Guide: Keep your cool to survive in the cold

Posted Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:35 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 8:49 p.m.

WALDOBORO, Maine — Dropping to his knees and chunking a hole in a snowbank with a shovel, Joe Tynan’s tips on ways to stay alive while lost in a frozen forest kept flowing.

Stay dry. Build shelter. Find water. Above all, said the Master Maine Guide during a winter survival skills workshop Saturday, don’t panic because “panic will kill you,” he said.

A simple hole in the snow, not unlike the tunnels children build in plow banks, could be the shelter that saves your life, but don’t forget this: Holes in the snow aren’t always simple.

When Tynan’s collapsed it exhaled a powdery puff toward the onlookers.

“That was instructive,” said someone, while others chuckled.

“That’s why I prefer a debris shelter,” said Tynan with a chuckle of his own.

Saturday’s workshop, sponsored by the Medomak Valley Land Trust on its tucked-away Reef Point Preserve in Waldoboro, focused on some of the most basic lessons of surviving the cold, and that collapsed snow tunnel was one of them. A little mistake like that could seem disastrous with the day’s light fading against the reali-zation that you’ll shiver through the night in the woods. Or worse.

“You cannot let anything make you panic,” said Tynan, repeating the foremost survival rule again. “Animals have fur and feathers and claws to help them survive. We have our brains.”

The trunk of a nearby fallen tree, rising diagonally from the untouched snow, represented a better shelter option, said Tynan. In about 20 minutes he and others leaned sticks against each side, followed by hemlock and spruce boughs, followed by a thick layer of snow. The result was a triangular shelter that Tynan fitted with a spruce-bough mattress. He said you shouldn’t expect a great night’s sleep in a place like this, but you can expect to live.

“It’s not that big a deal to keep yourself alive if you remember some simple things,” he said.

Some of the participants at Saturday’s workshop were there to learn some real survival skills, such as Rob Wareheim of Waldoboro, who is planning to do his first winter camping soon.

“I’ve been wanting to do it for a couple of years,” he said. “Now that I have a good sleeping bag, I think I’m ready. I’ve been practicing building tepees.”

Other participants, all of whom hiked about a half-mile through the snow to reach Reef Point Preserve, said they were simply taking advantage of a rare opportunity to do something outdoors.

“It gets us out of the house,” said Jim Derby of Waldoboro, who snowshoed in with his son Kyle.

Medomak Valley Land Trust President Caren Clark said Saturday’s event was one of a series scheduled on the trust’s properties year-round. The land trust has protected some 3,000 acres in five preserves under conservation easement, including the Reef Point Preserve, the Peace Corps and Mill Pond Preserve, the Boyington and Mank preserves, the Burkett Mill Preserve and the Berger Preserve. Tynan’s workshop was the first one of the 2011 event series theme “Habitat Matters.”

For more information about the Medomak Valley Land Trust, visit www.midcoast.com/~mvlt.

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