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Wilderness survival tips by CCC mentors

Rob Bhatt

In December 1994, a Bay Area attorney survived being stranded in a blizzard for more than 48 hours in a snow cave he built after getting lost in a whiteout while skiing at Squaw Valley.

In December 1995, two Sacramento-area teen-agers stranded overnight while hiking near Horsetail Falls without supplies survived the night by building a campfire. Smoke from that fire later helped rescuers locate the missing hikers and help bring them to safety.

Happy endings like these are largely the result of wilderness education – the topic of a special program for area students presented Saturday by California Conservation Corps members.

The event, which took place at the CCC camp near Echo Summit, featured tips on building shelters, starting campfires, reading compasses and packing for wilderness expeditions.

“Most of us volunteered to do this because we thought it would be neat to mingle and interact with the community,” said Jason Schierling, one of the roughly dozen CCC members who served as project mentors.

The Wilderness Skills Day was the third in a series of CCC mentorship projects with local youths. Past events included a construction workshop. Boys and Girls Club members at South Tahoe Middle School built shelves for an equipment shed under the tutelage of CCC mentors.

The mentor program was created and coordinated by Americorps volunteers Rhonda Dincau, Amy Branstetter and Susana Mershon.

“We have been focusing on education, recreation and pairing up with community service,” Mershon said.

During Saturday’s project, eight middle and elementary school students spent a sunny day at the camp learning about survival techniques needed to understand and enjoy the outdoors. Some of the youngsters are in the Club Timberwolf, a middle school activities program organized by Tahoe Youth and Family Services.

“I learned how to build a fire and a shelter,” said Marisol Perez, a 12-year-old middle school student. “It was fun.”

Although the students may currently be too young to go off into the wilderness without their parents or adult supervision, fire building and compass reading are skills that can last a lifetime.

So are shelter building skills, which could be handy if the youngsters were to get lost while on a trip with others.

“I’d emphasize staying in one spot,” said corps member John Schierling. He gave the advice while lining fallen tree limbs against a rock to demonstrate one type of shelter.

“You’re usually found during the first 24 hours if you stay in one place,” he added. “If it’s cold or night is approaching, you’re going to need a shelter to block you from the environment. If you’re with a group, stay together. But the main thing I’d emphasize is, don’t leave the sight of your parents or the people you’re with.”

Besides learning the skills, the youngsters went on a hike and were treated to lunch and snacks donated by the bakery at Lucky’s supermarket, McDonald’s and Sierra Deli.


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