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Monday, October 12, 2015


By: Dude McLean and Alan Halcon

Alan and I had just finished an interview for a possible Wilderness Way article. A field editor’s work is never done. As we were driving through the San Gabriel Mountains, I asked him if he had to work the next day.

He said, "No, and no work the next day either."

"Very convenient! We’re going into the bush right now with what we have in our pockets" I responded with a smile. "We can’t take anything we have in the SUV."

"Okay, let’s go!" Alan responded without hesitation.

Halcon and I had been talking about doing this kind of thing for quite some time. For some reason, this time it fell into place, so we went for it.

Halcon had on shorts, t-shirt, sandals, cap, and sunglasses. In his pockets he had a Kershaw knife and keys with magnesium and flint striker.

Dude had on long pants, a t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, hat, and kerchief. In his pockets he had a Swiss Army Knife--model Rucksack. He also had keys with a magnesium and flint fire-starter.

We drove up a remote, twisty canyon road and headed down an unidentifiable road, as far as the trail would allow us to drive. Knowing it was noon and getting late, we parked the vehicle and headed into the bush… post haste!

Our first order of business was finding a suitable location to build our campsite for the night. We followed a very dim trail, parts of which were difficult to find. We figured we went into the bush about a mile, maybe a bit more.

Along the trail, en route to our campsite, we gathered yucca leaves, which would serve us well for various projects including securing our shelter.


We found a glade surrounded by rivercane, willows and cottonwood. Alan cut some rivercane for the lean-to while Dude put the pieces into place. The cane was pretty easy to cut and the work progressed pretty fast.

Dude took the yucca and shredded the leaves into thin fibers in order to secure the shelter There was no need to twist the fibers into cordage. The yucca fibers would be plenty strong for our intended uses.

Alan constructed a heat reflector out of rivercane, so the heat would be reflected back into our leanto.

Dude gathered some rocks for a three-fold purpose. One, to line the fire pit, so we might be able to cook on the heated rocks, since we had no containers or utensils of any kind. Secondly, we were making a fire-bed. Third, we were to heat stones to boil water and perhaps make some soup with the food we gathered… the stones were useful and answered our needs on many levels.

With our lean-to in place and our heated rocks in position, covered with a generous amount of earth, we lined the inside of the lean-to with leaves from the surrounding cottonwoods and willows. This would further insulate us from the cold ground.

Water was one of the first obstacles we needed to overcome. While we were sure the water was good enough to drink, we did not want to risk getting sick. We looked around for a while, in search of a rock with a suitable depression, or some trash bottleor can to hold water, but didn’t find one. In the end, we hiked back to where we had gathered the yucca leaves and collected about a three foot section of the yucca stalk. Dude took careful aim at splitting the stalk in half and carefully cutting out the pithy fiber, making a trough out of one of the split halves.

We chose yucca as our water vessel because of its pithy center, which made it easy to carve out. We would like to point out, however, we could have made a water trough out of a harder wood, but it would have only taken a little more time to carve out.

Alan started a fire and placed several small stones into the fire. Once the stones were sufficiently heated, Alan took a wrist sized branch, whose end he had whittled into a sort of shovel, scooped up the piping hot stones and placed them into the water filled trough where they quickly boiled the water, to the point we felt the water was purified and good enough to drink.

While filling our trough with water we noticed there were trout in the stream, a great sign as we were both hungry.
We both started making a net from the yucca strips. While we’re both versed in making nets, it still took about five hours of construction. Again, we didn’t twist the yucca into twine, as that would have added more time to the construction process. Besides, for our intended use, the yucca strands were more than adequate.

Dude cut a green willow branch, bent it back on itself, and secured it in a circle with another yucca fiber. We then secured the net onto the willow branch, with additional yucca strips, to complete our dip net.

By this time it was getting so late and chilly that the fire became our most welcome guest.

We ate the wild edibles we had collected on the way in, as we discussed our goals for the next day.

Morning came early, at zero dark thirty. Our night was pretty comfortable and warm. Our fire reflector worked well as did our firebed along with our padding and blankets made from leaves.

Armed with our net and fishing skills we proceeded to go after our prey… TROUT! It only took a few minutes to catch two, the one you see here and the one that got away from Alan, because he tried to pose with it for a picture opportunity. 

Alan is a big fan of sushi, Dude, not so much, so we cooked the trout on the spit back at camp. Along with some wild edible plants, our meal was delicious and satisfied our hunger.

After a successful day, we settled into a quiet time. Dude took another piece of yucca stalk and made a fire kit, a place where he could keep his primitive fire-making tools secure and dry. Alan took the net and checked the integrity of all the knots. During this time, we discussed the day’s activities and told stories as we waited for nightfall to arrive.

Our fire went out during the night! One of us was too lazy to keep it going. We won’t mention any names, but let’s just say Alan already had one screw up by losing a fish, and he certainly wasn’t going to screw up twice.

While it got chilly, we still managed to keep relatively warm because of our fire bed and our thick blanket of leaves.  Morning rolled around quickly, or so it seemed. We managed to stumble down to the stream, filled our yucca trough, made a fire, heated rocks and purified our water…. Aaaahhh! A hot breakfast.

We hung around camp a few more hours, deciding whether we should actually leave or not. In the end, we concluded if we stayed out another night, we might not have a real home to return to.... But then again, Alan didn’t know if he could deal with Dude any longer.

We finally decided it was time to go and proceeded to break down our camp. While Alan completely dismantled the shelter, Dude made sure there was absolutely no trace of fire.

Our hike back out was relatively uneventful, other than the satisfaction of having successfully overcome the challenge "With what we had in our pockets," and not having killed each other.

Hmmm! Now that we’re back in town, it’s only a matter of time before either one of us springs this challenge on ourselves again…. Knowing each other as we do, it’ll probably be windy, cold, and raining. 


  1. this article on the Dirttime forum attracted many comments over a few years time...


  2. This remains one of the most entertaining ideas and stories I've read. The Yucca is an incredible resource throughout the SouthWest. After reading that article the first time, I gathered some leaves from plants on my own property, proving for myself that it will make some very, very nice cordage with just a little effort. Inspiring!

  3. ...and I should have said, thanks again Dude! (two thumbs up)

  4. thanks Dave for your kind comments .. it was a fun time and hope some of the skills showed through... one has to be in the bush and apply what they know.. yucca is not only good to eat when the stalk is green it provides soap and outstanding cordage plus shelter ... and tools