PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – You’ve probably seen reality TV shows such as “Survivor” or “Naked and Afraid,” where people have to use their wits to survive in the wild. But, what’s it like in real life?
It turns out, there’s a school in our area that teaches people how to survive in the wilderness.
Survival Training (Pt. 1):
KDKA-TV’s David Highfield met up with Erik Kulick, owner of True North Wilderness Survival School, as he took a group of students into the woods of Quebec Run Wild Area in Fayette County.
His courses teach skills that would be useful if a walk in the woods turned into something more challenging.
Recently, in South Carolina, a father and his two kids went for a quick walk in a national park, but they got lost. They wound up drinking rotten water and attempting to eat raw turkey eggs, before they were rescued 60 hours later.
Kulick is trained as a Wilderness EMT and wants people to have enough knowledge to be prepared for similar situations.
In addition to knowing what to do, Kulick says staying calm is paramount.
“You have trained ex-military who don’t survive in similar situations, and a 16-year-old girl with nothing gets through,” said Kulick. “And it’s because one of them panicked and the other one didn’t.”
He shows the group of students how to build a shelter using what someone might have with them, in this case a rain poncho.
He also describes the type of knife that’s most useful to have and shows how to tie knots with parachute cord. Even Kulick’s beginner courses are extensive. This group was staying overnight in the woods.
Kulick says 60 percent of his students are women, but this class happens to be made up of all men.
Jason and Robby Swiech are brothers who wanted to take some classes before they go hiking out West.
“The more I get out here with people who actually could survive, I realize it’s not so much tons of neat little tricks, as much as it is mental preparation,” said Robby Swiech, of Bridgeville.
Also part of the group was Jeff Brusoe and his 11-year-old old son, Paul, from Morgantown.
“They make it look easy on TV,” said Brusoe. “And it makes you wonder, can you actually try it? Can you actually do the same thing?”
As for those reality shows, Kulick says for the most part, “They’re not based in reality.”
However, he says some shows are better at being realistic than others, but some of the programs actually make him cringe.
“People see this sort of stuff on television and it looks easy, or they read about it in a book, and they think they can just go out and do it,” said Kulick.
Kulick used to go kayaking and backpacking often, but he says about ten years ago, he got lost with a family member in the woods.
“I realized at that moment, despite how skilled I thought I was, I really didn’t know that much,” said Kulick.
He began taking classes himself. That’s when he became Wilderness EMT. Later, he opened the school and says he’s seen steady interest from students.
“I think part of it is, people are kind of surprised that there’s a school like this in this region,” said Kulick.
Survival Training (Pt. 2):
He showed Highfield how to build a fire, even in the pouring rain.
First, they gathered dead wood – wood that would be dry enough to burn easily.
Then, Kulick created a pile of the thinnest branches, with a larger stick under one end that can be moved to allow oxygen in to fan the flames.
Kulick is a big believer in being prepared, so rather than starting a friction fire, which can take hours, he has with him something called a flint and steel.
He also pulls out some cotton balls dipped in Vaseline, which helps the cotton ignite faster.
Highfield then used the flint and steel to send sparks onto the cotton balls which in turn, light the twigs above on fire.
Kulick also tested Highfield by having him use a compass and map that showed hills and valleys to see if he could find his way to a selected spot in the woods.
Despite what Highfield’s instincts told him to do at one point, he followed the instruction given by Kulick and the map-and-compass approach guided him out of the woods.
Classes vary in price and complexity.
Some of the courses currently listed on the True North Wilderness Survival School are $75, but an advanced survival class that stretches over the course of several days is $420.