Wild times: students receive outdoor education

Jonas Samson Junior High School Grade 9 student Kory McCrimmon tries to get a fire going as part of fire-craft training during an outdoor education session held near Big River.

Jonas Samson Junior High School Grade 9 student Kory McCrimmon tries to get a fire going as part of fire-craft training during an outdoor education session held near Big River.

By Gaven Crites

With its expansive landscapes and dense forests, the great outdoors of northwestern Saskatchewan can be a natural playground – or a potential pitfall. Especially during the cold winter season when temperatures dip to dangerous lows and snow mounts to dangerous highs.
The difference, experts say, is being prepared for the elements.
Students at Jonas Samson Junior High School in Meadow Lake recently received some outdoor survival training as part of a program offered by the Saskatchewan Boreal Forest Learning Centre at the Ness Creek Cultural/Ecological site near Big River.
The students spent two nights (Feb. 8-9) camping outside and were taught about things like environmental stewardship and management, snowshoeing, building a fire and constructing a quinzy.
Principal Jim Snodgrass said camping in the winter was a real challenge and a new experience for a lot of the students.
“The whole focus is trying to impart a general sense of ecosystems, watersheds and forestry,” he said. “And, learning about the Cree culture too.”
Students watched a series of instructional videos about packing and camping in preparation for the trip. Along with Snodgrass and three other teachers, 18 students spent the first night in tents and the second night in quinzys – houses made of snow, which resembles igloos – which they built themselves during the day.
Grade 9 Student Kim Borschowa said she was reluctant to take the trip at first, but in the end was happy she did.
“It was really cool,” Borschowa said of spending the night in a quinzy. “It was warmer than a tent. There’s a lot of space, but it was cold in the morning.”
Borschowa said living on a ranch prepared her for some of the activities, but said snowshoeing and sleeping outside were new to her.
“It was really hard,” she said of snowshoeing. “The snow was up to my knees.”
Reaching base camp required a one-kilometre cross-country ski trek, Snodgrass said, emphasizing how labour-intensive it was navigating the outdoors.
“Snow was at least four feet deep in a lot of areas,” he said. “You really sank quite deep with your snowshoes on, but, when you took them off you sunk a foot more. It’s a lot of work. A lot of the kids were still tired (the following Tuesday). We like to see students stretching their boundaries.”
Further north, near La Loche, surviving in the wilderness is engrained in some cultures.
Clearwater River Dene School principal Mark Klein said they have trips in the winter and fall for students to camp, fish and trap.
“One of our goals is to make students aware of their language and culture,” Klein said. “A lot of the Dene language and culture is based on different experiences in the forest.”
It’s a survival culture, he added.
When asked about winter safety, Cpl. Robert Wolfenden of the Meadow Lake RCMP stressed the importance of being prepared for any weather when traveling, especially in areas with spotty cell phone reception.
“Depending on your vehicle and the terrain, pack candles, blankets, a flashlight, food and dry clothes.” Wolfenden said. “Pack emergency kitbags.”
Since his transfer to Meadow Lake in December, the RCMP has not received a call about anyone being stranded outdoors, Wolfenden said. But, he did say he’s seen cases in his career where people have frozen to death outside as a result of not being equipped for the elements.







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