Imagine backpacking through the beautiful desert of Utah, living on nothing but raw foods consisting of fruits and nuts and having no tents or sleeping bags; only poncho shelters and your clothes to keep you warm. You may be hungry, tired, hot or cold at times, but the challenges make you enjoy being in this place even more. You look around at the oranges, yellows, and grays of the sandstone formations and take a deep breath of the dry, sagebrush-scented air. At night, you gaze into the galaxies and watch shooting stars in the dark desert sky. Oh to be living so simply in such a beautiful place!
This was the reality of nine enthusiastic seniors from Colorado Academy, their skilled teacher, and two Cottonwood Institute instructors. Instead of BBQing during Memorial Day weekend, this group spent five days testing their wilderness abilities and pushing themselves to the limit while participating in Cottonwood Institute’s first ever San Rafael Swell Go Light Backpacking Course.
Prior to starting, every backpacker had to weigh their pack to ensure that it was no more than nine pounds before the addition of food and water. Each day the group hiked five to twelve miles through dry washes and up canyons, using a compass and map to find the way. And thanks to Delorme and Engineered Travel, Cottonwood Institute had the honor of field-testing the inReach 2-way GPS device so our administrators were able to track their route from the office.
To break up the tediousness of long treks through the hot desert canyons, students learned to identify edible and medicinal plants and were even lucky enough to find ancient pictographs. When at camp, although exhausted, the group learned primitive survival skills including bowdrill fires, knife work, traps, wood spoon-making and milkweed cordage-making. Being completely in tune and immersed in the natural world was a highlight of the trip. One student stated, “It spawned a love for nature that will last for the rest of my life.” Overall, this course was very challenging but also quite rewarding for the students.
With the combined skills of Colorado Academy’s own, Chip Lee and our two amazing Cottonwood Institute Instructors, Paul Van Horn and Clark Patton, these nine students successfully completed a trek that most people will never experience. Knowing that they can push themselves past their limits is an invaluable tool to be used in all aspects of their lives. “I am shocked at what I have accomplished. My body can do so much more than I thought. I proved that my mind is the only thing that can keep me from doing anything.” (Colorado Academy Going Light Student)
What will you do next Memorial Day weekend?
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures.
Written by Kelly Muller and edited by April Pishna.
Early this July, eight lucky participants got in touch with their primal instincts in the Cottonwood Institute’s Stone Age Survival Course. Yes, this is how we used to thrive and survive back in the day before cell phones and electricity. Before all of our modern comforts this is how humans survived. But these skills are not outdated. In a survival situation they could save your life.
On July 8th, 2009, the students and two instructors, Brittany Salley-Rains and Clark Patton, met and set off to a stone-age living skills school called Earth Knack located in Crestone, Colorado. They spent the following 7 days learning primitive skills and sleeping under the stars. Every participant got down and dirty making primitive fires using hand drill and bow drill sets, flint knapping stones to make knives, and weaving baskets out of willow. They learned about the edible and medicinal plants of the area and made debris hut survival shelters. One student even spent the night in the freshly constructed shelter.
Throughout the course the students learned about sustainable living and building and how to apply all this to their own life to reduce their ecological footprint. After learning all the stone age skills the participants completed several small service projects, building ditches and garden beds to give back to the land and the Earth Knack community.
Instructor Brittany Salley-Rains commented that it was a great trip. “I was really impressed with the students dedication to learning the skills. Everyone rose to the challenge. They learned a lot not only about primitive skills, but also sustainable living.”
To view pictures from the 2009 Stone Age Survival Project, Click Here.
As I’m sure most of you are well aware, we had some crazy weather in June. Who ever heard of so much rain in Colorado, especially during the summer?! With such bizarre weather conditions, there is no telling when a storm is going to hit. If you were caught in the mountains unexpectedly overnight, would you have what it takes to survive?
During the month of June, the Cottonwood Institute hosted two Essential Survival Skills Overnights for adults. Not scared off by the rain, two groups of adventurous adults headed into the woods to learn what it takes to survive in the wild. The two day trips were action packed. The campers learned nature awareness skills, minimum impact camping techniques, survival priorities, and edible plants. After hiking into base camp, the group spent most of the first day busting their butts to build survival shelters. One the second trip they even got rained on right in the middle of construction. But, April Pishna, a participant, Apprentice Instructor, and Cottonwood Institute Administrative Coordinator reports, “what was amazing was that our shelters stayed dry!” Which is a good thing because every camper got to spend the night in their shelter.
The next day, the group got down and dirty with the business of fire making. Both primitive and modern methods were covered but the both groups agreed that the friction fire was a highlight of the trip. A friction fire is your classic “rubbing two sticks together” way of making fire, but it is a lot more involved then most people know. Michael Anderson, a participant on the first overnight, successfully busted a coal in no more than 10 minutes! This is probably the fastest first time friction fire on record! At the end of the day, the groups got to participate in a mini service project to give back to the land before heading home to showers and warm beds.
Aside from the friction fire, Michael’s favorite part of the trip is what he referred to as the “ADD hike.” The hike into base camp was so packed with things to see and learn that instructors Ford, and Clark were stopping every few minutes to show the group a new edible plant or a survival tip. In terms of what the participants had to say about their course, Michael says, “I loved it! I had a wonderful time and would recommend it to anyone.” Since the overnight Michael has been munching on edible plants in his yard, making his own friction fire set, and planning a 6-week long trip through 4 nation parks.
April had a similarly good experience. In addition to her many titles at the Cottonwood Institute, she was also the unofficial chef of the trip. She’ll have you know that, “our pita pizzas and gourmet bagel sandwiches were the hit of the trip. No dried out boring food for us!” Here is what April had to say about the overnight: “… although uncomfortable and a little chilly, having slept in something made by my own two hands gave me quite the thrill, knowing that I could survive outdoors if needed, plus bragging rights to my husband and friends, made it all worthwhile! We had a great time! Clark was a great instructor, very knowledgeable and patient, and a sense of humor that cracked you up! New friendships were forged, new skills were taught, and lessons that could be applied to not only the wilderness but to everyday life, were learned!”