Sweden Exercise Wilderness Eagle

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An intrepid group gather at FDTC Crickhowell for the maiden Wilderness Eagle expedition.

After organizing kit into the most compact selection of dry-bags, we boarded the mini-bus and travelled to the hotel where we had a brief night’s sleep before our flight to Skavska airport in Stockholm. We collected our vehicles and began the long drive north to the campsite at Lit and the  Harken river system. En route we stopped to collect the expedition leader Sqn Ldr Larsson-Clifford from his home and had a delicious lunch of traditional Smorgasbord prepared by Mrs Larsson-Clifford. It  became apparent that evening of how little darkness there is in Sweden during the summer months and how energizing it is. The following morning the luxuries of a wood cabin and hot & cold water were put to the back of our minds on the drive 70kms upstream to begin our adventure.

Our introduction to canoeing was in a force 4 wind! One pair became a little too closely acquainted to the water (twice), but once we had mastered the basics we set off  a few kilometres to a tiny island: home for the night. Wilderness Eagle is about bush craft as well as canoeing so it was important to grasp the essentials of living in the wilderness quickly – fire, shelter and food. Half the group collected firewood and kindling to learn  entry-level fire-starting skills using a ‘strike-a-light’ with birch bark dust and dry grass, while the other half practiced rudimentary knife skills to make mallets from birch branches. Sitting by the water we ate our first meal in the field, cooked on a traditional Swedish murruka over our now blazing fire – whilst trying to avoid being the meal for what seemed like thousands of starving mosquitoes. Unfortunately the mosquitoes were a recurrent theme throughout the trip.

Next morning the cooks made porridge and coffee for breakfast and flat breads for lunch. We broke camp and set off to tackle the first  rapid. With everyone safely through we enjoyed a gentle paddle down to the first  portage and our midsummer campsite. The bush craft skills for this day were foraging, more woodcarving practice and making fire with a flint & steel. A few of the more energetic went out onto the river for a midnight  paddle in the twilight.

Midsummers’ day proved unseasonably windy and unfortunately we were heading into on a wide lake section. The highlight for me was spotting a small group of reindeer on the bank. Sunday proved an action-packed day.
We continued to practise foraging, with the mantra: “no ID, no eat” firmly ingrained. Our construction skills were tested that afternoon – the brief being to build a suitable shelter for two people for one night. One team  made a cosy, robust shelter with space for the fire outside while the other team became distracted by decorative features and architectural design rather than practical construction and it is fair to say there was a clear  winner.

It was now (four days into the wilderness) that we discovered the issue insect repellant is actually really effective, however, it does melt plastic watch straps. Following supper we all settled down to put our woodcarving  skills to the test making spoons, which were to be judged at the end of the exped. This was the first night that I felt really at home in the wilderness, sitting under the fiery night sky, looking out over the river, whittling my  small piece of wood into a recognizable shape.

Monday dawned sunny and clear for our paddle to the final campsite. We passed several beaver lodges and began to see a few signs of civilization as we made our way to the longest portage of the trip: approximately 800m. We negotiated the final set of rapids (with more expertise) before stopping at a small shingle spit for our final night. Morale was high as we ate all the remaining food and sat round the campfire in the evening  sunshine chatting and making the finishing touches to our spoons. Of particular joy was the total lack of mosquitoes on this night.

Our last day in the wilderness got off to a laid back start with a final breakfast and spoon whittling. The sun was high in the sky and spirits equally so during our final paddle. The change in land along the river was obvious  as forest was replaced by rolling green fields and summer houses. On returning to Lit we emptied out the canoes then returned to the water to practice capsize drills. Great fun with everyone getting soaked – a good    pre-wash before a long anticipated hot shower. We stayed the night in the wood cabins again before the long journey back to FDTC Crickhowell.

At the final de-brief we all agreed that the trip had been a great experience and pushed all of us in different ways to achieve things we would not have thought possible. GETC, part of 22 Group runs the Eagle schemes and are keen for as many people as possible to participate. For more information on all the Eagle schemes please see the  on all the Eagle schemes please see the GETC home page on the RAF intranet.