Desert Survival

In 2007, I survived for 28 days in the deserts of the Escalante region of Southern Utah. I was a student of the oldest primitive living school in the United States, the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS).

The course is not for the faint of heart, and has had 3 fatalities in it’s 50+ years. One happened in the late 60s or early 70s, and not much is publicly available on that one. The second death happened in the late 1980s. Apparently a student trapped a squirrel which was carrying fleas infected with Yersina Pestis, or Bubonic Plague. That student passed away a few weeks after the course completed. Ever since then, the instructors have insisted on singing all fur off of any animals caught. This didn’t bother me; my only trapped animal was a lizard.

The third fatality happened the year before I went. Apparently the student had done no training at all in preparation for the course, and was severely out of shape. He died of dehydration on the first day, apparently only several hundred yards from a water source.

Prior to 2007, you started the course with no water bottles. Your stomach is the best canteen you own, so you were encouraged to fill your belly up at the water sources you found. Water bottles were earned after completing the first 5-6 day impact period. My class was the first to be given water bottles from the start.

In those 28 days, I dropped 31 lbs, as I covered almost 250 miles of Utah desert. I created my own firestarting kit, making fires through friction (I got to where I could get a fire going in under 5 minutes). I went almost 6 days without eating, and hiked dozens of miles through the desert navigating by starlight. My body changed – particularly my sense of smell. When I got back to civilization, I went for a hike with my future wife, and found that I could detect fruit from dozens of yards away. (It was September, and shepherdia berries, paw-paws, and wile persimmons were all ripe). That intense sense of smell soon diminished as I settled back into a comfortable modern life, but my body was absolutely capable of things I had never suspected. It just took an extreme environment change to bring that out.

Makes me wonder how many other hidden abilities are lying latent within us, just waiting for the right environment to be brought out.

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