Arctic Survival: Skills You'll Need in the Harshest of Environments
I'm not a fan of cold weather and the arctic is the last place I'd want to visit. Fortunately, Survivorman, Les Stroud, thinks this is a perfect environment to showcase survival skills tailored to cold climates. His 7-day adventure starts on Baffin Island, well in to the Canadian Arctic — 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle to be specific.
Les' survival equipment includes a broken snowmobile from which he salvages wires, grease, the seat cushion sponge, and gasoline. He also uses a side panel as a shovel to dig in to the snow to make a shelter for the night. In addition to digging a pit, he piles up blocks of snow to provide protection from the wind. On top of all of this he pulls a blanket that is included in his supplies.
On day 2, Les surveys the land. There isn't much in sight except some mountains in the distance. He decides that he must get himself off of the sea ice and so heads for the mountains. For this trek he needs to pull along a wooden sled that has all of his camera gear. The journey also involves crossing cracks in the ice. Falling in to the water would surely mean death.
At this point Les shows us the rest of his equipment which includes a seal hook, knife made out of caribou bone, a chunk of seal meat, seal blubber, soapstone kudlik, 3 matches, and a multi-tool. He does have a gun, but it is for defense only should a polar bear attack. He is not allowed to use it for survival i.e. to hunt for food. During this break Les takes a few bites of the seal meat. He also tells us that eating just meat will eventually lead to rabbit starvation. That is, after only a week of eating meat without fat, there will be signs of protein poisoning. Around eight days diarrhea will set in. After a few weeks, you will die.
Continuing on his trek along the ice, Les comes across a cave below the big toe of a glacier. Not ideal, but the best place to rest for the night that he is likely to find. At any moment a piece of ice could fall, but he has little choice.
Day 3 begins with Les Stroud feeling quite chilled (surprised?). To check his direction for travel, he moves to higher ground. A landmark of some sort in such conditions is critical to keep from traveling in the wrong direction. At the top of the hill, Les determines that he has a 30 mile walk ahead of him across the sea ice. And despite traveling all day, he can still see the snowmobile he left behind.
Before moving on he takes a moment to construct some snow goggles to protect his eyes from the glare (i.e. snow blindness). He uses part of the snow mobile seat cover with some slits cut in it. Wires tied around his head keep the goggles in place.
Although generally frowned upon, Les eats snow to obtain fresh water. He acknowledges that there is some risk with eating snow because it can cause the body to cool down too much. However, since he's eating it while being quite active, he feels there will be no issues and in fact the snow is helping to keep him from sweating.
Without shelter, Les simply rests on his sled for the night with a blanket for warmth. Before settling in for the night he eats another chunk of the raw seal meat. He also reminds us that he is in the middle of polar bear country. And sure enough, during the night a polar bear walks within 30 feet of his bed, but luckily does nothing more than walk.
The weather on day 4 is clear, but the temperature is still around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Travel is easier this day and Les is able to climb to the top of an iceberg to again get his bearings and survey his surroundings. At this point he is just about out of food. In addition, his mukluks are frozen solid. He mistakenly wore his moose skin mukluks instead of seal skin mukluks which would not freeze even if wet.
For this night's rest, Les tries his hand at building an igloo. It's the first time he's built one and unfortunately it shows as the roof and walls are very ill-fitting. When built properly, an igloo provides an incredible amount of insulation and the shape is quite capable of withstanding all but the strongest winds.
On day 5 Les comes across a patch of open ground with some dry grass. He also finds some dry wood which with the grass he is able to build a fire. The gas-soaked seat cushions come in handy as tinder. And to get a spark, Les fires his gun, after removing the bullet from its casing, at the kindling (the MythBusters tackled the firing a gun to start a fire technique). The fire provides some warmth and an opportunity to dry out his mukluks. Since the sky remains clear, Les decides to try and melt snow using the heat from the sun. He does so by placing snow into a makeshift bowl made out of rubber from the snowmobile.
While the snow melts, he also tries his hand at hunting seals. With his back to the sun he waits above a hole in the ice with his seal hook at the ready. Despite seemingly hours of waiting patiently, no seals appear and so Les gives up. In an attempt to catch a bird, he places some bait (a bone) close to where he is resting. Unfortunately, this fails too.
Before resting for the night, Les uses the caribou bone knife to scrape across the blubber he has. In doing so, oils collect in the soapstone dish he has. After placing a piece of paper in the dish, he uses one of the three matches in his possession to start a small flame for warmth. During the night, Les decides to leave his igloo and move to higher ground where he sleeps some more.
On day 6 Les is really hungry and low on energy, but he presses on across the ice and snow stopping every 20 minutes to rest. A small snack appears in the form of 3 willow buds — he sarcastically tells us he's full. There isn't much excitement on this day and the night too passes with no significant events.
Shortly after waking up on day 7, Les spots an Inuit hunter who offers to take him home. At this point Les learns that he is actually still 2 days away from safety!