The rough guide
Can tech help you survive in the uncompromising wilderness, with no idea where you are or where you’re going?
It’s unbelievably early on a Friday morning and I’m being bundled into a car, given a blindfold to put on and driven… Somewhere. After hours in the car, during which no-one gave away any information, we arrive... Somewhere. The sun is coming up and the first details of my challenge are revealed: can I survive and navigate alone in the wilderness, and return to my starting point safely, with only tech to help me?
Well, I won’t actually be alone. I’ve got a buddy photographing this entire expedition, documenting everything using the new Fujifilm X-E3, and who I’ll yell at for help if I end up in a 127 Hours- type situation. But he’s been told not to help me with this task.
The team hands me a pair of Salomon X Ultra Trek GTX hiking boots (miraculously in my size), an Arc’Teryx Beta AR Jacket and an Icebreaker Cool-Lite Mira Pullover Hoody. I assume I’m at risk of getting wet, because they then give me a Patagonia Stormfront backpack... And there’s more tech goodies inside.
I’m starting to feel apprehensive, so the team finally tell me the final part of the challenge: I need to find my way to the top of the huge mountain in front of me, and back down again, but on a completely different route.
RABBIT OUT OF A HAT
Going through my backpack full of tech, I first pull out a Black Diamond Revolt headlamp. It’s light out, but only just, so I pop it on. The Revolt has multiple LEDs for different levels of illumination. I don’t need the ones designed for better navigation at night (I hope I’ll be back down by then!) but it’s helping to make things clearer now.
Next out of the bag is a Handpresso Auto Capsule portable coffee maker. Whether you consider this to be true survival gear probably depends on your daily need for coffee. I’m pleased to see it, and could do with a coffee right about now. The Handpresso Auto Capsule is very easy to use: just plug it into your car’s 12/24-volt socket, add water and a capsule, then watch it brew a tasty espresso.
Like some kind of tech magician, I next pull a DJI Mavic Air out of the bag. A drone? Really? When I ask how a selfie drone is supposed to help me climb a mountain, the team says it has features that might be useful to me.
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN
At this point I still have no real idea of where I am, but next out of the bag comes a big, heavy-duty looking phone. Now we’re cooking! It turns out that this phone is actually the Land Rover Explore Outdoor, purpose built for adventuring and exploration. I turn on the phone (mercifully, the team has charged it fully) and the GPS tells me that I’m in Snowdonia. So yeah, all I need to do is find a route that will take me up Snowdon, and another to come back down again. Simple, right?
Surely the easiest way for me to do this is by following some other people up, but the team quickly says that’s against the rules. Also, no one else is foolish enough to be around at such an ungodly hour, so it’s pretty quiet here at the moment. It’s okay, though, because the phone comes loaded with ViewRanger, which gives me access to premium Ordnance Survey mapping.
I search for Snowdonia on the phone and, quick enough, a range of routes appear on screen. I decide upon the PGY track going up, and guess I’ll
WHETHER OR NOT YOU CONSIDER A HANDPRESSO TO BE SURVIVAL GEAR DEPENDS ON YOUR DAILY NEED FOR COFFEE
figure out what track I’ll use to come back down once I get to that point. I’ve also been given some Binatone walkie talkies, but these are more of a safety gadget for staying in touch with the team in case anything goes wrong during the challenge.
After a quick look at a few tutorials on how to get the DJI Mavic Air up and running, its usefulness dawns on me: I’m some way off from the trail I want to join, and can’t see how I’m going to get over to it, so I send the Mavic up for a reccy. Being able to see (via the drone’s 4K UHD camera) that the path
over one rise is too rocky saves me time. Using the Mavic again, I’m able to scout out a gentler path further along.
With the drone’s job done for now, I fold down its propellers and stuff it into the Patagonia backpack. The sun is trying to come out and it’s relativity warm, so off I go. But I soon realise that I don’t have a full water bottle with me. Luckily there’s one more gadget in my backpack of tricks: a LifeStraw Go water filter bottle.
The LifeStraw Go uses a two-stage filtration system to remove bacteria and protozoa, so I can fill it up from natural sources (rivers, lakes and such) and drink without worry. I top it up from a nearby waterfall, down half, then re-fill it to get me to the summit.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY
A few hours in and I’m nearing the top, as evidenced by the increasing cold. The Welsh rain appears around this point too, so I pull on the Arc’Teryx jacket and all gadgets apart from the waterproof phone goes into my pack.
Reaching the summit, I decide to check in with the team back at the start. The Binatone Terrain 850 has a range of 8km, which is just as well as I’m around 7km away from the nearest team member.
The weather is turning ever-colder and windy, so after a decent rest I’m eager to get down. Out comes the Land Rover phone again to help me work out what the fastest trail. I find something promising but have trouble working out where to join it, so I wander around with the phone out in front of me, like an orienteerer with a compass. I’m soon on the trail. Halfway down I also have the chance to refill my LifeStraw Go from a stream.
I radio in again to tell the team which trail I’m on, so they can see me coming (and give me a guard of honour). The terrain gets really rocky and slippery around here, so I’m glad to be wearing Salomon’s firm-grip boots. Arc’teryx’s jacket is also holding up well, and the Patagonia backpack is still keeping all of my gadgets dry and protected.
Ok so this isn’t hardcore survivalism, but I’m no outdoors fanatic and without tech I’d have struggled to find the fastest, safest routes up and down. It takes more than simple relying on GPS co-ordinates to get from A to B.
As I sit in the car, resting my feet, I spy the Handpresso – I have another pod spare, and have plenty of water. I totally deserve one more coffee for the road...
A FEW HOURS IN AND I’M NEARING THE TOP, AS EVIDENCED BY THE INCREASING COLD AND RAIN
RIGHTA headlight can make all the difference on early morning starts, evening descents, or when you’re exploring darker spaces
LEFTWho needs to queue in a cafe when you can use a Handpresso portable coffee maker instead?