Nikki van Schyndel was once a urbanite, but threw off modern comforts and security to spend nearly two years living off the land in the pristine wilderness of the Broughton Archipelago, a cluster of isolated islands off northern Vancouver Island. There, along with her companion, Micah, she faced hunger, predators, foul weather, and had to skin bears and make clothes from cedar bark. Van Schyndel is a graduate of Dominion Herbal College and has trained under some leading survivalists, trackers, and primitive artisans. She is also the author of a new book: Becoming Wild: Living the Primitive Life on A West Coast Island, just published by Caitlin Press.
Nikki van Schyndel with Cricket. Van Schyndel now lives in a log cabin in remote Echo Bay, where she runs a wilderness tour company.
We asked van Schyndel for her top tips for how to survive in the B.C. wilds. Here is her list:
Top six things to bring with you in the wilds of B.C. (Based on the Sacred Order of Survival)
Pocket Kit or Backpack Kit
Knife or hatchet/machete
Deep breathing reduces panic. We have an amazing pair of lungs already so let’s bring a knife.
Garbage bag or tarp
I’ve slept in a garbage bag stuffed with leaves in the winter and escaped hypothermia.
Metal cup or pot
Boiling water with rocks in a burned out wooden bowl you first had to make dampens the survivalist’s spirit, especially when the heated water ends up murky from ash and charcoal.
Magnesium fire starter
I have built and started a fire faster by rubbing sticks together than waiting for my lighter to dry.
Mouse trap and wire snare, or mouse trap and rope/wire for snare
Don’t get squeamish. In Roman times, people fattened up mice in jars before they ate them and actually they taste okay. Eaten whole, they provide a lot of nutrition for the survivalist.
Chocolate bar or s’mores
Being able to find humour or awe in a serious situation is a key factor for survival; whether in the city or wilderness.
An excerpt from Becoming Wild:
Bumping and grinding along the shoreline, we finally found a safer place to jump from the boat. We scrambled along the slippery rocks, pulling Gribley to safety with only minor dents. About 15 minutes remained before the already dark grey sky would turn out all the lights.
We had entered the second stage of hypothermia, with an increasing loss of motor function, blue lips, and deathly pale digits. We shook uncontrollably. I, luckily, wore a hat, but Micah had left the lean-to wearing only a skimpy amount of winter clothing.
We did a hasty inventory of our supplies. Shivering, I shoved my hands into the pockets of my soaking wet jeans, searching for the survival goodies I should have had. I flashed back to a thought that crossed my mind at the lean-to: “Oh well, Micah has his lighter.” We had agreed to carry a lighter that we would use only in the event of a life-threatening emergency. It became a test of willpower, knowing a quick flick of fire hid in our pockets. However, when we held out our hands now, displaying our offerings, we each held only a knife. No tinder material, no garbage bag, no piece of rope, no lighters, nothing. A deflating silence punctured our shred of gusto.
“Here’s our test of survival,” I thought.