Kelly Harlton

Bushcraft man standing in forest with neck knife

It took place at Grade 6 camp, I would have just turned 11 or 12, this ‘old guy’ with a beret on his head sporting a thick beard shows up. He starts off by whipping up a pack frame out of 3 sticks, slinging it onto his back, and then continued on by taking us for a 2 hour hike. On that hike it seemed like he must have shown us 100 things. He swooped down, plucked some yarrow leaves, had us crush them to get the strong sage like scent while explaining all the uses. A few steps later he bent down, parted the moss, and pulled up a 3 foot piece of spruce root. In a short moment he had the bark stripped, the root split and demonstrated to us how to make a rabbit snare. The hike continued with “taste this”, “smell this”, “eat this”. This little walk profoundly changed the way I looked at the wilderness. Before that moment it had just been a sea of green trees and grass. It was like the veil of green had just been lifted! I was so enthralled when I left camp, that I began a lifelong quest to collect survival manuals, learn woodcraft, study wild edible plants, gather outdoor gear and clothing, and of course spend as much time as possible stomping around the bush. One year later at the age of 13 I did my first winter overnight solo in the bush. I was known as ‘Camper Kelly’ by my peers until high school. That first hike was nearly 50 years ago. Mors Kochanski later on would joke that I was probably one of his oldest students.

Of course I had to access this ‘new wilderness’ of mine so that got me into canoeing, backpacking, backcountry skiing, and snowshoeing. Hunting and fishing were natural extensions and I was a residence trapper for several years. I did some prospecting and staked a claim when I was 17 where I spent a couple summers placer mining. 

After marrying my beautiful high school sweetheart Judy, we chased the oilfield and moved up to Slave Lake, Alberta where we raised 2 absolutely amazing kids, Pepper Jean, and Taiger John (yes that is their real names). With hundreds of miles of wilderness all around, I was in heaven! We started a family run outdoor business called Wildside Wilderness Connection – instructing wilderness skills and survival, and Kayak and canoe Tours-Rentals-Lessons. the Kayak/canoe portion of the business we shut down in 2009 after 12 years, but the passion for instructing wilderness skills remained.

At some point in time (1989?) I stumbled across a copy of Bushcraft (at the time it was published as Northern Bushcraft). What Impressed me was the stuff in that book actually worked! The trees and plants and animals it talked about were actually in my area! It was like the author had actually gone out and tested what he wrote about! Unlike the bulk of the many survival and woodcraft books I had in my collection. In the photo supplement there was an old guy with a beard and a beret. Nah…it couldn’t be…a phone call to confirm my suspicions, and before you knew it I had my book signed, and Mors’s ‘winter’ and ‘summer’ courses under my belt, and started to tutor under him!

Through these courses I made friends with, and started to network with Randy and Lori Breeuwsma Karamat Wilderness Ways. And began instructing their courses in 2009. Many great ‘bush buddies’ were made in these survival circles, and of course it is was great honour to work under Mors and alongside many other terrific survival instructors, and incredible students, too numerous to name here. Besides the honor of being subcontracted by many bushcraft companies like Karamat Wilderness Ways, Alberta Trapper’s Association, Bear Lake Bushcraft Company, Nature Alive Adventures, Elements of Hayley, Wild by Nature Adventures, NIKO Wilderness Education, and others. I also have to express extreme gratitude for the incredible opportunities to work with groups like the Military, RCMP, Search and Rescue, Canadian Rangers, Alberta Environment, Forest Companies, Resource Companies, Utility Companies, HAC crews, Junior Forest Wardens, Junior Forest Rangers, and the list goes on.

My Other Fun

  • Watching my wife and kids realize their dreams.
  • “Playing” on my quarter section and area (hunt fish paddle explore).
  • Doing cool things as a family (Mountain biking in Moab, Surfing in Costa Rica, etc).
  • Every other year for 35 years, a 2 week fly-in whitewater wilderness canoe trip with my paddle mates.
  • In 2010 pedalled bicycles across Canada with my wife.
  • Helped found Search and Rescue Slave Lake; Roles were Search Manager, Responder, and Trainer.
  • Volunteer Firefighter for 10 years  (Retired as Lieutenant).
  • Business entrepreneur.

We are delighted Kelly is joining us at the Global Bushcraft Symposium. He will be helping to deliver material in our Theme Camps.