Part of my training to become a wilderness pedagogue also includes uilding and sleeping for three nights in a wilderness hut. One night is “done”.
Select a location
I talked to my helpx host about my plan and she told me that basically everywhere in this area is deer and elks. She suggested to go close to the mountain. The problem there: Only coniferous forest and it’s close to a mine.
There are three big caves that lead into the darkness…
I don’t know what’s in there and I actually don’t want to know.
Where should I build my hut?
My first choice was under a tree, soft ground, protected by branches. But then my eye caught a rectangle on the ground, someone had been lying there. Probably a deer.
A few meters away, I found footprints of hoofed mammals that led towards the tree. I didn’t want to get into a fight with a deer in the middle of the night by sleeping on its favorite spot.
So I kept looking.
I found trails (probably elk, deer and boars) and identified two different kinds of animal excrements. So I knew this was definitely an area where there was active wildlife.
I found a spot where there were no animal tracks nor animal excrements in a circle of approximately 20 meters.
Building a hut – stem, sticks, branches, leaves
First of all, you need a long, slim stem that is a about a head longer than your body. Make sure it’s not rotten, otherwise your whole construction will collapse.
Then search for two branches, one of them should be shaped as a Y. Stick the two branches together, so that they build a triangle with its diagonals shaping an X on top. You can press the bottom part into the soil for more stability. Take the stem and place it onto the X, make sure it’s stabile.
Now search for sticks and place them onto the stem and make sure there is only little space in between them.
Next, collect brushwood and put it on top of the sticks.
And now comes the most work: Collect leaves.
You will need A LOT of leaves, preferably dry and big leaves. And colorful so that your hut looks pretty. Just kidding 😀
A 30 cm layer on top and fill the whole hut. Make sure that the leaves inside are pressed together, you don’t want to have lose parts because cold air will get through.
I was very lucky. Gardeners at a nearby cemetery had been blowing leaves from the grass onto a pathway and I could just take them.
I told myself over and over that I had been sleeping in a tent before and a hut is not so much different from sleeping in a tent.
Try not to think about what could happen (“an elk might lie down on your hut and you get stuck”) or who you could have to deal with (an angry boar or a crazy badger). This will increase your fear.
I used tea tree oil and anti mosquito spray against ticks and insects.
Make sure you are warm and dry when you get out there.
In our wilderness pedagogy training we can choose what to wear but it is suggested to just sleep in underwear
I was wearing Norwegian thermo underwear, rain pants, two pairs of socks (one of them thermo), a long woolen sweater, rain jacket, tuque, gloves.
What you need
Not much – a torch, a water bottle and a phone to call for help if necessary – like in the case of a moose lying on your hut 😉
A little bit of extra help
I had a glass of white wine to push up my braveness level 😉
My first night in a leaves hut
When I walked to my hut, I didn’t look right or left, scared I would see glowing eyes in the dark, so I just focused on the ground and tried to memorize where my hut is. Good that I had to walk this path 8 times 5-7 minutes each way to get the leaves there.
It took me only 5-10 minutes to squeeze myself into my hut. You are supposed to get your whole body in there, but I left my upper body out of the leaves, still in the hut. I had left the entrance free of leaves.
I’m scared of complete darkness, so I managed to have my head a little bit in the hut but far enough out to see some shadows and some grey sky light between the branches of the tree I was lying under.
My back was quite cold after some time and it spread to my arms.
I shoveled some leaves on and under my upper body but it didn’t help very much.
I distracted myself with thinking of a warm, bright place and after a while I felt warm again.
I wasn’t able to move my legs
I know I built the hut in the right way because I couldn’t move my legs which made me quite uncomfortable…at some point my back started to hurt and my tense muscles in my neck made my tinnitus getting worse and worse.
Of course this could also have been a sign of mental stress for suppressing fear
but I didn’t want to accept it.
After an hour or so I badly had to pee. When you are kind of stuck in a huge pile of leaves, everything around you is really dark and you don’t know who else is there, you want to avoid getting their attention. So I held it for another probably 30 minutes. But I couldn’t sleep. Out of the hut, peed, squeezed back into the hut.
To my surprise I wasn’t scared (in the beginning…), I just listened to the wind and I couldn’t hear or sense any bigger animal around. After around an hour I heard something screaming (it sounded like a screech owl, but I’m not 100% sure).
Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out – it helped.
When everything was quiet I asked myself a few times “What am I doing here?”
When I couldn’t sleep I had the thought “I did it, I’m lying in a leaves hut, alone, so I can leave now”
When I felt warm, I thought “This is actually not too bad, kind of comfortable”
But then I heard a sound close to my head, like something would dig in the leaves. I told myself that it’s just the wind. But the digging sound was too steady. Not like the wind would blow leaves over the ground.
During my sit spot practice I felt the presence of animals before…
I knew: there definitely was something right behind me.
When the wind all of the sudden carried a smell of an animal into my nose, I snapped.
I think it only took me 2 min to get out of the hut. I didn’t look around to identify what scared me.
It was an ok experience. Not being scared for two and a half hours hours lying in a hut, alone, at night, in the middle of a forest, was interesting.
When I got back to my helpx place (10 minute walk) I felt like I had to watch one episode of New Girl, just to distract my thoughts and get my adrenaline level down.
I felt warm and safe.