Friday, December 10, 2010

Survival (school) 101 [with video]

Instructor Reggie Bennett says preparedness is the key to weathering a crisis in the wilderness.


Participants in the Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School build fires using techniques they've learned in the Survival 101 course, under the classroom canopy on the wooded 100-acre property in Craig County.

Participants in the Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School build fires using techniques they've learned in the Survival 101 course, under the classroom canopy on the wooded 100-acre property in Craig County.

Joe Coty, 63, of Roanoke and a sales applications engineer with Virginia Transformer, takes pictures as Karen Saunders, 50, of Roanoke, Matthew Peterson, 25, and Jo Snyder, 25, both of Charlottesville, watch Reggie Bennett demonstrate how to tie a line to build a shelter in the Survival 101 class.

Joe Coty, 63, of Roanoke and a sales applications engineer with Virginia Transformer, takes pictures as Karen Saunders, 50, of Roanoke, Matthew Peterson, 25, and Jo Snyder, 25, both of Charlottesville, watch Reggie Bennett demonstrate how to tie a line to build a shelter in the Survival 101 class.

Joe Cotytakes notes during Reggie Bennett's Survival 101 course. Coty kept a journal to record  tips from the weekend.

Joe Cotytakes notes during Reggie Bennett's Survival 101 course. Coty kept a journal to record tips from the weekend.

Reggie Bennett demonstrates techniques on how to light a fire. Here he uses a flint stick and a knife.

Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times

Reggie Bennett demonstrates techniques on how to light a fire. Here he uses a flint stick and a knife.

Video: Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School

Video by Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times

CATAWBA -- You hiked through the rain. Your feet are soaked. Your clothing is sticking to your skin. You're tired and hungry.

No big deal? Wrong.

But what should you do first?

Preparedness is the key to survival, according to Reggie Bennett, a former U.S. Air Force survival instructor who runs Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School.

Bennett moved Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School from Amherst County, where he ran it for seven years, to the 100-acre Craig County site that adjoins the Jefferson National Forest in 2009.

The property includes a 4,000 square-foot lodge featuring bunk rooms, full bathrooms, a fireplace with a training area, and a fully-equipped kitchen. The idyllic wrap-around porch overlooks the property. It's an option for those who prefer not to sleep in a tent or build a shelter.

Combining his love for teaching and the outdoors, Bennett said the Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School provided him the ideal career path following his Air Force experience. Students include Department of Defense workers, boy scouts, lawyers, doctors, and construction workers.

It's a steep climb, but less than 14 mile through the woods to the ring of instruction.

Hikers like Karen Saunders, 50, of Roanoke and a project manager for a northern Virginia software company, carried a backpack full of gear and climbed to the classroom conducted under a parachute canopied amidst the trees. She's one of five who decided to spend the weekend learning how to survive in a variety of crisis situations.

"One thing I always carried on a short hike was water. Now, I know that's not the top of the priority list," she said. "Keeping a positive mental attitude is the No. 1 thing on the list.

"I felt it was important for me to understand how to help myself and others if I find myself in a survival situation."

Bennett said his program is geared so that participants can take away something positive.

"Confidence and empowerment, that's our goal here," Bennett said. "Always be prepared to help others. We're trying to change the solo mentality."

Bennett talked about the physical and mental stresses that hikers can't hide from, but must understand if they are to combat them. They include fear, anxiety and pain from the cold or the heat.

"We can slide into an abyss," he said. "All you care about is getting warm or cooling off. People are alone, a little too cold, or too wet for a little too long."

There are also fears of wild animals, fear of darkness, and fear of ridicule from others. He compares these phobias to those encountered on the television show "Lost."

The group listened, while sitting back in their canvas camping chairs, as the morning chill and dew dissipated and the sun's warm glow cast leaf shadows through the canopy.

"Most people pack for the best-case scenario," he said, "not the worst-case gear."

A day hike can turn into a wilderness adventure without warning, Bennett warned, and a call to 911 may not be available.

Unexpected weather conditions, as common as a cold rain, can turn a nice hike into a disaster. Wet clothes and a chill can lead to hypothermia.

Bennett's style is interactive. He combined his expertise with real-life scenarios and asked questions of the group so they could engage in conversation about survival.

Like a knitting group, participants held 550-cord ropes, a piece in each hand, and practiced knot-tying exercises ranging from slip knots to timber hitches and bowlines.

Later the group used these skills to rig a shelter using inexpensive materials like plastic sheathing or tarps. Bennett demonstrated how to make doors for the shelter with a few tucks in the right places. He created buttons using bunches of leaves as the stuffing, making it easier to anchor the shelter to the ground.

The course also includes learning how to build a fire, signal, find food and water, and perform first aid.

Saunders said she loves the outdoors and spends a lot of time hiking, canoeing, biking and skiing.

"No one goes on a hike to McAfee's Knob or Apple Orchard Falls with the thought they won't be back in a couple of hours," she said, "but, what if you were in a situation where you got caught in a big thunderstorm? Now, I won't panic because I'll know how to stay calm.

"I know to carry a day pack with essentials like a trash bag or those big orange bags clean-up crews use because they're thicker [and] can provide a cover to stay dry and warm.

"Keeping dry is minimal and so beneficial in any situation. How simple, just fold it down and put it in a baggie in my pack. Now, if I find myself in a situation or get off course. I'll have a much better sense of security."

Weather Journal

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