Christy and I attended the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) 7-day Primitive Living Skills Course May 29 June 4, 2011. This page is a summary of our experience taking this course and is primarily based on the journal entries that Christy wrote during the course.
Brian found out about BOSS online and we started thinking about taking a course there. The school has several different courses they offer, and we decided on the Primitive Living Skills Course because we wanted to learn the skills the most. The other courses like the field courses were constantly hiking and didnt have as much time to teach the skills.
The first step to signing up was to contact BOSS for an application form. As part of the lengthy application form, we had to get our written doctors permission to attend, so Christy and I both went in to our doctor for a physical examination. I think our doctor thought we were somewhat crazy, but she signed the form for us.
We mailed in the application form, and shortly later BOSS notified us that we were accepted to the class. The next step was to start gathering the gear that we needed for the course.
Here is a list of what we were allowed to take with us:
Here were the things *NOT* on the list and not allowed:
Dad and Shauna were nice enough to offer to watch our kids and dog while we were at the class. We met them in Green River, UT where they had just gotten done with a river rafting trip. We spent the night in a hotel Saturday night, and then early Sunday Dad and Shauna took off for Colorado Springs, and Christy and I took off for Boulder, UT. Along the way to Boulder, we stopped at Goblin Valley State Park for about an hour.
Here is the journal that Christy wrote:
Day 1, Sunday:
When we first got to BOSS (Boulder Outdoor Survival School), we had an orientation, then met our group and instructors. Our instructors names are Bryan, Matt, and Lori (I was happy to have another girl in the group) and theyre all really nice, fairly normal people (some of the other instructors were pretty interesting looking), with good senses of humor. We liked the people (all guys) in our group, too, so we were excited. We played a name game, checked our gear, ate lunch, then made our backpacks and haversacks. We made our backpacks by putting our gear inside our blanket, rolling it up, tying it with paracord, and using seatbelt webbing for the straps. The instructors took away any gear that people had if it was not on the gear list.
We were the only people from Utah; the others were from all over the country: Oregon, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Missouri, and Kentucky.
We were surprised when we loaded our packs onto a truck, rather than having to carry them for 2 miles to camp, and climbed in a van that took us to the trailhead on the other side of Boulder Mountain. We hiked 2 miles downhill to camp and had another surprise when we saw wiki-ups that wed sleep in (some of the nights). The wiki-ups were made of lots of logs forming a circle, then covered with duff (dry pine needles, leaves, etc.) for insulation. Theyre very dark inside with the only light coming from the doorway. The first night we were shown the latrines (also a surprise, especially the toilet paper, and a 1/4 mile hike uphill away from camp), carved spatulas to eat with, gathered duff to sleep on (by laying down our versacloths and piling it on) and helped make dinner (a surprisingly good stew with quinoa, potatoes, lentils, garlic, onion, vegetable bouillon, and salt/pepper&yum!) and gathered firewood. One of the instructors, Matt, started the fire the first night with a bow drill. My first spoon did not work with the stew, so I mostly drank it and decided to make a new spoon in the morning. It was cold the first night, with a little snow before bed. We slept okay (better than others), but our toes were FREEZING. At least we could keep each other warm.
Day 2, Monday:
The second day, we woke up to another group member working on a fire a very welcome sight. We had Awareness time to sit by ourselves for awhile, where I said a long prayer, looked around enjoying the beautiful surroundings, and hummed some hymns. It was very peaceful, but kinda long. After that, we had oatmeal and peanut butter for breakfast, then got to work making a bowdrill set to make fire. We carved each piece and tried them out my attempts all failed.
Brian and I had an exciting adventure our first time at the latrine, had lunch, then had a lesson from Matt on shelters. He taught us the 5 Ws: Wood, Water, Weather, Wildlife, and Widowmakers these are all to take into consideration when picking a site for a shelter. Then we looked at some example shelters, and Bryan (the head instructor) told us we were going to build our own to sleep in. After walking around for probaby an hour to find a site, Bryan helped us find one because he didnt like any wed chosen (which was pretty frustrating and discouraging). Our site is by a giant boulder, with a main beam wedged between a tree and the rock, then other logs leaning against the beam, all covered in duff.
It was a lot of work to find/haul all the wood and gather the duff, but really rewarding to build something so different and cool together. We need to get a lot more duff for the inside and outside, and were nervous it might not be big enough, but well find out tomorrow when we sleep in it.
After working on our shelter, we came down by the fire to work on our burn bowls, where you take a piece of wood and use hot coals to hollow out the middle& very cool. We had dinner (anasazi beans in wheat tortillas mmmm), worked on our burn bowls a little more, then hit the duff in the wiki-up.
Day 3 Tuesday:
This morning when we woke up Evan was freezing outside and no one else was awake. We got our bow drill sets and got to work. Mine got an ember on my first try! I was pretty excited and proud! I put the ember into my tinder bundle, blew on it gently until the tinder ignited, then put it into the fire pit and added gradually bigger pieces of wood. Heat! Priceless on those icy cold mornings. It really gives you respect for the ancient people (along with everything else we do) how much hard work it is just to stay warm, get clean water (we purify ours with drops or boil it, which each take about 30 minutes). After awareness time, we had Amarynth and peanut butter for breakfast (which is starting to make me nauseous) and got started making dried fruit and jerky. We cut apples, peaches, zucchini, and beef, then hung them on tripods we had made in the sun. We cut the apples and peaches across so that there was a hole where the core was and did the jerky against the grain so it wasnt as tough. Pretty cool way to preserve food and its done in a few days. The tripods have to be moved to stay in the sun and put under a tarp at night.
We had a lesson from Lori on knife sharpening, where she taught us to tell if its sharp by drawing it across our thumbnail to see if it slips, cutting a piece of paper, or reflecting the sun on the blade. We did it using the 400 side of the sharpener first, then the 600 side, by making small circles, or sliding the knife at an angle across it. Its important that the bevel is flat against the sharpener, too.
Matt explained how to wash dishes in 4 stages (pre-wash with soap for chunks, wash with soap, rinse in water, rinse with cupful of bleach). Bri froze his hands being the rinser and I got to attempt to precariously balance all of the dishes on 1 tote to dry.
We had hummus and blue corn tortilla chips for lunch with a giant orange. It was Bri and my first time having hummus and we both really like it. Yum.
After lunch, Matt gave us a lesson on priorities in survival situations, which was really interesting and informative. Then we got to finish our shelter duff, duff, duff, and more duff. We were anxious to try it out and to have some alone time, being able to talk as loud as we want and stuff. We all worked on dinner because there was so much to do for our feast. Bryan (instructor) built an awesome little stove to set the pot on out of rocks and mud with debris in it.
Here is a summary of Matts lesson on Priorities for survival.
The rule of 3's
3 seconds Positive mental attitude. Be realistic and calm, make good decisions. Dont panic.
3 minutes Verify everyone has ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation)
3 hours Heat/Shelter. More people die in survival situations of exposure than anything else. Prevent Hypothermia and Hyperthermia. Verify you get needed sleep.
3 days Get water. Water is needed for thermo-regulation and bodily functions. Conserve energy, multi-task and work at the right times of day.
3 weeks Food, keep morale up.
After Matts lesson, Lori brought out two huge things of raw chicken, which wouldve been a whole breast for each of us in the stew and I pointed out to her it looked like way too much& one ended up being plenty and we had chicken for another night. Wahoo! So we had stew made of chicken, hominy, celery, onions, peppers, and water with cornbread (dutch over) and squash. I loved the stew and Bri really loved the cornbread (Matt made it in a dutch oven). Right after dinner we did a couple layers on our burn bowls (once the coal cools, you scrape out the burned wood, then put hot coals in again), then headed to our shelter while we still had some light.
It was really nice to sit on top our our rock together and just talk. We watched the stars come out and talked about the course, then headed in for bed when we got tired. We both woke up a few times, but we were really warm (even woke up hot a few times and actually had toasty warm toes for the first time!) and only felt the wind once when it blew through our rain poncho door and I had to put the rock back on it. It was a little squishy, but not any more than the wiki-up and I think we had just enough duff to be warm and comfortable (even though the pine needles poke you every now and then). Bri had a great idea to cheat a little and use our camera screen for a flashlight in the night (the doorway is pretty narrow). So we took a picture of a cloud to make the brightest screen possible and it worked great. I had a funny dream that Brian was telling pople there was room for one more person in our shelter and I was panicking& Funny
Up until now, weve really enjoyed the course. Everyone is really nice. Were all getting along really well. Its been a little challenging to be the only girl student finding places to change, pee, etc. but Im getting used to it. All our gear has worked out great (especially having 4 blankets 1 under us, 1 for a pillow, and the 2 wool ones on top of us). Brian did a great job getting everything ready for the course and Im so grateful he did. Im learning so much and gaining a lot of appreciation for ancient people and our cushy modern life. Were making friends with everyone and becoming kind of a little village we all help each other out. We miss the kids and wonder how/what theyre doing, but we know theyre great and Dad and Shaunas. I worry a little about Megan getting homesick, but hopefully theyre keeping busy enough that she doesnt think about it too much.
Day 4, Wednesday:
We had an awesome first night in our shelter it was actually warm! The only night my toes were warm. After awareness time, we came back to oats and peanut butter again (theres honey, too, but its too frozen to use). I used less peanut butter this time and it didnt make me as sick. Right when we were done, we started a lesson from Matt on cordage. My notes are on the next page, but it was quite an experience. It was difficult to get long strands of fibers off the stock, but we finally got a few workable pieces. I did mine wrong once, then another broke because the fibers were too thin. Argh. Finally, on the 3rd try, I got some cordage that worked. The key is to twist the fibers the opposite direction than youre overlapping them and it stays put. I cant image making thousands of feet of rope like the ancient people did.
Then Lori gave us a lesson on plants in the area and their uses. I was surprised at all the uses each plant has. It shows Heavenly Father put each plant here for a purpose.
How to make Cordage:
Get the stalks of a dead plant (dogbane, milkweed, juniper bark) and squeeze them to crack them (or use a stick to billet it). Crack all of the way up until theyre about in fourths. Pull the pieces apart, then hold with the bark down, crack the hard park and peel away from the bark to get fibers, then rub between finders or hands to separate bark from fibers. When fibers are long and separate you can start the reverse wrap twisting.
Matt did a lesson on how to make dead fall traps (both the figure 4 deadfall and the Piute deadfall). We headed back to camp after the lesson. The traps were pretty amazing and looked effective. Brian and I each carved one of the types, but we werent into killing anything since it isnt necessary, so well just take them home to show the kids rather than setting them out.
Lori showed us how to boil water in a burn bowl, too. It was incredible how quickly the water boiled, compared to 30 minutes in our metal bottle. It only took about 5 rocks and it boiled instantly.
How to boil water with rocks if you cant put the container in the fire (like with a wooden burn bowl).
-Put rocks in fire for 1-2 hours (make sure you know what your doing and get the right rocks or they could explode. You want rocks with no moisture in them)
-Have 2 bowls ready with water in them
-Use tongs made from bent plant stalks to take rocks out of fire
-Dip rock in first bowl to rinse off, then place in other bowl.
-Continue until water boils, rotating rocks if needed.
We also got the chance to toast grains over the fire and grind it with a mano and matate for pinole for breakfast and lunch on Friday. It was hard work grinding it and quite a hot, long process to toast it by the fire. It really made me grateful to be able to just buy flour at the store.
Flint knapping was pretty cool too. We struck a rock on a angle of obsidian to break a piece off. Once a piece comes off, you dull one edge for a hand-hold and leave the other sharp for a cutting / skinning tool. She said theyre no good for wood cutting.
We had another yummy stew for dinner, this time with coconut milk in it. The warm soups really help you stay warm and feel warm going to bed.
We sat around the fire for a little while talking and doing burn bowls, then headed off to home sweet shelter. While we were by the fire, Bryan (instructor) talked to us for a bit about whether to stay put tor move when you know youre lost. He told us its important to establish big directional landmarks to know which way youre going, have a daily plan, and to by really aware as youre hiking specifically to take the time every 1/4 1/2 mile to stop and look all around you to know what the trail looks like from all directions. Most of it was pretty common sense, but he said every situation is so different, its hard to give general advise and its really a whole course on its own.
Weve gotten to know everyone pretty well by now and were all getting to be pretty close. Today they surprised us saying that tomorrow night were not allowed to use blankets. What? Aah! We spent a lot of the day thinking and worrying about that, because the nights are so cold. (Usually buckets of water are frozen by morning.) They want us to experience a real survival situation, as though we went on a day hike and got lost without a lot of gear. Were going to only use one blanket tonight to ease into it were nervous for tomorrow night. I guess were just supposed to heap duff on ourselves to keep warm, but the pine needles are really pokey. Plus you have no idea whats in them because we try to be really careful and aware as we gather it, but theres deer and (believe it or not) cow poop everywhere, so its not a comforting thought to know youre sleeping on top and under it. The weather has been gorgeous, at least, except for the crazy, unpredictable wind. Not a cloud in the sky today. It really is a beautiful place, right by a meadow and creek and surrounded by Aspens, Pines, and singing birds.
Brian woke up not feeling so hot, so were going to try pine needle tea. I forgot to say that we only brush our teeth with baking soda pretty nasty. And were all getting pretty filthy. Theres black in the cracks of our hands that will not go away. We have to let each other know when our faces are black (which is often) because we dont have mirrors and our pants are covered in dirt and burn holes. Im sure were quite a sight I try to wash my face with a bandana and ask Brian if I got it all he just starts laughing and takes the bandana to scrub my face for me. Thanks Mommy.
Sidenote Our instructors Hoot to get our attention or get us together. As loud as they can, they belt Hoo-ee!. One time means Where are you?, two means Gather up, come together, three means Emergency! Help!. The other person should make the sound back to respond and let them know they were heard.
Its so dark in the wiki-ups at night without flashlights and no moon. We cant see anything. The stars are gorgeous when we get up at night, though!
Day 5, Thursday:
Last night was a pretty chilly night in the shelter. We slept with only 1 blanket on, to ease into not having one and it was chilly. The wind was really strong again, too, and blew the poncho open again. My upper body is usually fine (because of 3 thick layers, a hat, and hood), but I can never seem to warm up my toes unless I put them between Brians legs. At least we have each other to snuggle with
This morning we had our yummiest breakfast yet fry bread and honey. Its just flour, water, and salt fried in oil in a dutch oven with honey on top, but man is it good!. (We waited all week for that honey to thaw!) There was plenty (like a lot of other meals) so Bryan sat by the fire frying for a couple hours until it was gone and everyone got several.
While we ate that deliciousness Lori gave us a lesson on finding, carrying, and purifying water. This was a really important lesson since water is a crucial aspect of survival. After that, she showed us how to make a gourd canteen. You cut a hole in the top, then put pebbles in and shake it to get all of the pith out. Cutting the hole was easy, but sharking out the pith turned out to be a never-ending task because it just keeps coming out. Apparently the stuff is pretty nasty, though, so you really want to get it all out. Then you soak it in water far a day and carve a stopper for the hole. We also soaked Brians for awhile and used a cool tool Bryan made to scrape it off. After hours of shaking and scraping, were still not sure we got it all out.
Matt got our attention and asked us to follow him. He led us over to one of his traps and lifted it to reveal a flat little chipmunk. Go Matt! He brought it over to the fire with tongs and singed the hair off to kill any fleas/disease, then put it on a stump to process it. He did it with a shard of obsidian (which he said is perfect for such a small job). It was pretty disgusting, as he cut from the sternum, down to the pelvic bone, then broke the bone to get all of the entrails out. As soon as he went past the stomach, organs just started popping out and he explained what everything was. Pretty yucky, but fascinating, too. Then he cooked it up and spread out all the parts for people to try. (The only thing you dont eat is the teeth and entrails mmm). I was going to try it, but someone else took the piece I was going to try and I wasnt interested in trying any of the others. No thanks.
After our chipmunk snack Lori gave us a plant lesson. She knows so much about plants! She even has all their crazy Latin names memorized.
We had some time after that to put some final touches on for no-blanket night. So we got more duff (we didnt think that was possible) to cover the outside and stuff the inside with. We hope we never have to gather duff again!
We went back to the campfire and I finished my burn bowl while Brian macheted his. At the campfire Matt gave a great lesson on hand drills. Theyre much harder than bow-drills and require even more specific materials. He used cottonwood root, or sahuaro rib for his board and yucca, dogbane or another flower stalk for the spindle. He did a cool hand rocking motion in one place to warm up the board, then spit on his hands and the spindle and got rubbing. He started at the top and moved his hands down as he spun, then quickly put them back at the top. He almost had it twice, but the wind blew it (the wind was almost constant and really strong sometimes). He, Bryan (instructor), and Lori started to tandem and Bryan got it going on his turn. Hand drills are tough!
That didnt deter Brian from trying, it though. He just about had it, and picked up the spindle and burned his hand on it. Thats some heat! Poor guy had to wear burn cream and a bandaid on it the rest of the time.
For dinner we had polenta (like grits) with peppers and onions. Obviously not my favorite since I dont like peppers and onions, but the polenta was yummy. Other people really liked it, having seconds and thirds, even having leftovers for breakfast (which happened a few times in the week). The star of the night was dutch oven apple cobbler our first dessert in almost a week. We all had seconds and it was so good! Connor even saved some for breakfast
When the stars came out Bryan (instructor) gave us an astronomy lesson that was really neat. He talked about how the stars move, how to orient yourself using them and pointed out the key stars / constellations like Ursa major, Ursa Minor, the North Star, Lyra, Corona Borealis, Spika, etc. He had a super cool laser pointer that pointed a beam of light right at the star he was looking at. He had an amazing knowledge of the stars, pointing them out by name as they appeared in the sky without other reference stars.
By the time the astronomy lesson ended it was really dark (there was no moon all week) so we had to get to our shelter blindly (over the creek). We turned at the right place, but veered too far to the right and started tripping over fallen trees&obviously not the trail. It was pretty funny. After a little more stumbling we got back on the trail and found our shelter from there. Then we settled into our home sweet shelter and the duff for a blanket-less night.
Day 6 Friday
Last night was COLD without a blanket! I was wearing every layer I had (five on my upper body, including a winter hat, a hood and my turtleneck up to cover my face), but even with them and snuggling with Brian, my lower body was frozen. The first time we woke up, we got the versacloth I had been using as a pillow (duff is not comfy to the face) and put it on top of us, (we went to sleep with nothing on us at first) and we could immediately feel a difference, but not much. The duff didnt stay on well, either, sliding off every time we moved. We didnt sleep much and were constantly looking out the tiny hole near the door to see if it was morning and finally time to get up. After waiting and waiting, there was finally some light, so we got up to see it was a little before sunrise. We went straight to the fire (we were usually the first ones there) and resurrected some coals to build a fire . We went to wash our hands and found that the water in the bucket was frozen solid! It had been a cold, cold night! But we survived
When others woke up, they came over to the fire and we all talked about what a miserable night it had been. I guess even some of the other guys spooned to keep warm, too When the instructors finally got up (they were always last& way after sunrise), I think they felt bad for us, because they didnt make us leave the fire for awareness time. Thank you!
For breakfast, we had atole, which is ground up grains boiled in water the grains we had toasted and ground ourselves. The grains smelled and tasted so good toasted, but we did not like the atole. I dont think anyone did; a lot of us gave our grains to Matt to take on the trail, even after all the hard work of making them.
After breakfast, we went on a Parade of Shelters to see everyone elses creations. It was pretty cool to see them all, and the instructors said they were really impressed with what wed done. Then, it was demolition time. It was just as much work to take down the shelter as it was to build it, because we were supposed to put things back where we found them. That included all the duff, which we were supposed to sprinkle on the bare spots for the good of the ecosystem. We carried most of the big logs, flung the smaller ones, and sprinkled duff for about an hour or two. By the time we were done, there was no sign we were ever there.
We went back to camp and helped clean up for awhile, then finished working on our burn bowls and gourd canteens. Brian macheted my bowl while I scraped his gourd, then we switched and I used a massive file to shape my bowl while he scraped and scraped and scraped some more. When we were done, we each carved a stopper for our canteens. We were pretty happy with our cool creations and felt pretty authentic.
Bryan (instructor) gave us a great navigation lesson per Brians request (he was great about asking what we wanted to learn and doing that). He taught us all about declination, reading maps, using a compass, and other things. Bri said it was just what hed wanted to learn and I learned a lot, too.
For lunch and dinner we finally got to eat the dried jerky and fruit that had been torturing us all week. Mmmm.. .it was so good! The zucchini was pretty nasty and Bri wasnt so fond of the jerky, but I thought it was great.
Bryan (instructor) taught us how to make bags for our canteens that evening, so we all sat around tying knots and braiding. Thats the first time Ive ever seen a group of guys just sit around braiding
We stayed up late talking and laughing around the campfire. Partially because it was our last night, and partially because it was too cold to leave the fire. It was fun to joke about good times wed had that week and ask the instructors questions. Finally we pulled ourselves away from the fire and went to sleep in the wiki-up for the last time.
Day 7 Saturday
Today was our last day with our BOSS family in the wilderness. We woke up before sunrise to the sound of Bryan hooting and jumped up to get ready. We packed up our blanket packs and took apart the duff beds in the wiki-ups. This meant putting all of the logs back in the woods and throwing all of the duff on top of the wiki-up. I hope thats the last time I have to touch duff for a long, long time we have a love-hate relationship
We packed everything on the truck and hiked out 2 miles (very quickly, without breaks) to the van that wed take back to the BOSS property. When we got there, we gathered up in the same spot where wed started our adventure a week ago. Bryan passed out certificates of completion to all of us and told us normal people dont do what we had just done and he commended us for challenging ourselves to do something so difficult and out of our comfort zones.
Then we had a talking circle where we passed around a talking stick and each person had a turn to say whatever he/she wanted to say. We all essentially said the same thing, thanking the awesome instructors for their patience, energy, knowledge, and making it so enjoyable. We all felt that we had a great group, too, and that wed had so much fun together and worked together great. The instructors said that they were really impressed with our industriousness, (getting duff and making burn bowls before they even got up) and with our enthusiasm. They said that makes them much more excited to teach and that theyd had a fun, fantastic week, too.
It was neat to hear what everyone had to say and sad to know that our time together was almost over. Bryan gave us cool t-shirts, too, to prove we actually did it.
After that they all did a sweat lodge, where you sweat it out with HOT rocks put in cold water sitting in a room, then jump into the pond to rinse off all the grime you sweated out. Bri, Drew, and I opted out (the pond was stagnant and looked pretty nasty) and walked around and looked at all the pictures wed taken that week.
When they were done with their sweat lodge, we ate breakfast. We were all starving by now and it looked so good casserole in a dutch oven, fresh fruit, granola and yogurt. Yum! We got a surprise when we took a bite of the casserole, though, when it was super crunchy. And I dont mean burned. Apparently a bunch of sand had gotten into the dutch oven and it was pretty crunchy. Bummer. I got a pretty good size little pebble in mine. Needless to say, we didnt finish it and got some more fresh fruit instead
Then it was picture time. we all put on our t-shirts and headed over to the BOSS sign for a group pic. After that we thanked everyone again for an awesome week, told them good luck with their next adventure and hugged (or shook hands with, in Bris case) them goodbye. It was really sad to say goodbye to them all after spending so much time together and growing so close, but at the same time, we were really anxious to talk to the kids and get home.
As soon as there was a spot to pull over we did and changed out of our nasty clothes into other ones. We called the kids and it was so good to hear their little voices again. I totally burst into tears. It had been a long week of not being able to talk to them! They told us about all the fun theyd been having, so I felt better. We headed straight to a little restaurant Bri and the kids had liked near Capitol Reef and got a pizza, Reeses milkshake, and large sprite. Mmm& Junk Food After the 5 hour drive, we left everything in the car and got right in the shower. My hair still smells like smoke and my hands still have dirt in all the cracks, so well see how many showers it takes to get those out. The shower felt so good, though!
Then we plopped on the couch to watch a movie and it wasnt long before we fell asleep a sign of the week wed had. We ended up sleeping for 9 hours later that night, too, which was good because we have lots of unpacking, laundry, and dishes ahead of us.
This course was such an amazing experience. We were so lucky to have awesome instructors, group members, and weather (except for cold nights, wind and a tiny bit of snow one night), any one of which couldve made the week miserable if they werent. We were challenged in many ways mentally and physically and grew so much individually and as a couple. We had so much fun together and with all the others, always boosting each other up and making each other laugh. We learned a lot about ourselves, ancient people, and survival skills. This experience has made me so grateful for and cognizant of how life was for primitive people and how easy my life is now. I hope I remember this and try not to take for granted how lucky I am to live when I do and have all that I have. It really was a life-changing week.