February 2, 2009

Okanogan Expedition

For our last week of the first semester at the Wilderness Certification Program, we headed northeast to Okanogan country. We camped in the Alkali lakes wilderness on land owned by Chris Kenworthy, wilderness first aid and scout trainer. We pitched our tents and slept in the below freezing temperatures. That first morning I woke up with frost on my sleeping bag!

We went snowshoeing and tracking on day two. Some common species' footprints we saw were mule deer (much larger than the black tailed deer on the west side), snowshoe hare, squirrel (debatable whether red or douglas), grouse and coyote. A new set of tracks showed themselves to us as well. They looked like a pair of two tracks making two to three footlong hops, heading into rodent burrows in the snow. What do you think they were?

We got to work building shelters our third day. We built a snow hut and a snow pit shelter, both of which were quite sturdy and aesthetically pleasing. We harvested cattails for the mattresses and many sticks for the ribbing. I woke up in the middle of the night to pee and heard a great horned owl and a pack of yipping coyotes. A temperature test proved that the snow shelters were much warmer than the tents. It was 13 degrees farenheit outside when I woke up in the snow pit... inside was a toasty 28!

We made a primitive fire and built snowshoes on day four. Our tinder bundle consisted of grasses found underneath sage brush (out of the snow), sage brush bark, river birch bark, an old wasps nest, powdered pine pitch, and suspended dead pine needles. A mixture of materials is always preferred. In the snow, a platform made of green wood and a wind barrier is necessary to start a successful fire. Our platform burned down after 2 to 3 hours, which taught us a good lesson in how high to build fire platforms in snow.

The snowshoes turned out great, especially the "bear claw" style (pictured below in previous blog entry). We made them out of willow suckers because they are bendy and flexible. Snowshoes made from natural materials need maintenance, especially if one plans on using them each year.

We finished up learning outdoor first aid and the importance of carrying first aid kits. We each recieved first aid kits full of good stuff like athletic tape, gauze, scissors, etc.

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