Winter Camping with ODP
The trip starts at 6 am Saturday February 19, 2011: I wake to an alarm badgering me to rise. So it begins. By 7 am, 11 students and two teachers leave Crooks Hall with full stomachs and mountains of gear on our backs, excited for what the day will bring. Two long hours on the bus, restlessly waiting for veiled peaks and trees cloaked in white.
After rental lineups and gear handouts, we put on our snowshoes and set out on a rugged trek. We sink into the deep, fresh snow, and our legs get a workout. Whenever we can, we follow the trails set by others, but we often have to break our own trail as well. That’s hard work. The sun shines, and we arrive at the shore of Lake Helen Mackenzie. Lunch time.
Packs back on, we cautiously navigate across the lake. At about 4 pm, we arrive at base camp, accompanied by the crooning of birds and the rejoicing of exhausted mountaineers. We unpack and begin to assemble the puzzle of tents. Soon, the warmth of the stove nips at my hands as I cook dinner. Later, in the dark, our snow fort collapses as we are building it and two members in our group are momentarily buried. Seconds passed by like hours as the entire group scrambles to retrieve them from the snowy rubble.
At 8pm, we go for a quick journey in the light of the moon, hoping to warm our feet and hands with activity. It works. I lie on my back in the snow and stare in awe at the myriad stars in the sky. Tents….10pm, I lie still in the frigid hush of the wild.
8 am Sunday. I stir in the cold and focus on the array of frost fastened to everything. Pulling on frozen boots, trying to find warm, dry clothes, it is really cold. I leave the tent and I’m overcome by a shrill push of wind. Breakfast.
We depart for the crown of a smaller mountain. We reach the peak of the bluff and gaze across the valley blanketed in snow. A scenic place for a scavenger hunt, we search for the avalanche beacons our partners have buried in backpacks. We hope that we will never have do this for real. Soon we bombard the steep downhill slopes and retreat to camp. It is time to pack for the voyage out. I lead the expedition back across the lake. Tired legs mix with sunny skies and mountain vistas to create mixed feelings of dread and anticipation, a sense of accomplishment.
We look forward to the end of the hike without really wanting to finish the trip. At 2 pm we return to the lodge and disassemble the gear and wait for the bus. Our odyssey is over; a life of academic expectations, signing in and uniforms await. Which life is more rugged?