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2010 Pathfinder Gathering

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photo1cUnless you have been living in your survival hooch for the past couple of years, you no doubt have heard the name Dave Canterbury. Even before his recent series Dual Survival (http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/dual-survival/) on the Discovery Channel, Dave had a very vast collection of YouTube videos covering no nonsense, practical survival and woodcraft techniques. As if this guy is not busy enough, he also runs the Pathfinder school that allows people to learn a variety of skills


I got my first introduction to Dave Canterbury in May of 2008. I was turned on to his archery videos by a fellow blogger (everyone has a blog, don’t they?) Since then, I have read almost every bit of text available on his website. I also started watching his YouTube videos, but not all at one time. I would watch what interested me at the time, and over the course of the next couple years, continued watching until I have seen most, if not all of the videos he has publicly available.

Because it felt like I “knew” Dave by reading his work and watching his videos, I was extremely excited to see him get his own series on the Discovery Channel. Obviously, watching these episodes re-peaked my interest in what Dave has been up to. In visiting his website, I saw that his 2nd Annual Pathfinder Gathering was coming up and only one state away! I consider myself a pretty experienced woods bum, but I have to admit that I have picked up a lot of tips and tricks from Dave’s videos. I had learned enough to make me want to attend this gathering. Besides, I have always wanted to learn more about the Pathfinder system and figured this would be an excellent opportunity to find out more…..in person. I have never been big on the “gathering” thing, and this was new stuff for me. Even so, I was off to Rocky Fork State Park in southern Ohio.

The Gathering dates were Saturday July 31, 2010 through Wednesday August 4, 2010. Saturday was more of a show up and get setup day, with no real activities until 7pm that evening. I showed up alone and not knowing what to expect. So I just went about picking a camping spot and setting up. While I was setting up, I was surprised to see vendors on site. It makes complete sense, but I guess I never really thought about it, being new to this “gathering” stuff. The reason I even mention it is because right away I recognized the boys from Blind Horse Knives and JRE Industries and I felt comforted knowing I was in good company, being that I came alone. I think I spent most of my free time with them and Joe Flowers (representing Condor) when he showed up later in the weekend. There were a lot of other event sponsors there as well, and I will list them later.

After camp site setup, some social mingling, and dinner, things officially kicked off Saturday evening. It started with introduction to the folks involved in the Pathfinder school. One of the more interesting things I learned from the introduction is the existence of the Pathfinder Youth Organization. This goal of this organization is to get underprivileged youths into the woods, at no charge to them. Because of the Dave’s support, and generous donation from others to the organization, the kids get setup up with some very nice gear in which to start out with. Now, if you watch Dave’s YouTube videos, you know he is pretty much a hard core, no nonsense individual, in which his military training is very evident. If you watch Dual Survival I personally believe that aspect of his personality is a bit dramatized (you know….TV and all). It is quite the contradiction to see that this rough and tough survivalist has such a soft spot for kids and to get to witness his extremely giving nature. The fact that “kids are free” at his gathering speaks volumes to that point as well. Meeting him in person is the only way to understand this, and even still is hard to put in to words. What I am trying to say is that because of the preconceived perceptions of Dave’s public imagine, the biggest shock of the event was to see the size of the heart that this man has.

Following introductions, awards were given out to existing students of the Pathfinder system. It was good for those of us not involved to see who is currently involved in the learning system. Following that was the presentation of the latest episode of Dual Survival. Since many folks were traveling on Friday evening (the time at which Dual Survival is on the air), the latest episode was played via a computer and projector, recorded from the night before. I did not have that far of a drive and was able to be at home the previous night and already watched the episode. But, I stayed and watched anyway because hearing Dave’s personal commentary on the episode was quite entertaining.

The next day began the real deal, what we were all here for. But before the actual workshops started, Dave gave an introduction to the Pathfinder system approach and shared quite a bit insight on various topics. I don’t want to give out all the details, but they involved survival priorities, energy conservation, thoughts on kits, and an approach to learning new things without becoming overwhelmed. I have been involved in this topic for quite a long time, and still found every bit of this information enlightening. After this bit of personal perspective, the workshops for the next three days covered the following topics:

Bow Building
Tarp Setup and Use
Building a Small Survival Kit
Emergency First Aid
Natural Shelter Building
Basic Fire Building
Cross Bow Making
Tracking
Edible Plant Walk
Solar/Lunar Navigation   
Canteen Cup Cooking
Tribal Traps and Triggers
Trap Use and Placement
Natural Camouflage
Making Flies and Survival Fishing

Intermingled in all of this were a series of skill challenges for both adults and the children. Awards that were given out for these challenges were extremely generous, to say the least.

This is the point where I have to admit to not “covering” the event as good as I should have. I really did not know I was going to be writing this article, and therefore I pretty much only took pictures of the things that interested me. For example, I did not participate in the bow making class as I regularly practice with my recurve at home and felt that I really wanted to dedicate my personal time to other skills. So, I did not take many pictures of folks building bows and all the contests that ensued as a part of that. Those activities were the biggest events of the gathering! So shame on me. The following photos and commentary are of the things from the gathering that did highly interest me, and I took photos of.

Tarp Setup and Use

Tarp setup and use was lead by Pathfinder Lead Instructor Steve “Critr’” Davis and John McCann, owner of Survival Resources. They had one tarp permanently setup and were showing all sorts of cool stuff with other tarps and hammocks. The different tarp materials were also covered along with their pros and cons. I did not take any photos during this lecture as it was mostly neat little tips and tricks shared from these guys that were learned from using these skills over and over again.

Natural Shelter Building

Pathfinder Instructor Derek Faria led the demonstration on Natural Shelter Building. The following structure was the one that was created for the demo.

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Seeing the actual structure and how it was created was only part of what this demonstration was about. What the photo does not show is how the location of the structure was carefully thought out. It was on dry ground, near a water source, shaded during the day, and yet accessible to an open field for rescue signaling options. The different survival scenarios were also discussed regarding when a shelter like this is appropriate (versus a quickie shelter for one night) and how fast you would expect to work on it.

Basic Fire Building

Pathfinder Lead Instructor Steve “Critr’” Davis led us in fire building. Steve covered different ignition sources and fire building materials. All the stuff you would expect from a basic fire building class. Except this class seemed to have a lot of experienced folks in it, and much of the emphasis quickly switched to friction fire. Here is a photo of Steve demonstrating bow drill technique.

Steve was on a table top for all to see. But because of the fragile coal and all the shaking associated with being on a picnic table, the fun had to be moved to the ground.


We had several coals going and even Dave had to jump in for some of the fun.

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Because of the crazy humidity, the tinder bundles were not igniting as readily as you would normally hope for. But, persistence paid off, and we had fire.

Machetes

Joe Flowers, representing Condor, gave us a little talk about Machetes.

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As you can see, Joe brought a large selection of cutting tools to play with, not just from Condor but spanning a variety of makes and models from various countries and manufacturers. He went over shapes, sizes, designs, thickness, regional preferences, you name it. He also showed some proper usage techniques as well as sharpening procedure. Joe had lots of interest and lots of questions. Being an axe guy myself, Joe really piqued my interest in learning and getting to know a new style of tool.

Tracking

Tracking was taught by Joe Kellam. Joe has a resume list regarding tracking a mile long and I cannot even pretend to recreate it here. It was a very large topic to boil down to a small demonstration, but Joe did an excellent job. After discussing the fundamentals of tracks in general, Joe got into some tracking techniques. One of the most evident displays of this that everyone was able to see was the impact that direction of light has on the detection of tracks. Here is Joe demonstrating that in a sand pit.

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Essentially a track can be lit in such a way that its features are not shown, and everything looks flat. If the light hits the track at a different angle, every contour and feature of stands out. All students were able to witness this as we all when in circles around the sand pit. There were many, many more tips like this that Joe shared, but this is one of the ones that stuck most in my memory.

Edible Plant Walk

Edible plants are one of the areas in the outdoors that I have identified as one of my weaknesses for some time. I have been slowly but surely working on it, but it is always much more fun to be in the field with someone knowledgeable than it is to be sitting by yourself with a field guide, scratching your head.

Dave led this walk himself. We went for a short walk around camp and Dave just pointed out things as he noticed them. It always amazes me that when folks are knowledgeable about plants the amount of information and detail they are able to pull out of their head about them! Personally, I need to write stuff down.

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My notes and photos reminded me that we were introduced to black walnut, jewelweed, thistle, poison ivy, willow, curly doc, mullein, milkweed, pokeweed, burdock, teasel, peppergrass and common yarrow. Of course, all sorts of interesting facts about each were shared as well, and it is very likely that I forgot a plant or two. The following photos are of Dave showing us a few of the plants.

Canteen Cup Cooking

Appropriately Rob Simpson, owner of The Canteen Shop (http://www.canteenshop.com/) led the demonstration on Canteen Cup Cooking. Cooking is near and dear to my heart, but even more so with outdoor cooking! So, I didn’t care if Rob was going to be cooking ramen noodles, I wanted to see this.

I only attended one of two sessions, so I am not sure if other foods were covered later. During our session Rob baked up some cheesy potatoes in the fire coals.

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While that was cooking he showed off the Vargo alcohol stove being used with a normal canteen cup stove combo.

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Tribal Traps and Triggers

This class did not happen until the third day, and it was the most anticipated for me personally. This particular class was large, and was broken up into smaller groups. So, it was taught by three instructors. Dave Canterbury, Steve “Critr’” Davis, and Derek Faria. It began with Dave describing his mentality on setting traps. I do not want to give too much of his method away, but it revolves around not having to carve the intricate system of notches that we are all accustomed to seeing everywhere on the web. Instead, the concept is to understand a simple trigger mechanism that can be used in literally hundreds of different scenarios. The idea of “understanding the concept” as opposed to memorizing a “trap blueprint” is a method that very much appeals to my way of learning.

After the initial discussion, we were taken into the woods to see various traps, how they were rigged, how to set them up, and setting them off to see how they worked.

Here is a photo of Steve showing the setup of a Paiute deadfall.

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Here is a photo of the complete trap set up.

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Here is a photo of another trap style used in demonstration.

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Finally, here is Derek demonstrating the final trap that we discussed.

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Making Flies and Survival Fishing

Survival fishing was a topic that was interesting to talk about in the overall survival scheme of energy conservation. Dave Canterbury led this discussion and demonstration. Besides discussing the topic in general, Dave did demonstrations on how to tie fishing flies with anything from a small section of paracord (and inner strands) to using natural feathers found in the woods.

Between this topic and the trapping topic I picked up so many subtle little tips and items that can be carried with you that take up literally no space or weight, but have so many possible uses that it would be hard to justify not carrying them.

Natural Camouflage

Okay, this class was really fun! Mostly because we were able to cover other “students” in river mud. This class was led by Paul Schieter, owner of Hedgehog Leatherworks (www.hedgehogleatherworks.com). Honestly, it was a topic that I did not know I had much interest in until I got to see and learn about it firsthand.

The class began with Paul “hiding” a series of volunteers around us to demonstrate the concepts of how you can literally disappear, and how unaware of surroundings that people are in general. Here are the camouflaged volunteers.

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Paul then covered natural materials that can be used for camouflage. Techniques for how to hide in plain sight, body positions, locations, and uses for this skill. After that, volunteers from the crowd were given their chance to get muddy and hide.

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Next, this motley crew was given direction on how to hide and where to hide.

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The rest of us got instruction on how to slow down and look for things, and in general, be aware of our surroundings. After that, we walked for the woods looking for our hidden classmates. This was one fun time. But then again, I was not one of the muddy ones!

I already mentioned that I did not attend all sessions and therefore did not get to mention all the classes and more importantly the instructors. So, I would like to mention the instructors that have not already be covered. They are Chris Cooper (Pathfinder Student and EMT), Sean Mulhall, and Josh Hamlin. I apologize if I missed anyone, but I think I got everyone.

If you are a knife nut like me, when you watch a show like Dual Survival, you note the make and model of every knife shown. Most of the time in Dual Survival, Dave is seen using his Pathfinder knife, built by Blind Horse Knives (http://www.wildernessoutfittersarchery.com/PathfinderKnife.html) . After using it for filming, Dave graciously gave it back to the owners of Blind Horse. It was out on display and I asked to take a couple photos of it. Here is the bad boy that was used to kill gators, dress turkeys and all the other stuff you saw Dave do.

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As I am wrapping this up, let’s talk about some of the details of the event that I was able to gather from Dave. There were a total of 220 people in attendance including instructors and vendors. Of that, 190 were students and family. There were 120 adult tickets, in which all were sold. Dave’s policy for his gathering is that “kids are free.” This creates a very family friendly environment, and plenty of fun for them to be involved in. This accounts for the additional people beyond the 120 tickets sold.

An article like this would not be complete without recognizing all of the event sponsors. Their generous donations to the event led to every single person in attendance going home with something, and in almost every case, going home with multiple things. Theses sponsors were Canteen Shop.com, Survival Resources, TOPS Knives, The Pathfinder School, American Khukri & Survival Company, Vince Nobel Photography, Hedgehog Leatherworks, Blind Horse Knives, JRE Industries, Guyot Designs, Condor Tool and Knife, and Habilis Bush Tools.

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