Snow-shoe trip with 2 nights in a snow-shelter

What a week, I almost forgot to mention the late February trip I guided with my ACMG colleague Peter in Kananaskis! The first day of the trip was scheduled for us to meet the students from the UofC Schulich School of Engineering at university and brief them on how to be prepared for a winter trip plus fill any remaining paper work. Later that morning we gathered in the Outdoor Centre rental area to give everyone backpacks, sleeping bags, bivi-bags, thermarests, stoves & fuel, pots & pans, shovels, snow-shoes etc.. the food was for them to decide what they wanted to cook with their snow-shelter partners. 1st team building effort right here! 🙂

In the morning, we fitted a big van with our 10 big packs, snow-shoes and people plus a few extra items and Peter – who was our main guide as well as chauffeur – drove us safely to Kananaskis. The previous day that area had seen temperatures in the -23oC range but the morning we arrived gifted us with -11oC only with the sun shining and a cloudless sky! After Peter had everyone briefed about the snow-shoes, we set off for a small trek to an area where we would set camp.

There the teams started digging and piling snow in a big heap until the size seemed reasonable for 2 – sometimes 3 people – to comfortably sleep and sit in it. While the snow settled, we got the kitchen area and stoves organized, walked around to admire the fantastic views then returned to our snow shelters to dig a door and our “bedroom”. All of this took about 3 hours so not a very quick process if one needed a shelter in a hurry. That night we got all 5 stoves started, first spent time melting snow for drinking then each team attempted cooking something they had pre-planned. Catherine and I made this amazing pasta dish with roasted peppers, onions, mushrooms, sausage and tomato sauce, I am still dreaming about it! More snow was melted for hot drinks and for doing dishes and we all went to bed.

Our first morning, was pretty relaxed as students showed up as early as 9 and as late as 11. It was another sunny day and once everyone had had breakfast – brunch for some – everyone put snow-shoes on and we set off for a tour. As soon as we emerged from the trees and on the ridge, the wind gusts hit us like a vengeance.. luckily it was not constant but it did remind us we were in the middle of winter and needed to be covered from head to toes. Everyone was in awe of the mountain views as we snow-shoed along the broad ridge.. it was indeed a stunning day and perfect for photos! We took a few breaks, more photos then decided to return to camp.

Dinner that day was organized earlier and while some were melting water and cooking, others continued the civil engineering work they had started in the morning around the kitchen area. Some had focused on making a wall for the stoves to be protected by the wind, others had decided to make the sitting area bigger while yet others were digging a beautiful round fire-pit area with a bench all of this carved in the snow. Oh and did i mention it all got linked by a pathway and steps so we could go from one area to the other effortlessly?! We all so pleased with how our camp looked like that we even discussed renting the place out 🙂

Now this adventure would not be one if everything had run totally smoothly no!? So yes unfortunately, while the students were having a great time making our camp cozy and beautiful, our stoves started giving us grief one after the other to only have 2 then 1 remaining working stove that night. We quickly made the decision to spend our 2nd and last night in our snow shelters but pack and leave as soon as we would be ready in the morning. It was too bad we had to finish our initiation that way and I would recommend that next time, we pack and store away the stoves at night, as it might give them a better chance at working well longer..

All in all this was a great experience for the students, as we saw them find many opportunities to prove their leadership and test their teamwork skills. As a guide, it is always a rewarding feeling to see people succeed and find enjoyment in something they never thought possible.. like surviving 3 days and 2 nights outdoor in the cold canadian winter.. proud of you young folks and i hope our paths cross again!

Nathalie Drotar (-Roulin), Founder and ACMG AHG

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