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The Wilderness Survival Challenge

A Primitive Skills Challenge for Teens

Nine days learning and practicing survivals skills in the wilderness of Colorado.


8-10 participants, ages 14-20–flexible


Wild areas around Paonia, Colorado


July 27-August 4, 2019


Early bird price, before May 1: $850
After May 1: $925

The Overview

The day you arrive, we’ll jump right into it and head out into the woods carrying virtually nothing and spend the night.

After a night of roughing it, we’ll be motivated to learn what it takes to be more comfortable in the backcountry, and we’ll head back to the High Desert Center Campus for a couple days and nights to build our skills.

More prepared, we’ll head out into the woods with minimal equipment for 5 days. We’ll find our food, build our fires with bowdrills, spend nights under simple blankets in shelters and generally experience the rawness of wilderness and the hunter gatherer lifestyle.

We’ll return lean and confident with stories we’ll treasure for a lifetime.

More about the Wilderness Survival Challenge

Course Goals

To gain the skills and confidence to live simply in the wild and thrive.
To experience new things and live high adventure.
To create friendships, fun and crazy stories.

You’ll practice–bowdrill fires, making traps, hunting and gathering, eating wild edibles, building shelters, using throwing sticks, navigation, tracking and more.

Who is this for?
Teenagers age 14+ who want experience the rawness and beauty of the world and themselves. We create an environment that is safe and loving in which we can also feel scared and challenged. Participants must be able and willing to comfortably hike 5+ miles in a day and live with simple and variable foods.

The Staff

Dev Carey
Dev Carey, tanned his first deerskin, made his first arrowhead and friction fire, and trapped his first animals over 35 years ago. Since then he has led countless nights out with young adults, often carrying nothing but a knife and a way to boil water. He is currently the director of the High Desert Center.

Cooper Woods-Darby
Cooper Woods-Darby went on a two-week survival trek with Dev over 20 years ago that included eating porcupine around a fire before spending the night without sleeping bags in a home-made shelter. Cooper has been taking young people into the woods for over a decade and is the founder and director of Whisper Walkers.

The Wilderness Survival Challenge FAQs
Most days we’ll be up early and filling the day with learning survival skills or exploring the wild in search of something to eat or a good place to camp.At the High Desert Center in Paonia, Colorado.

The program fee includes everything while the group is together but does not include your individual transportation to and from Paonia. You will need to provide your own health insurance. You will also be asked to come with some minimal outdoor equipment, like a sleeping bag and good walking shoes. An equipment list will be provided after you are accepted to the program.

We are accustomed to meeting the needs of vegetarians and vegans, although it’s tougher to get full while living off wild foods without eating meat. If you have special food needs that aren’t easily met with a simple, whole foods based diet, you might need to supplement with your own snacks. Please talk with us well in advance about your special needs.

Participants should already be in decent shape by the time they arrive, able to comfortably walk six miles in two hours while carrying a light pack that contains food, 2-3 liters of water, and some layers. We also suggest training on hills beforehand as much of the terrain is steep.

We will ask you to sign an agreement form that includes:

No use of drugs (including tobacco and marijuana) and alcohol.
Doing your share of cooking and cleaning.
Abiding by fire and general safety procedures.
Participating fully in program activities unless there is agreement otherwise.

Participants, and their parents if participants are not legal adults, will be asked to sign a release form before the program starts acknowledging the risks associated with this program. They include the risks inherent to backcountry travel in rough and remote county,
Participants are often unsupervised by staff during days off and certain adventures.
Participants, by consent, may also engage in dumpster diving, skinny dipping, and other unconventional but safe adventures.

After the interview, if you have been offered enrollment, we will hold your spot for two weeks and ask you to make a deposit of half the tuition and send in medical history and consent forms as well as an acknowledgement of risk form. When we receive these, we will formally accept you and give you a spot in the program.