RAT goes to Karamat Wilderness Ways

By Patrick Rollins

If you have been interested in survival/bushcraft for any length of time, then you most likely have heard of Mors Kochanski.  Commonly referred to as the grandfather of bushcraft, Mors was the 5thof six children born to Polish Immigrant parents in 1940.  Raised on a farm in Saskatchewan, Mors developed an intense interest in the outdoors and went on to teach survival and bushcraft at University to both students and military units since the late sixties.  He has written numerous books and articles, the most famous of which is the book Northern Bushcraft.  Karamat Wilderness Ways is the school in Edmonton, Alberta owned by Randy and Lori Breeuwsma where Mors, Kelly Harlton, Dale Kiselyk, Jon McArthur as well as several other instructors teach.

(For more information on Mors:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mors_Kochanski. For more information on Karamat: https://karamat.com/about-us/about-karamat-wilderness-ways/)

Wendy Randall attended the Bushcraftfestivalen in Sweden this past year and a couple of our friends there loaded her down with gifts. One of the ones they wanted her to bring to me was a pamphlet by Mors that he had autographed.  Jeff asked if Mors was still teaching and if so, that I should go take a class.  Of course, I agreed that was an excellent idea!  James Gibson and I had been talking about going for quite some time. Our good friend Darren Baird (Eastwoodland Survival) had attended the Summer class at Karamat twice in previous years and had mentioned wanting to go back, so the three of us signed up for the 2019 Extended Winter Bushcraft Wilderness Living Skills/Survival Course.

I re-read Northern Bushcraft for about the 10thtime and paid special attention to the section on clothing. After learning that the temps can drop down to as low as -40 f, I really began to pay attention to layering.  Here in Georgia, we may see a few days each winter where it gets down below freezing, but -40 is a whole different ballgame.  Several folks asked if I was crazy and I explained that if you are wanting to learn winter survival, what better place than Alberta in February?

We arrived safely and spent Friday night in a hotel next to the airport.  I had hoped there would be plenty of snow and I was definitely not disappointed. Saturday morning we made the drive up to Karamat and met the owners Randy and Lori. Very nice people who showed us the shelters and told us to make ourselves at home.  We fired up the woodstove and settled in.  Throughout the night students arrived from all over and there was a total of 18 of us when class started Sunday morning.  We met Kelly Harlton, the lead instructor, who has been learning from Mors since he was 11 years old, and Dale Kiselyk, the assistant instructor.  

The first day was mostly lecture by Mors. I did my best to write down everything he said!  It isn’t every day that you get to learn from a legend.  He covered everything from clothing to hygiene in the wilderness.  

On day two we covered several of the 7 essential bushcraft knots, the king of which is the Canadian jam knot.  Of course, up there they just call it the “jam knot”! Afterwards we went for a long stroll in the snow to gather up spruce poles which we would use to make Roycroft ski shoes, the Harlton “H” bucksaw, and our Roycroft pack frames.  All of which can be made using only a knife and some paracord.

For this trip, I wanted to use the knives of our Camplore series for different tasks.  The spruce poles were skinned using the PR-4 and the Gibson Axe.  The Harlton bucksaw and Roycroft pack frame were carved with the RB-3.  Once the parts were back at camp, we were able to periodically work on them throughout the rest of the week.

Time flies when you are having fun, so the rest of the week flew by very quickly.  We covered tree felling, bush beds, shelters, fire building using twig bundles, types of fires, natural cordage, knife sharpening, and much much more.

This class was some of the most fun I have ever had and I learned a ton of information about cold weather survival.  I can’t recommend it enough to anyone with an interest in wilderness skills and bushcraft.  Huge thanks to Randy and Lori Breeuwsma, Mors Kochanski, Kelly Harlton, Dale Kiselyk, Jon McArthur and everyone else involved in putting it on. Now, I just have to figure out a way to get Jeff to let me go back…