Six students accompanied by Mr. MacMillan and Ms. Leacock journeyed north to Espanola, Ont. – 70 km southwest of Sudbury. They were prepared this year, dressed in their woolens from head to toe as last year’s temperatures dipped down to -40C.
The students had geared up for this trip for months, cutting/sawing branches for tinder and kindling, gathering pine bows for extra cushioning under sleeping bags, practicing pulling their gear on toboggans with snow shoes, rehearsing first aid and survival scenarios, and pitching their 8-person winter tents complete with wood burning stoves. However, none of them knew quite what to expect.
The drive north was uneventful, the weather was clear, and aside from it being the coldest day of their trip, the mood festive. They arrived in Espanola around lunchtime and Dave and Adam, their Lure of the North guides for their four-day trek, met them to carry their gear by skidoo to basecamp so that our students could acclimate to their snowshoes during their 7km hike into the woods.
Their first night was spent at basecamp where they got to know Dave, his wife and partner Kielyn, their dog Hank, and Adam, a Bushcraft Specialist from England. Prototype Snowtrekker tents were pitched, wood burning stoves stoked, and a rice fusion dish prepared for dinner. The night sky was incredibly clear and the illuminated tents shone bright for those who ventured outside to stargaze. Most everyone was surprised at how toasty warm the tents got, and only those who slept by the edge of the tent felt the frost or in some cases, ice on their cheeks when they awoke the next morning.
Hank the Tank took to the group so well the first night, he was invited to join them on his first multi-day trip as a welcome distraction. The group set off right after breakfast – their destination West Quartzite Lake. Probably the second coldest day, temperatures were about -17C, but the sky was blue and the effort of pulling a toboggon while snowshoeing across frozen lakes and portaging through dense woods kept them warm.
They arrived at their second campsite close to dark and had to hurry to get the tents up with what little day light was left. A burrito dinner was devoured and after a few more stories by their leader Dave, who is passionate about all aspects of traditional winter camping, wilderness travel and northern culture, these exhausted explorers crawled into their sleeping bags for the night.
The next day, they travelled light again and headed to the top of Mount Ararat. It was a steep climb, which they did in snowshoes, but offered a spectacular view of the north channel of Georgian Bay and the La Cloche Mountain range. This was the warmest day so far, just a few degrees below zero, and it was a great feeling of freedom to travel light, not be pulling all their gear. The descent was a bit easier and they arrived back at camp for a well-earned pasta dinner and evening together by the fire in one of the tents.
Some of the student’s observations included, “this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding,” “I was shocked and amazed at how our group really came together as one,” and “for three days, we really didn’t see any other sign of life, except maybe one small village way off in the distance.” Others enjoyed just being outdoors and away from technology and the busyness of life.
On the final day, they woke up early to dismantle their campsite and head back to Lure of the North’s basecamp. Temperatures rose above zero that day, which made for a slightly slower trek since the snow on top of the frozen lake was turning to slush and they had to stop frequently to knock it off the bottom of their toboggans and snowshoes.
All in all, this intrepid group trekked about 40km, made new friends and memories to last a lifetime. Thank you to Mr. Mac and Ms. Leacock for an awesome adventure and for instilling some life skills they will have forever.