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Sharing the art of survival

Mike Allen teaches first aid, compass skills at MHCC


by: JIM CLARK - Mike Allen puts a splint on Damas Gakwasi in an exercise designed to show how you would help someone with an injured knee, while deep in the wilderness. Allen will teach wilderness first aid at Mt. Hood Community College this fall.
Left, Allen is a search and rescue volunteer who loves to share his knowledge of the woods with others.When most of us walk over a lawn or in our backyard, we may see nothing but weeds invading the grass.

When Mike Allen walks in such places, however, he sees nothing but food and medicine.

Spend a few minutes with the Mt. Hood Community College instructor talking about what grows around us, and you’ll never look at the world the same way again.

“There’s a just a ton of herbs here that people think are weeds,” he says as he walks through the campus, located at 26000 S.E. Stark St.

by: JIM CLARK - Mike Allen holds yarrow, plantain, heal-all and dandelion and notes such plants contain a variety of of potential uses for humans, from nutrition to medicine. Bending down for a moment, he pulls up some yarrow, a fairly nondescript plant and notes it can be used as a topical application to stop the bleeding of a cut.

Meanwhile, he adds, those annoying prickly blackberry bushes nonetheless grow leaves and roots that can help stem diarrhea.

And dandelion leaves contain vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, D and K, as well as calcium, potassium, iron and manganese, he says.

Of course, if you use pesticides on your lawn or in your backyard, it’s not a good idea to start chomping on everything growing there. But if you’re lost in the woods knowledge of useful herbs can keep you healthy and alive, Allen says.

“This is a hospital,” Allen says, extending his arms to span the woods behind a campus building. “It’s all here right now.”

Survive and thrive

Allen is an emergency medical technician who works with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office as a search and rescue volunteer. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and survival expert who has spent a lot of time in the wilderness, including trips into the forest with only a knife. He knows how to make traps, acquire water, find food and generally live off the land and wants to share his knowledge with others.

“I like to teach primitive survival skills,” he says, noting he’s offering the following three courses this fall at Mt. Hood:

Land Navigation with Map and Compass

This course costs $79 ($69 for seniors) and will teach you how to orient yourself in the woods, understand map symbols, travel with a compass or map, sketch a map, travel in the wilderness and use a global positioning system unit. The course will be offered over an 11-week period, from 1-3:30 p.m. every Friday, starting Sept. 28.

Wilderness and Remote First Aid

Students can learn how to recognize and respond to emergencies in remote or wilderness areas and in zones where earthquakes, hurricanes or other disasters have happened. The class is offered from 2:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, Oct. 2-30. You have to have a CPR/AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) certification to take this course, which costs $125.

AED/CPR for Healthcare Providers

Health care professionals can learn to use an AED and administer CPR. Cost is $65, and the class will be offered from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Fridays, Oct. 5 or Nov. 2. If you want to take the Wilderness First Aid course, you may need this one to obtain your CPR/AED certification.

Be prepared

Allen hopes to eventually expand his course offerings to include primitive survival techniques. For now, he wants Outlook readers to know when it comes to camping, don’t skimp on the basics.

by: JIM CLARK - Mike Allen is a search and rescue volunteer who loves to share his knowledge of the woods with others.Bring a sleeping bag, a flashlight and some sort of knife or cutting tool. Make sure you bring a way to make fire, such as waterproof matches.

It’s also important to bring plenty of water. And no one should go on a hike in the mountains without at least one change of clothes, he adds, and be prepared for inclement weather any time of the year.

“In the mountains, the weather can change like that,” he adds as he snaps his fingers.

It’s also important to know how to use a map and compass. A lot of people don’t realize there’s a difference between true north and magnetic north, for example, he says, and need to learn the difference. In particular, he says, his land navigation course will equip novice campers with the knowledge they need to not get lost in the woods.

Learning the ropes

Damas Gakwasi, 21, a senior majoring in biochemistry at Portland State University, as well as a custodial employee at Mt. Hood. Gakwasi recently went on camping trip with Allen to Eagle Creek and says he learned “tons.”

“I learned basically how to survive and how to use a compass and a map in the woods,” he says. He adds that he also learned how to make a fire in the woods, how to build a lean-to and how to triangulate his position so he wouldn’t get lost.

“I was surprised how little you really need to survive,” adding Allen also taught him what plants to eat — and not eat — as well as how to set snares to catch small animals like squirrels or chipmunks or frogs should you need meat.

“His knowledge is so vast,” likening Allen to a living encyclopedia of wilderness knowledge, adding that he plans to keep informally studying with the instructor.

“I want to feel as comfortable as he does in that environment.”

For more information on Allen’s courses, call 503-491-7235 or visit This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..