WTS – Don’t Leave Home Without It by Bruce Miller
I must confess that I registered for Wilderness Trekking School (WTS) expecting to learn how to use an ice axe, and little more. Had that been the case, the class still would have been worth the meager tuition. I soon found out that I was in for more than I bargained (and paid) for. I am happy to report that the variety of skills taught in WTS are valuable in the home and office, as well as on the trail.
I figured the first lecture on clothing, boots, and packs would be a bore. How much is there to know about footwear? A lot, I found out. The speaker turned out to be a wealth of information, turning it into a multimedia event. We got to pass around cross-sections of several types of hiking boots. They also brought day packs and backpacks for us to examine. But the highlight occurred when the speaker’s Samoyed walked on stage wearing a dog-pack.
On the technical side, we learned the details of fitting boots, clothing materials, waterproofing, and even some of the history of laced soles. It seems that boots with laced soles may soon be a thing of the past, since the art is only practiced by a few hundred people in Northern Italy.
The map and compass lecture was very exciting. As a lover of maps, I was thrilled to finally find out what all the symbols and numbers on the topos mean. I will never stumble into a mine shaft again. The lecturer was a veteran geologist at the USGS. He showed us how to identify a point on a map by township, range and section numbers. This information was also useful at work, where I write geographic information software. The highlight of the lecture was learning how to properly fold a map.
The next lecture covered nutrition and survival. The highlight was a film reenactment of four cases where people could have survived a situation did not, because of poor planning or judgment. I will now think twice before saying “I think this storm will blow over.” I learned how to create water out of thin air with a solar still. Other topics were survival equipment, signaling and starting fires.
The last lecture covered snow travel and lightning. Highlights included avalanche awareness and of course, the ever popular ice axe instructional film (complete with whimpering dogs).
The three hikes have all been winners, thanks to the excellent leaders and hiking companions. The hike near South Boulder Peak was an ideal exercise in wet weather travel. The mud had a, well, chocolate mousse-like consistency. Eventually, the clouds lifted and we practiced taking compass bearings, rock scrambling, and friction climbing.
Bald Mountain was the site of the map and compass hike. I gained confidence in my ability after taking a bearing, following it 1/4 of a mile and finding the proper marker. Admittedly, this was a relatively easy assignment, but considering I sometimes get lost going from Safeway to my car, I was pleased.
The trip to St. Mary’s Glacier was a blast. I finally got to use an ice axe (properly). In addition we practiced hiking up, down, and across snow slopes. Later, I learned just how unprepared I was when we set up a survival camp. I was also reminded how difficult it can be to start a fire in the wind, when we tested different firestarters.
The graduation hike is at Long Scraggy Peak. Although we won’t need our ice axes, I’m sure I will use plenty of the information I gained in the lectures and trips. In fact, I can use this knowledge on future hikes with the CMC or on my own. I’ll never have to be lost in Safeway again.