History Channel “Alone” Season 3 contestant Dan Wowak, of Mahanoy City in Schuylkill County, provided a winter survival presentation to outdoor enthusiasts at Cabela’s in Hamburg on Jan. 6.
Wowak is owner and instructor of Coalcracker Bushcraft and the Appalachian Bushman School in Ringtown, Schuylkill County, which is a wilderness living school, teaching wilderness living skills from bushcraft to basic survival to advanced survival to long-term wilderness living.
About a dozen or so outdoor enthusiasts, including a couple of children, ventured to an upstairs conference room to hear Wowak talk about his adventures stranded alone in the wild for History Channel’s TV show “Alone” in the summer of 2016 and how they too can survive outdoors during winter.
His survival skills were put to the test during 51 days of freezing conditions in Argentine Patagonia during what was South America’s winter. He was allowed 10 items off a list of 40 and dropped off in a remote location by himself.
“You have to film everything yourself and live off the land as long as can,” said Wowak. “I ended up lasting for 51 days, 54 pounds lighter... It was a huge experience for me to go out there and do that.”
Wowak described the weather as similar to Pennsylvania’s November and December with snow and cold nights. By morning, his water was frozen. The lake had some ice on it. He was cold all day.
“That was very mind opening to survival. I’ve been involved in the survival industry for about seven years at that point so being able to actually go out and put a lot of the things I teach into practice was an amazing experience,” he said. “It taught me a lot because it really came down at the end to not even isolation for me as much as food. I only had nine fish in 51 days, that’s all I ate.”
Wowak, who gives presentations at Cabela’s throughout the year, shared information on basic winter survival in the outdoors.
“Winter is the time of year that is most high risk for people if they’re out recreating in the outdoors. If you get into a situation in Pennsylvania, it could be a life or death situation,” he said. “The temperatures now are zero and wind chills are definitely in the negatives, like today. So if you would get lost and you’re not properly equipped or you don’t have the skill set to be able to stay out a night, or you get injured and cannot come home, what can you do to keep yourself alive?”
Wowak hopes attendees learn from the presentation.
“Number one, my mission all the time, is just to make them a little bit more excited to get outside. I love seeing people outside in the wilderness, in the woods, just doing stuff. I want to give them a little bit of education so they’re a little safer when they go outside recreating,” he said.
Wowak talked about how his love for the outdoors began during his youth, hiking and fishing in rural Schuylkill County, and later hunting, trapping and camping. He had on display items needed for basic winter survival in the outdoors, including layers of clothing, various methods of starting a fire and winter outdoor equipment like snowshoes.
“Survival is the same no matter if it’s warm weather or cold weather, if you’re in the desert or in the mountains, it’s the same basic principles.”
He asked attendees to think about what they need: shelter, water, food and warmth.
“Survival starts before you even leave your house,” Wowak said. “If you went outside right now not dressed appropriately and you were lost and a snowstorm came in and the night fell and you couldn’t start a fire or set up a shelter, there’s a good possibility you’re not going to be alive in the morning... You need to take it seriously when you go out this time of year.”
The biggest thing to do before heading out into the wilderness is to inform someone where you are going and when you should be expected to come back, he said, as well as what that person should do if you don’t return at a certain time frame.
Other tips included how to properly layer clothing, such as choosing wool materials instead of cotton, and not wearing layers too tight as to allow air flow to hold in heat. Also, he suggested removing a layer if doing something physical like collecting firewood, since sweating will later make you cold.
The presentation was about an hour and a half long. He will give his Basic Winter Survival Needs in the Outdoors presentation at 1 p.m. on Jan. 21 in the upstairs conference room.
For more information about outdoor survival and courses by Coalcracker Bushcraft, visit https://coalcrackerbushcraft.com/.