Alaska Wilderness Skills

Program  Core Overview:

The Core Curriculum makes up the structure of the programs offered at AKWSkills.

Alaska Wilderness Skills Mission is to provide nature-based education, leadership, and inspiration through experiences in our physical environment, and provide opportunities to enhance awareness, deepen compassion, and increase skills using the ancient arts of tracking and wilderness survival.


To meet the goal of the mission AKWSkills is offering programs/sessions that can be custom designed to meet the needs of the communities we serve.
Programs are classified in age groups.
Age group 7-13
Age group 14-17
Adult 18 -120  
Areas of training are organized into 5 main categories.  

1. Tracking - pattern recognition and anomalies, cause and effect, action and reaction, force vector physics, scientific inquiry, and problem solving;

Experiential Activities:
Bird Language and Concentric Rings – Bird language is not only about knowing what all the bird names are—but what the birds are saying.  Studying bird language introduces the concept of a “disturbance to a base line” – a fundamental principle of tracking. Birds are either alarming, companion calling, mating, or defending territory. Getting to know the feeling behind the call and the individual birds in the sit area, students will gradually get to know the “base line-symphony”, or pattern, against which anomalies to that norm will register as a “disturbance”, or “track”.  
Blind folded Drum Stalk – Feeling and sensing one’s way through the woods without the sense of sight toward the sound of the drum. Removal of the dominant sense, i.e. eyesight, promotes greater reliance on the other (atrophied) senses and helps re-balance overall sensory awareness.
Blind folded String Walk – Similar to the above drum stalk, but the drum is replaced by a string that runs through the woods which the student touches and follows without letting go. This ignites a renewed awareness and appreciation for the topographical changes in the landscape and how they impact our movements, and that of wildlife.
Camouflage – This teaches the student many lessons; dead space, transcending distraction, patience, body control, bird language, learning to lie still—ultimately becoming one with the landscape around them, i.e. “invisible”, and reconnecting to the Earth.
Fox Walking/Wide Angle Vision Intro., Senses, Envisioning – Touching the ground before committing weight is what we want to make the students aware of for it is the basis of all stalking movement. Most important is their speed and that they are feeling the ground before they commit weight. We will review and go over fox walking many times throughout any courses for it is a foundation of awareness, especially when coupled with use of peripheral (i.e., “wide angle”) vision that is ultra-sensitive to movement, including tiny movements.
Landscape Tracking – Appraising the landscape from afar; reading the confluence of topography, vegetation, and soil substrate and understanding how it influences where tracks and trails are likely to be—sensing how tracks are a part of the landscape and the landscape is a part of the tracks.
Sacred Question(ing) – The mere act of voluminous, exhaustive questioning teaches that much knowledge, and often answers, can be gained merely through a passionate and inquisitive mind set that is key to self-learning.
Sit spot – Our capacity to sense the external baseline around us is proportional to our ability to quiet the “internal” base line within us. The sit spot is a special place to reflect on the day, introspect, study plants, animals, birds and the weather— and give thanks. We begin by doing “Sense Meditations” in which students concentrate on each of their five senses and start to recognize the concentric rings around them. We do not use the word “meditation” as it implies an end result.  During the sit spot exercises, we may also offer birdseed to the animals, or sit blindfolded to learn more about the interconnectedness of the land and life around us.  Through daily sit spots, we become aware of and begin to still the waters of our “internal” baseline, allowing us to be less distracted and directed internally, and more focused and aware externally.
Tracking Box – Tracks created in a sand tracking box are replicated in various soil and forest substrates to show that while the physics behind a specific movement and track formation remain constant, the appearance of the track does not—introducing the concept of “track distortion” and the role Nature plays in shaping each track.
Track Analysis – Track identification and measurements to facilitate documentation of tracks and referencing of field guides; including an introduction to interpreting what the animal was doing and why based upon the characteristics of the track.
Tracking Journal – The daily recording of our thoughts, questions and insights to encourage the reflective process and sense patterns of growth and development.
Wisdom of the Marks – This will be an introduction to tracking as the oldest language.   The Wisdom of the Marks is an intense study of how the land is shaped by weather and time.  Students will make a set of marks in a tracking box (a sandbox designed to study tracks) and other substrates each day to enable them to see the changes caused by weather and time.  This is an ancient Apache method of teaching to track. 

 2. Sustainability - sense of place, sense of self;

Experiential Activities:
Natural Shelter Construction – Construction of a universal debris-hut shelter from only natural materials found on the landscape that will sustain person to 0 F. degrees without clothing.
Potable Water –Set up a solar still the day before and check the next day.
Prepare a fire and demonstrate rock boiling for water purification
Set up a grass, charcoal, and sand filter, demonstrate by pouring dirty water through.
Fire Making – Construct and ignite a fire using natural material and bow drill fire method.
Natural Foods – Presentation [only] of the nutritional and medicinal properties of common plants.
Rock Tools – Demonstration of how to spall (i.e., knap) rock and how the first reduction is made.  Give some history of stone tools, how different rocks make tones that are deeper or higher pitch. Students can spall large rocks—done on the ground with gloves/safety glasses or they can also simply hit two rocks together and make and edge to cut with or pressure flake for a finer rock tool.
Lost Proofing – Lost proofing is learning how not to become “lost”.  The skills of wilderness survival and your ability to live with the Earth will create a space where you are never really “lost” because the Earth becomes your home.  Having the awareness of what happens in the psychology of a “lost” person will also help you from becoming lost.  We will go over the stages of a lost person and what to do if you start to lose your way. 

 3. Caretaking -systems theory and thinking, economic and environmental ethics;

Experiential Activities:
Selection and Harvest – There are checks and balances of nature; the interrelationship of plants to plants, animals to animals, and animals to plants, and the two to the soils and waters of the Earth. Thus will introduce the conceptual fabric of life, and how it is vitally important to the carrying capacity of the land and its capacity for self-renewal.
Service Project – Caring for a section of the landscape in a way that demonstrates the value of reinvesting in our natural resources and viewing them as our “Natural capital”.
Journal – See above.
Sweat Lodge (optional) – The sweat lodge is introduced as universal to Humans worldwide, its origins are from long ago when Woolly Mastodons roamed the Earth. We tell of the many forms sweat baths take globally and how this is merely one form.

4. Storytelling - transmission of cultural tradition, belief, history, and knowledge;

Experiential Activities:
Animal Forms (stretch) – By mimicking and envisioning animals’ natural movement students become physically active and build awareness/empathy for the animal world.
Stories/Songs Around the Fire – Sharing experiences to build community and convey lessons learned.
The Show – The last evening is when every group shares a story about something they learned that week.   Presentations are not just “skits”, but a lesson in the age old –oral tradition—of how stories are passed down. It is a lot of fun, with humor and drama, and creates a space for students to share with the group what they learned.

 5. Coyote Teaching - sparking curiosity and fueling self-directed learning with the mysteries of nature.

Tom Brown’s 36 points of Coyote Teaching will be woven into all the activities, discussions and thus learning outcomes. Instructors will also share their personal experiences and discuss how to incorporate this methodology within the K-12 classroom.

Experiential Activities:
Discussions of Readings –
Open discussion of how the readings relate to the actual experiences students are accumulating during their time in the wilderness.

View youth programs to look at  what a day program would look like.


Programs Core