Surviving in the Canyonlands of Utah

The second last episode of the second Survivorman DVD has Les Stroud stranded in the Canyonlands of Utah. The wilderness survival situation this time is one of a mountain biker whose bike is no longer working. Dry and hot, Les is tasked with surviving for 7 days.

One of the first things that Les does is determine how much daylight he has left. To do this he holds his hand out at arm's length and counts the number of hand widths there are between the horizon and the sun. Each hand width is equivalent to 1 hour.

Shelter comes in the form a Juniper tree combined with a lean-to tree shelter that he builds below the boughs of the tree. It looks like Les will actually have a good shelter for his first night which is atypical of his other adventures.

Although warm during the day, snow is possible at night so a fire is also important. Fortunately for Les, dry wood for fuel is plentiful along with dry, fibrous bark from the Juniper tree for kindling and tinder. The task of starting a fire is relatively easy this time around as he has brought along a magnesium bar and flint stick. It takes next to no time to get the fire burning — a near ideal fire starting situation if you ask me.

During the first night, Les takes stock of his supplies: a multi-tool, a magnesium flint stick, a piece of shriveled energy bar, and a handful of corn chips. Les spends the rest of the night taking short naps in between which he stokes the fire.

Day 2 reveals frost on the ground, but Les has made it. A quick exploration of the area brings him upon some melted frost that has formed a pool from which he drinks. After surveying his surroundings, he decides to scavenge parts from his bike. The frame forms a support for a beefed up shelter i.e. something with more insulation.

Les also walks us through the 5 W's for assessing the chances of survival:

  1. Wood – There is plenty of it in this area.
  2. Weather – Good so far although can be cold at night.
  3. Widow Makers – Nothing tall, standing, and dead that will crash and kill him.
  4. Wigglies – Scorpions, spiders, snakes. All are underground at this time of year.
  5. Water – There is none. This is Les's biggest challenge. He'll likely need to move on to find some.

The second night passes without incident and the new shelter proves to be warmer. On the third day Les packs up his things. He also uses a strap from the bike to tie together the Juniper bark he has collected — good for starting fires and insulation. Les's trek takes him down into a nearby canyon where he hopes to find a stream. The risk here is that he won't be able to get back out of the canyon because of the steep sides.

At the bottom, Les discovers that the stream he was aiming for is dry as a bone. He is close to dehydration — dry mouth, head hurting, and infrequent urination. A small patch of snow does provide some relief though.

Shelter on day 3 is a cave that is facing south. The risk with caves is that they are often used by animals harmful to humans — they may carry bubonic plague or can induce anaphylactic shock such as what may happen if bitten by kissing bugs. Caves can also crash down on you especially if they are warmed too quickly and crack. To prevent thermal cracks, Les warms up the cave slowly by building a small fire at the opening. This fire may also smoke out any pack rats that live in the cave.

Day 4 begins with Les trying to restart the main fire he had outside of the cave. He uses a tube from the bike to blow in to the embers. Without the tube he'd just end up blowing the ash away. Once a small flame appears, he uses the corn chips he has to keep the flames burning long enough so that it can be transported to the cave. He also places some cow manure that he found along the way on to the fire. This technique will keep the fire smoldering for a couple of hours without requiring any wood.

Les also manages to find some water seeping from the ground inside a slot canyon. With a source of water, Les now turns his attention to acquiring food. The only realistic meal he is likely to catch is a rat. With the available materials, including fiber from Yucca plants as bindings, Les constructs 5 paiute string dead-fall traps. Using bits of the dried up energy bar as bait, he hopes to catch meal.

With traps set, Les continues to explore the area. He comes across an old fire site with an empty can left behind. This can makes for a good teapot in which he can make some tea using the Mormon tea plant (contains ephedrine for energy). Of course, before using the can he cleaned it out thoroughly using sand. In particular, Les made sure to remove as much rust from the inside as possible.

Day 5 begins with Les checking his traps. Despite most of his traps having sprung, only one has caught anything — a ground squirrel. Still, that's better than nothing and Les sets to the task of cooking his meal thoroughly. He forgoes the usual gutting process so that he doesn't have to come in contact with anything potentially disease-infected. Cooking is a slow process, but once complete, Les eats all but the entrails. The brake cable from his bike makes for a good hanger from which to suspend the squirrel over the fire.

While waiting for the squirrel to cook, Les eats a few Juniper berries that taste horrible, but are good for preparing one's stomach for the consumption of food. And anticipating the need for a knife for cutting the squirrel he takes on the task of flint knapping — pounding a rock against some flint in the hopes of breaking off a sharp shard.

On day 6 Les immediately makes the decision to not remain in the Canyonlands any longer. Water is in short supply and only one of the 5 traps he said yielded food. So his 7 day survival adventure ends a little short with Les trekking back to safety.

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  1. Good catch! Fixed.

  2. Nice write-up, but did Les suddenly turn French? Le's? How about Les's?

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