Coolness. Rain. Fire ban. Kitchen renovations. There are so many reasons not to be excited about a weekend in the mountains. But some of us make plans for trips weeks and even months ahead. Add 30 junior high kids into the preparations and it becomes more daunting to cancel a trip than to go ahead with marginal conditions.
The Cache Percotte cabins, a few kilometres south of Hinton, allow a group to stay in relative comfort at a reasonable cost. Several e-mails to Arlene at the Hinton Forestry School got us the keys and very nice roofs over our heads. Our plan, aside from the thrill of an adolescent sleepover experience, was to have a full middle day playing in the foothills. Over s’mores we reviewed the next day’s plan as the temperature dropped. Sometimes an indoor sleep is a welcome thing.
Mountain biking into Ogre Canyon provided us with eight kilometres alternating easy cruising with dodging puddles or, more likely, ploughing straight through. So, filthy dirty with mouths full of grit and stripes of dirt up front and back, we reached the front walls of the Rockies. It was more than beautiful. The view came with that special feeling that comes from working hard to achieve a goal and then resting to savour the experience. One of the boys, a quieter Grade 8 student, stood on the edge of the escarpment gazing west to the grey limestone faces, the sparkling water of Solomon Creek beckoning him to wash before lunch.
“This is too good to be true,” he mouthed to himself, giving quiet words to a sigh.
Ridge hiking with Jasper National Park on one’s left and the Rock Lake Solomon Creek wilderness area on one’s right is a magical experience. We rebuilt the summit cairn, leaving a plastic peanut butter jar with pictures and keepsakes and pictures, “… for the people you will be in the future,” we told the kids. Then it was back down the trail to the canyon proper, splashing in the cold water as far as we could before our feet became just too numb for it to be a good thing. Common sense on the part of the adults and the freezing clouds of mist stopped us from closing on the lower set of falls. We traded muddy for soaking wet and emerged from the shadows and into the warmth of the late afternoon sun.
Out we flew, this time trying to dodge more than plunge into the puddles. Knowing that our driver, Louis, preferred a clean bus and that the Miette Hot Springs staff might not be too keen on us wearing the same grime from our trip in proved to be enough of an incentive.
There’s a mellowness that settles in on the second night of a trip. Camp is familiar and the frenetic energy of a new experience has dissipated. And so, after an exceptionally late supper, we drifted to our – very nice – cabins.
Day three saw us bike to town – seven kilometres of downhill with a brief stop at the town’s BMX track. Cheering the daring, and those more risk averse, through the course brought us even closer as a group. It’s a satisfying thing to ride a bus home with contented, accomplished and spent junior high students. Mission accomplished. Partly.
The intangibles – the appreciation for place and others, the boosting of self-confidence, for example – I know were enhanced by what we did, though hard measures escape me. That each was adequately challenged I have no doubt.
There are many aspects of teaching that keep us motivated and energized decades into the job. I am one of the many who draw my energy from engaging the students in the adventures offered by the outdoors. Far from remembering the long hours of supervision, the anxiousness of directing normal junior high energy and the constant pressures of being fully present while trying to be everywhere and watch everything, this trip whetted the appetites of each of the adult supervisors.