Survival training for the 500sunsets expedition

As part of my preparations for an expedition of this nature, I decided that I should obtain some form of survival training and chose to enrol with Boswa Survival. At first I thought I just needed to do a basic course as I have always been an outdoors man and figured I knew enough. As planning progressed I realized it would be prudent to do their whole ranger program. You are never too old to learn, and I am now nearing the end of some very comprehensive training. Herman, the instructor, is a young man who has an absolute passion for what he does. He comes across as a quiet, unassuming bloke, who has endless patience with people who ask dumb questions and from those of us who think we know it all (yes I fear I may have brushed this category). He is a fountain of knowledge on the subject of survival, and does not run his classes like a military academy.

His enthusiasm for survival has lead to some interesting foods: Dog food, insects, worms, snakes and rats to name a few. None of which you are forced to eat, but you will go hungry if you don’t. The camaraderie amongst the students is great and the atmosphere relaxed. As training progressed it got tougher and tougher. The courses covered everything from basic fire lighting, advanced navigation, first aid, rescue, foods, medicine, shelter building, advanced survival techniques, and a host of other subjects. By the end of the training one will have extensive knowledge and will have achieved training to a highly advanced level. The courses are split up into two or three days, and are modular in nature.

This all culminated in a seven day extreme survival course set in the spectacular surroundings of Magoebaskloof. By now I had been through all the training and this was the test. This exercise shows you truly what happens when your body lacks energy, sustenance, and your spirits lag. You get to see first hand what your body actually goes through, as the area and time of year provided very little food. On day five with less food than that which could fit in a cigarette box, we climbed up to the highest peak in the area, Iron Crown, at about 2200 m.We had previously failed on day three, due to a pine-forest that had been blown down in high winds. The tangle of roots, branches, and tree trunks created an almost impenetrable maze to navigate. It is amazing how grumpy and ratty you can get when you are starving, tired and lack energy! The climb started at about 750 m in elevation and took five and a half hours to complete on slopes of sixty degrees plus. Of the 16 guys on the course only three students summited, all of us smokers no less. Two of us were the oldest students, both in our late forties. Those young bucks who grew up on ice cream and candy copped out (to be fair it was tough and a lot of the guys had injuries or health issues. The body also reacts differently to starvation from person to person due to a lot of reasons; weight, fitness levels and so on. There is also no guarantee that given the same situation again, your body will react the same way again. Even the toughest can succeed one day and fail the next. Due to the lack of energy, you start to lose your balance and spatial awareness. You make poor decisions and get fatigued and dehydrated quickly).

The rewarding part are the friends that you make, some of whom I am sure will remain life long friends. Many of the experiences you have will also profoundly impact on who you thought you were. They say that in order to grow you must push yourself past your comfort zone and this training certainly does that. There is something pure and raw about settling into nature and pitting your wits against her, with almost nothing in the way of security and modern technology. You learn that you don’t actually need much to survive and enjoy your surroundings.

Would I do it again, put up with the cold, the hunger and sleeping on the hard ground?……Hell yes!

If you are interested check it out www.boswa.co.za

2 Responses to “Survival training for the 500sunsets expedition

  • Nice to know there are places to do this, now that the government no longer sponsors one to do it involuntarily. Just want to pick on one phrase – “settling into nature and pitting your wits against her”. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to settle into nature, embrace and form a partnership with her?

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