Saturday, December 05, 2009

Ray Mears, Northern Wilderness

I've been aware of Ray Mears for a while now, having heard of him described as Britain's version of Les Stroud, Survivorman. However, I'd never seen any of his videos and after having seen the abomination that is Bear Grylls, another person that gets compared to Stroud, I really didn't care to look much further. However, the Ray Mears documentaries for the BBC were recently recommended to me, and it was mentioned that an episode was filmed in nearby Prince Albert National Park. Well, today I found that video on YouTube (in 6 parts), which I believe is the first in a series.

I am embedding the video here, but if you have the bandwidth, watch it full screen in the highest quality. The full video is about 60 minutes long, but is broken up into 10 minutes segments for YouTube. To see all of the video clips in order, go to the playlist found here. The clips played automatically for me, one after another in order. The production and videography is excellent. The interest, information, and entertainment value are also very high, in my opinion. The focus, at least in this first episode, is not so much on skills or wilderness techniques described, but on the ecology of the boreal forest.

I watched the "Forgotten Forest" episode this afternoon (somewhat accidentally - I didn't mean to watch the whole thing). This evening I watched it again with my wife, at least the 2/3 until she fell asleep, it being past her bedtime. The Forgotten Forest episode was filmed in Prince Albert National Park (PANP), my familiar trekking and paddling grounds. I was able to recognise some of the places shown in the film, just this summer swimming and playing on the beach where he had the small fire with the jack pine cones in the film (I'm about 70% certain on his location). It is great that the park was shown in fall and winter, the seasons I like best in the park. I've been to Grey Owl's cabin on Ajawaan Lake about 6 or 7 times, by foot, snowshoe, canoe & kayak. This summer I brought my kids up to the cabin. It was also very interesting to see him putting into practice the use of the Black River sled, the Snowtrekker tent, and small wood stove. Also, the jacket Mears is wearing is not a parka as it may first appear, but an uninsulated shell cotton anorak, much like that made by Empire Canvas Works. A cotton shell would be breathable, shed the snow, and not tear or burn as readily as gore-tex or synthetic material shells (which work poorly in freezing temperatures).

It's interesting to learn a few more things about my own back yard from a Brit. Ray Mears conveys a great deal of respect and a sense of awe towards something that most folks around here take very much for granted.

The ecologist that is featured during this episode is J. David Henry. His cold-weather clothing looks like something from a MEC catalogue, circa 1986, but obviously it's still working for him after 20+ years. (As an aside, I wonder how much of their current product line will still be in use after another 20 or more years?) His mitts look very much like my MEC over-mitts, but in flashier colours. Henry co-authored a chapter in the book Endangered Spaces titled "Misunderstanding the Prairies." The biography of Henry in my copy of the book, published in 1989, describes Henry as a biology professor in Regina and as a key player in the revision of the National Parks Act and the establishment of Grasslands National Park.

The woman teaching the birch bark biting was Sally Milne a Cree elder from La Ronge. You can find out more about her here: