Learning to Run Expeditions Overseas

We are all on our own journey with our passion for bushcraft and it doesn’t stop when you make the grade of instructor, in fact it accelerates tremendously, but for me the passion stems from the first time I was shown these skills and continues as I learn new ones.

Thanks to Ruth, My first fire by friction as a customer 2012

I draw on my own experience as a Woodland Ways customer six years ago and what it felt like to be shown how to do these skills by the instructors on the day, they remain long-time friends, such was their friendship and influence over me.

The exhilaration of creating fire through friction for the first time, The satisfaction of making my first wooden spoon, The connection with my food in how to prepare a pigeon with just my hands, the awakening of all of the flora that had always surrounded me as their secrets were revealed to me. All of these and many more moments are as fresh in my mind today, as the day I discovered them. These feelings revisit me each time I teach others the same skills I have learnt, it brings a massive amount of satisfaction to me.

Instructing in the Belvoir woods

This is all in the comfort of familiar surroundings in a country which is my home, so how would this transmit to travelling and teaching overseas on an expedition. The thought of which is initially thrilling and exciting and on the other hand, incredibly daunting and sobering prospect.

So why is that?

I’m no stranger to travel, I have been lucky enough to travel to many amazing places around the world, admittedly a lot of them involving very comfy beds and excellent food. Others and more recently have been far more adventurous, with a range of expeditions, from living and singing with the Maasai , desert survival training in the Sahara, walking through a heard of rhino in South Africa, discovering the wonderful people of Bulgaria, and more recently winter tracking in 4 feet of snow in Croatia. All of which were amazing and memorable experiences and none of which came without their dangers and issues along the way.

Successfully navigating the Sahara as a team to find water, 2012

Snake handling in South Africa (Black Mamba)

The sobering thought is responsibility for others in a foreign land and the only reply I can give to that is preparation and good timely decision making along the way. People wildlife and weather will always change and you can only plan so much the skill I’m learning is in how you manage that change and bring the group with you. This is nothing short of what I already do in the UK, but when you are remote and overseas, these things become a little more challenging.

Hand drill Instruction from the Maasai, Kenya 2014

Let us look at my most recent expedition to Croatia. We had the most amazing base to explore tracks from the issue arose when the weather came in and buried them all in four foot of snow! After a few days it was clear that the only things out there to track were our own footprints, as the weather had forced the wildlife to lower altitudes. Traversing through the snow was seriously tough going at this time, every step you took you were treading down two feet of snow and every five minutes you needed to rest momentarily and this was without packs. It was too deep and powdery for Ski or Skidoo. Our vehicle could only get to within a seven hour walk of us, our planned route out had a massive avalanche risk and the weather was due to come in again with more heavy snowfall in a couple of days. This presented a risk that needed addressing.

Snow hole in Croatia, 2018

So what were our choices? What would you do? Take a moment to think about it and challenge yourself. When the choices are listed in black and white and with hindsight decisions are easy. Making the right decision on the ground with personalities in a live situation can be a real challenge.

  • Continue tracking in the area visiting other possible sights of activity and head out before the next weather front arrives.
  • Use the clear day to blaze a trail along our exit route as far as we can without packs and exit before the weather comes with all our gear and continue the expedition from another location.
  • Stay for the full duration, continue to try and track, weather comes in with heavy snow and exit with a possible night stay in an emergency shelter in sub-zero conditions.

None of them are wrong if you manage the risk, make it out alive without injury and it’s the choice you all want to make.

Assessing the groups physical and mental comfort level with each choice is key, it is them you are asking to achieve the end goal with the decision that is made.  Whatever we had to do, we had to do it together, as a team and united about the decision we had to make.

We went for option two, which was the absolute the right decision for our team and that’s just what we had become, a team. And so we created a work ethic to get us through what lay ahead. We chose an order for our team to trek in, each person up at the front for five minutes, everyone remains in sight, we watch each other, never pushing the envelope anywhere close to exhaustion, “no heroes on this one!” were the words that still ring in my head.

Massive sense of accomplishment as we made it out safely as a team, Croatia 2018

That’s how this particular team safely navigated out of a potentially life threatening situation.

My lesson here is you plan for acceptable risk from home and you respond timely to unacceptable risk on the ground,

I’ve much still to learn and I hope that never stops as my journey continues.

Jay Jenner

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