9 Months of Wilderness Survival

A knife & some fortitude


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Welcome!

I’m so glad you made it to my Wilderness Survival blog. I love this blog and the time in my life it represents — but I gotta confess, this project is in hibernation right now.

I have a feeling it will come back to life soon, this time both in Oregon and Catalonia. That’s right, now my main adventure home base is Spain! I haven’t lost my wilderness love, I’ve just been busy exploring a new mountain range: The Pyrenees.

If you want to hear that whole story, and hear about what I’m up to now, visit me here.

Otherwise, enjoy all the down-in-the-dirt, alive-in-the-fresh-air information and stories here, and be in touch anytime!

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One person, one night, one Blue Lake

There’s this place that I keep returning to in my mind. I slept there my last night in the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the northeast corner of Oregon. A small, round blue lake, called simply that, Blue Lake. A cerulean jewel sunk in the basin of granite mountain walls that rose steeply in a half-ring to the south. Encircling the rest of the lake were stands of spruce trees — many of them miniature and twisted, evidence of the harsh winters they endured – and a lush meadow, scattered with huge blocks of granite. In the northern distance were two of the wilderness’ tallest mountains: Eagle Cap and Glacier Peak. The sky echoed the lake, the lake echoed the sky: two blue basins – one earthly, the other celestial.

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Risks and pay-off in Olympic National Park

Shortly after the Fourth of July, I set out for my longest solo backpacking trip to date: one week in Washington’s Olympic National Park.

With this trip, as with my last solo expedition, I found myself back again at the debate: Is solo backpacking a sin? People on the trail and off continue to express dismay at my decision to hike alone or lecture me on the danger.

I know. I know that some people can’t imagine that much time alone, especially in the woods, in the dark. I know that people find themselves in dangerous situations outdoors even when they’re not by themselves. I’ve heard a lot of stories about helicopter rescues. And I know that for some people, it seems especially unacceptable for me to be alone, in the woods or otherwise, because I’m a woman (whether they are conscious or not of this bias).

It’s okay if you voice these concerns to me, whether friend or a stranger. I’m willing to listen. And it is good for me to hear every once in a while. I just might not agree.

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Searching for wilderness

The Abstract WildThe Abstract Wild
by Jack Turner
The University of Arizona Press, 136 pp., $17.95

Earlier this month, as I was getting ready for my trip to the Steens Mountain, I called up my friend Steve for advice and recommendations. Steve is the most Oregonian of the Oregonians I know. He and his wife farm the land that has been in his family for generations, and I don’t know of anyone more knowledgeable (or insatiably curious) about our state and its history, political and natural.

It had been a while since I’d talked with Steve, so when I got him on the phone, I filled him in on what I’d been up to recently. I started by saying that I’d just finished my wilderness survival course and was getting ready to spend the summer in the Steens and other parts of the West practicing my skills.

“Wilderness skills, huh?” he said in his halting, gravely voice. “You know, I think that if someone wants a wilderness experience, they should be taken out there blindfolded, left without trails or anything. Wilderness is also a place with predators.”

Steve’s perspective sounded similar to that of “The Abstract Wild,” by Jack Turner, a collection of essays I recently read on the recommendation of a friend from Wyoming, who I also admire for his explorer ways.

“The Abstract Wild,” first published in 1996, explores the question of what it means for something or someplace to be “wild.” Turner’s view is fairly radical, the result of 40 years as an outdoor adventurer, traveler and guide, in the United States, Canada, Asia and South America. What Americans today think of as “wilderness” is not actually wild, he maintains. “Why isn’t our wilderness wild?” he asks, “and why is there so little experience of wildness there?” Continue reading

Southeast Oregon sampler

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My first camping and backpacking trip following the end of Survival Class: A tour of the wonders of Southeast Oregon with my friend K. In one very full week, we went to Summer Lake, Hart Mountain, Steens Mountain, and Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Most people visit the Steens in July or August — but I highly recommend June. The place is still so marvelously lush, not unbearably hot, and filled with wildflowers.

A long time ago, a friend told me that I wasn’t a real Oregonian until I’d been to the Steens. It is a worthy rite of passage. If you live here, you have to go see this place.

This gallery contains 26 photos


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Graduation from survival class, and hitting the road

The first weekend of June was Graduation weekend for Trackers’ 2012-2013 immersion courses, marking the official end of my 9 months of wilderness survival. I am not now “certified” in anything, nor did I receive anything to hang on my wall. (Instead, I’ve got a rabbit hide, half-finished bow, digger bopper, basket and countless other sticks cluttering up the backseat of my car.)

Graduation, like any good landmark moment in life, marked both the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. For me, due to my own larger design, finishing this class marked the end of an entire epoch of my life – living and working in Portland – and launched me in a totally new direction. I gave up my apartment on June 1, freeing me up for a summer exploration of Oregon and Washington’s natural areas, practicing the primitive skills that I’ve been introduced to in my immersion class and to see where they lead me next. After summer, among many other goals, I plan to do some extended travel to Latin America. In the meantime though, I’ll continue to post updates here about my summer travels and practice.

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Oregon and Washington – Oh, the places to go!

In the last five years or so, I’ve become a traveler that generally doesn’t crack open a guidebook until I’m on safely on the airplane, en route to my destination. I take a lot of pleasure in spontaneity, but in retrospect, I can see that’s probably not entirely what’s behind this habit. I’m generally working up to the very last minute before my vacations, and maybe it just doesn’t seem fitting to give myself the extra work of planning a trip too. It has probably also helped  that most of my vacations of the last five years have been to Mexico, where I know I can easily chat up locals for recommendations on the best time.

By contrast, for my summer of exploring the Pacific Northwest, it’s been an unexpected pleasure to start researching and planning outings. I’ve checked out an armload of guidebooks on backpacking in Oregon and Washington from the library and poured over them. I’m noting which trips seem fun to do alone, and which would be better with friends. Continue reading


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Nostalgia & frustration: Second attempt at becoming a bowyer

After a week of gloriously summery weather, I arrived at Trackers camp a little early on Friday for class. It was quiet. There was only one other car in the lot, and no one around. I went to set up my tent in the meadow and, in the quiet, felt a wash of contentedness and gratitude to have been able to spend so much time on this now familiar piece of land.

I couldn’t help reflecting then, and throughout the weekend, that only one class remains of the immersion. Soon it will be over. I know I’ll walk away with a sense of accomplishment. But I will also really miss having this special place to be, every second weekend of the month. This place, far removed from the overload of the city and regular life, where at the end of a day’s hard physical and mental effort I get to sit around the fire with a wonderful group of people, under the stars.

Well, thankfully, I won’t need to drown in nostalgia just yet, because this weekend I also got a maddening dose of frustration to balance it out. Bow-making! It’s all about balance.

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Basket-making and other RV fun

For my first weekend of freedom, I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying my friend A. (along with a number of other friends) to pick up her new RV. Once the papers were signed and the keys promptly lost and then found, the Oregon road was all ours. Where to?

After discussing about ten possible scenarios, we finally decided to head to Sandy Ridge for mountain biking and then to Lost Lake to camp that night. I like mountain biking but don’t have a mountain bike of my own, so generally on these trips – if I don’t feel like renting a bike – I’m the lone hiker.

When the others set off on their mountain bike excursion, I had about two hours to entertain myself. Generally, trails that allow mountain bikers are not very pleasant for hikers. They’re wide, eroded and dusty – and present the hazard of bikers careening unexpectedly around corners. Given that I’m sometimes one of these crazy bikers myself, I try to be understanding.

So, anticipating that this might not be the most magical of hikes, I’d brought along my knife to see if I might find some ivy or trailing blackberry and could try out my new basket-making skills.

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Heading out, with my backpack

Ten years ago, I left New York City with only a backpack on my back. It seemed a risky thing to do at the time. Now, I’m preparing to leave Portland the same way.

I left New York City when I realized that my heart belonged to the Pacific Northwest, that the life I wanted was here in the open spaces, and in the fresh and solitary forest and in the rain that hangs in the air. Life in New York City, for all its worldliness and glamour, can be provincial and constricting. Making a living consumes the day in the city, and the city then consumes the living that you’ve made in the day; it is a cycle that is difficult to break. To get out into the wider world and have time to simply live, this was my goal when I left the city.

My idea was that Portland would become my home base, from where I would launch many in a series of travels around my country, around the world. But then one thing led to the next and my 20s were gone. My work became more and more fulfilling and it became harder and harder to imagine how I could leave. Until I realized that I was on the verge of becoming someone who only talks about a dream, but doesn’t have the courage to do it. Continue reading