As I stood in the spreading puddle that contained our tent, those five words were among the last that I wanted to hear. We were standing on a rocky outcrop at Lake Kwai, in Strathcona Provincial Park. Well, we assumed the lake lay somewhere nearby, but due to the very present fog, we couldn’t be sure. It was day one of our Summit School out-trip, and the weather was decidedly unpleasant. I just looked up synonyms for unpleasant, but none of them truly captured the “essence” of the moment. To be exact, the 20mm of cold, wet, morale-dampening “essences.” After setting out early that afternoon from the trailhead (it was raining then, too), we hiked through the 5km to Kwai Lake, our camp for the night. In the rain.
I encourage you to all fetch your rulers and find 20mm. That’s a lot of rain for an afternoon. Now, I’m sure many of you are rolling your eyes and calling me a wimp. To my credit, until Jake spoke those words, I had been quite positive. Having hiked since I was three years old, I’ve endured a lot, especially having lived in Western Canada all my life, seeing more pouring rain and depressing fog than anybody should be exposed to in their single digit years. This really wasn’t too bad. Being cold and wet builds character, or so I’ve been told. I can’t wait to use that line on my own kids someday. Also, the forecast said that today would be the worst weather, so all we had to do was survive and things would improve.
Upon reaching the lake that evening, there began a brutal, extended duel with our tarp that was supposed to keep everything dry, serve as a cooking area and as a place to hide from the elements. Apparently our tarp had other ideas. The tarp won the first round, when both my hands and Jake’s became too numb to tie knots, however we appealed to our guides and in no time flat, we had an excellent, if rather low tarp established. Round two: us. It was at that point that we chose our moment and made a break into the sheeting water to set our tiny two-man tent up.
I knew from experience that even after the worst of days, a dry tent could make everything better, especially combined with a warm sleeping bag and a pair of ‘magic socks.’ (These lifesaving beauties are the pair of socks that one leaves stuffed in their sleeping bag no matter what, and only wears when in the tent.) So, as Jake announced that one of our tent-poles had cracked at the top, forcing it to skew at a crazy angle, he shattered my happy, optimistic expectations for the evening, and momentarily, well, ‘dampened’ my attitude, if I may. We tried to fix the pole on the spot, but cold fingers and too great a hurry made us drop the tent. Watching our tent submerge under the water, we stood there pondering the significance of this unwelcome development.
Then, simultaneously, we sprang into action. Scooping the now sopping tent out of its own miniature Atlantis, we raced back to the dripping shelter of the tarp. Fortunately our guide was able to temporarily fix the tent pole, enabling the bedraggled tent to finally be put into its proper position. Through the entire trip, we never did manage to dry it out; not surprising, given that the first day we saw sun was the fourth day of the trip and the first day without rain was the day we left.
After the tent was up, these moments of despair passed, and shaking the rain from my hood and the cold from my hands, I looked around. On all sides were dark, lush alpine trees, wreathed in wispy twists of mist and fog, progressively shrouding the now visible lake out of sight, fading it into the gathering gloom of dusk. There is a feeling that I get in the outdoors that I’ve had for as long as I can remember, a feeling of exhilaration at being out in the intricate, miraculous wonders of nature. This feeling was very strong right then, as I collected myself, and marvelled at the place I was.
Despite all the rain and minor discomforts, in the end the trip was excellent. Each day became better and better, and as the group meshed together and the weather steadily improved, we began to have a lot more fun. Unfortunately, due to extreme fog, we never managed to climb any mountains; however, Summit School will continue to live on in each of us, quietly persuading us to seek the alpine, to seek the peaks and to push ourselves out of the comforts of home, into the real world.
That to me is the beauty of the Outdoor Education program. By exposing us to the wilderness, and nurturing a healthy, green respect for our world and the beauty of the wild, the program allows high school students to develop our own personal outdoor ‘drive.’ The diversity of choices for out-trips is staggering, as is the quantity of incredible gear available through Outdoor Ed. I encourage all of you to give out-trips your very best in years to come, and to just have a blast. Out-trips are truly unforgettable. For the upcoming Grade 11 students, Outdoor Leadership is absolutely worth it. Imagine sleeping perfectly warm, under five feet of snow in a shelter you skied to and built yourself that afternoon, surrounded by snow, trees and stars. More on that another time.
As I sit here now in a dry sweater and jeans, drinking tea in front of my computer and listening to “Electric Feel,” in the warm comfort of home, I realize once again, like after so many trips, that I miss it all. I miss the silence and isolation of the wilderness, the peace of it. I miss the feeling of not having a cell phone, iPod, TV, or computer to steal me away from breathing each breath and truly living each second. I miss the millions of stars that can be seen on a clear night. I miss the camaraderie of out-trips. I miss the warmth of the first ray of morning sun hitting your face. Now, paging through my full agenda and looking at the assignments, the tests, the meetings … I would give anything to be back out there, in the rain, living.
Hi, my name is Ben, and I am an outdoor junkie.
Ben is a Grade 12 day student