For Cottonwood Institute Instructors, maintaining a strong tool kit of outdoor skills is a constant process. While the core competencies instructors teach and use in the field have long remained the same, the tools and techniques considered to be “best practices” are always evolving. So as new instructors come aboard, longtime returning champions pick up fresh skills through their own adventures, and the first overnight trips of the year venture out into the field, Spring is the perfect time to come together to share in the latest and greatest knowledge.
That’s what brought a group of CI staffers and instructors (plus one very special guest) back to Bear Creek Lake Park for the second time in a month, for a spirited day of skills training. Joining the usual suspects and providing a healthy amount of that spirit was Liam Church, son of CI Executive Director Ford Church and a talented young outdoorsman in his own right.
After a quick warmup, the team started their review with one of the most critical skills for any safe and enjoyable excursion: building a “bombproof” shelter from the elements. As little as three hours of exposure to extreme conditions can be dangerous, so being able to fashion a protective shelter is a top priority. This could mean a tent, a snow shelter (a winter training staple), or in this case, a well-placed tarp!
Ford led the group in a review of “tarpology,” including knot tying, anchor selection, and strategies for keeping out wind and rain. Instructors Vicki, Erin, Eva, and Jared showed off their low-slung tarp shelter for blizzard conditions, while Liam demonstrated how one might set up an A-frame for storing gear!
With the shelters in place, Eva led a discussion on the ten essentials for outdoor safety, with a focus on specific tools for survival in Colorado’s winter environment. Some great knowledge was shared as the instructors offered their preferred solutions for navigating, treating water, and staying warm in the field.
(Do you know your ten essentials? Test yourself, then review the list here!)
Over lunch—definitely an essential part of any trip outdoors—Erin showed the group a cool project she’s been doing with her students that could also be useful in a survival situation. Bringing out a selection of empty seltzer cans and cat food containers, she explained how these common household objects can be turned into ultralight stoves for backpacking! Everyone loved building their own mini stove, which suggests this functional little crafts project could soon become a CI staple!
No outdoor skills day would be complete, however, without a review of multiple campfire-building techniques. In an age of pocket-sized lighters and fire-starting sticks, the art of the perfect campfire is starting to be lost. But what happens when the wood is wet, when you want the fire to last for as long as possible, when you only have one match left and need to build a roaring bonfire in short order? Just ask a CI instructor, because they’ve all got the chops to start a wet or one-match fire after this session! Even young Liam was able to master firemaking with a little bit of instruction.
After safely smothering their fires (you should know how to do this too!), the instructors headed home with a plethora of new and renewed outdoor skills, ready to get back out in the field! Hope to see you there!
Written by CI Field Program Coordinator Andrew Miller
See more pictures from Instructor Training here!