Every year, we cross our fingers and toes at Mulgrave OE HQ, and send desperate pleas to Odin (the Snow God) that we will be blessed with a good winter. Any Canadian Outdoor Education programme would be incomplete without backcountry travel and camping in a proper snowy environment. This year, perhaps we should have been a little more specific in what we wished for. Last week’s snow-storm dumped so much “wet coast powder” on the mountains that the avalanche warnings were up to the highest danger ratings on parts of our North Shore Mountains. As a result, instead of heading to Mount Seymour, our Summit 2 group found themselves driving North, past Pemberton, to the start of the Cayoosh trail on the Duffy Lake Road.
Thankfully, this one night expedition is focused upon Winter Camping skills, and our new location didn’t upset our targets for the two days. When we arrived at our trailhead, it was clear that our snow-shoes were going to be vital- any attempt to walk in the snow without them left us waist deep. Although our hike was short, we navigated some difficult terrain with heavy backpacks, and soon found ourselves at a beautiful opening with a fantastic view of Mt Matier.
The afternoon was spent planning and digging our kitchen and snow-shelters. A few different approaches were taken, and it soon became clear that some would work better than others. It was hard work, and regulating our temperatures meant that some students were peeling off layers, even as the sun began to dip behind the Alpine peaks and the temperatures dropped. With the shelters finished, we made the decision that with the overnight temperatures forecasted to be -13c, we would all be much safer to sleep in our tents!
The evening’s alpenglow provided a beautiful back-drop to our dinner, as some of us feasted on steak, while others survived on instant noodles- I think we all knew who had made the right decision! Cooking and eating in the winter, with no fire or shelter, requires a high degree of self and group care. It was a pleasure to watch as the students helped each other to turn what can sometimes be a very challenging experience into one which was hugely enjoyable- we even broke out into song a few times!
After a reminder about some of the keys to sleeping well and warmly in the snow, we were all keen to get into our sleeping bags by 8:30 (yes you read that, the students were desperate to go to bed at 8:30!) It might not have been their best nights sleep, but we all woke up refreshed the next morning, and the blue-skies certainly helped clear our bleary eyes. Breakfasts were a little less extravagant than dinners, although Kai and Joaquin could have fed an army with the amount of bacon they brought (nobody complained about this being shared out).
The rest of the morning saw us breaking down our camp, destroying our snow-shelters, and packing up. As we hiked back towards the bus, we paused for some journaling and group-reflections. I think it’s safe to say that everyone faced challenges, but that the trip was a huge success overall.