike the next day.
Camping out in the Alabama Hills we decided that it would be fun to film me getting altitude sickness. I’ve been known to get to the point of being quite delirious and possibly halucinating a bit from altitude sickness. This has happened once pretty bad, and I remember it being an incredibly surreal experience, so I thought it would be interesting to document it.
We woke up in the morning, had a hearty breakfast in downtown Lone Pine and headed for the mountains. Parking at 10,000 feet we had a good head start on the 14,000 foot peak that sat in front of us, Mt. Langley. I myself am not much of a peak bagger (i get altitude sickness and really, the top of mountains that high really aren’t very pretty, they’re rather like a Mars landscape)
Sadly, I only got a mild case of altitude sickness and I made it to 13,000 feet without as much effort as we thought it’d take. But, I was pretty miserable and not feeling good (but not dilerious) and the wind was probably gusting at about 60 mph+…
Taylor did a good job of pushing me well past where I would have turned around on my own, but I was finally over it, so we took pictures (Taylor couldn’t pass up a nice opportunity to pose in his long johns!)
and then we parted ways, with me heading back to the car and him finishing out the last 1,000 feet/2 miles. I hiked a total of 20 miles round trip while Tay finished at about 24 miles!! Quite the day!!! (Predictions at the ranger station were for 100+ mph gusts at the top of the mountain, and Taylor reported at least those speeds!! he said he was holding onto rocks because he was afraid he would be blown over the side of the mountain!!)
So, we survived, lived like grizly adams on the land feasting on fresh fish and starving on acorns.
It was really amazing to get totally away from civilization for a while with no computer, no phone, no way to tell time, and really experience nature. We might have been a bit uncomfortable for a couple days and nights, but I think we both gained a greater appreciation for how easy we have it back here in the city with running purified water, food at our fingertips and a warm soft bed every night.
I always enjoy a good adventure and this was nothing short.
Be watching Taylor’s blog by clicking here for a much more eloquent post about our trip along with more pictures and possibly video. Many of the pictures in my post were shot by Taylor, I’m sorry for not posting specifically which ones…
Total weight loss – about 5 pounds when I got home. Mind you, we chowed down like starving men when we got out of the woods, and I would guess it’s possible I lost 10 pounds in the three days we were out there.