WILDERNESS TRAINING How do adventureers prepare for a long wilderness journey?  Four Oregon teenagers explore what you need to climb a glacier
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Getting Started

Begin the lesson by asking these questions: Do you like hiking in the woods? What equipment do you take on a camping trip? Most camping areas have at least some comforts, such as trash removal, trails, and rest rooms, but real wilderness has none of those things. How would you plan for wilderness travel, such as climbing a mountain? How much and what kinds of food would you take? How would you find shelter, build a fire, and stay warm? How would you navigate with no trails or constructed landmarks? How would you avoid falling on a steep slope? What specialized equipment would you need?


In 1997, four teenagers from Oregon won the Outside Adventure Grant for their proposal to climb Mt. Sir Sanford, a remote peak in the Canadian Rockies. To get there, these wilderness enthusiasts had to kayak and hike to the base of the mountain and then climb up a glacier to the peak. The group's winning proposal included tracking and documenting the habits of an endangered species of caribou along the way. The grant outfitted them for their expedition.

As these outdoor adventurers could tell you, alpine climbing and snow travel require particular skills and knowledge. Climbers must have good strength and endurance. They must work effectively in the thin air at high altitude. 

Because climbing in the cold uses up calories rapidly, these mountaineers need to consume foods that provide them with the right ratios of protein to fat to carbohydrate, but they mustn't carry food that's too heavy or perishable. 

Successful climbers also must know how to avoid frostbite and other cold-related problems. The right choice of fabrics and the right layering techniques allow them to stay warm and dry throughout the journey. 

Finally, the adventurers need to be skilled at anticipating, preventing, and stopping falls before anyone is hurt. Even on a flat glacier, falls are a danger because of the deep trenches called crevasses (sometimes hidden by snow) in the glacial ice.

How do climbers manage to stay on steep slopes? The idea is to keep three of the four limbs solidly fixed to the surface at all times. Spiked boot clamps called crampons allow solid footholds, even on vertical surfaces. In addition, climbers can secure their handholds with special ice axes. 

Mountain climbing safety depends on climbers belaying (securing) each other with ropes. The National Outdoor Leadership School identifies four elements of a belay: friction, anchors, each climber's position relative to the others, and communication among climbers. The terrain to be climbed is often rated according to its difficulty (rather like the degree of difficulty rank in the sport of diving), so each belay will be a different combination of the four elements.


1. There are many different kinds of wilderness. How many can you name? How would you expect exploration equipment and supplies to differ for various kinds of wilderness?

 2. When a wilderness area is opened to people, the environment often degrades because people leave behind trash, pick endangered plants, or trample sensitive ecosystems. What is the best way to allow access to wild places without damaging them?

Construct your own navigational tool with some household Items.


 Almost a thousand years ago, the Chinese writer Shen Kua first described the use of a magnetic compass in navigation. At the time, this "orienting" technique was practiced almost exclusively by seafarers. It wasn't until the 1500s that the compass became popular as a land-based navigational tool. Its rapid and widespread acceptance among landlubbers was probably due to its "double duty" as an inexpensive pocket sundial.

The first compasses were most likely made of a naturally-occurring magnetic rock called lodestone. If allowed to rotate freely, this magnetic material comes to rest aligned with Earth's magnetic field. Another valued characteristic of lodestone is its ability to transfer magnetic properties to iron and other metals.


  • permanent magnet
  • straight sewing needle
  • small bowl
  • plastic foam chip or flattened noodle

  • 1. Fill a small bowl with tap water.

     2. Magnetize the needle by stroking it 50 times with the permanent magnet. Stroke the needle in only one direction.

     3. Position the needle lengthwise in the center of the foam chip (or noodle).

     4. Carefully lower the chip and needle into the center of the water-filled bowl.

     5. Observe the movement of the chip.

     6. Move the bowl-compass to different locations, near walls, large metal objects, etc. Note in your journal what happens in each location.


     1. What causes the chip to move?

     2. Can you tell which is the north-seeking end of the needle? Explain.

     3. Suppose the needle had been stroked in the opposite direction. Would that affect its pointing direction? Suppose the needle was stroked back and forth. Would that affect its use as a navigational tool? Explain.

     4. In what locations is a compass most reliable?


    Brian Show Number: 1501


    Books and articles

    Angier, B. (1973) 
    Wilderness gear you can make yourself.
    Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

     Boga, S. (1997)
    Orienteering: The sport of navigating with map and compass.
    Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

    Dash, J. (1995, Mar 19) 
    The active traveler: The adventure guide's hard reality.
    Newsday, p. 8.

     McManners, H. (1996)
    The backpacker's handbook.
    New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc.

     Tilton, B. (1995, April 14)
    Wilderness U. Backpacker, p. 70.

    Web sites

    Outside Online
    Outside Adventure Grants

    Princeton University Outdoor Action Program

    National Outdoor Leadership School

    Try This:

    Design a wilderness training ground on the playground of your school. What would be a good training exercise for hiking? Climbing? Endurance?
    Try This:
    Stage a mock-up camping or climbing accident and practice first-aid procedures on pretend "victims." What are good first-aid procedures? What are some dangerous first-aid procedures to avoid?

    Try This:

    Write your own adventure grant. It must be "wild, original, and meaningful." It should explain what you want to do, what equipment you need, your plans for training, and how you will accomplish your goals. 

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    Copyright 1997,
    Twin Cities Public Television

    We encourage duplication for educational non-commercial use.Educational materials developed with the National Science Teachers Association.NEWTON'S Apple is a production of KTCA Saint Paul/Minneapolis.Made possible by a grant from 3M.