Maple Tiger ended on the 12th August 2012, after an incredibly successful trip. Ten days previously, eleven students and three instructors left the UK to fly to Calgary for adventure training at Trails End Camp in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Although on arrival the weather was 12 degrees and raining, it soon improved and by the third day the temperatures were well into the thirties. The students were also lucky enough to witness some electrical storms happening many miles away, whilst staying dry!
The canoeing standard vastly improved with the help of Ted, Paul and Harry, as previous experience levels differed widely among the group members, with some already having qualifications and some having never picked up a paddle! To start with training was conducted on Ghost Lake, a short drive from the camp. Here the students learnt basic techniques, such as the draw, pry and sweep strokes, essential for successful and safe canoeing on the moving water. These skills, however, were not fully tested until the third day, which was spent on moving water, including challenges such as ferry gliding across rapids, identifying eddies (still water) and breaking into and out of the flow. These provided challenges that were both rewarding and exciting to overcome, although much to the other students’ amusement it took many capsizes and subsequent rescues before we were all fully competent. We were also taught safety measures, such as defensive swimming, which meant that we could swim into safe, still water if we ended up in the river unexpectedly. The group quickly discovered that good communication between the two people in the canoe was essential, as was a good sense of balance (and humour!)
Overcoming the challenges helped the group to bond and get to know each other, which was essential for the upcoming expedition on the North Saskatchewan River. This phase provided new problems to face, such as the weight of expedition food and kit necessary for the three days wild camping along the river. After a slow beginning during which everyone grew accustomed to the water and their canoes, the group soon picked up speed and made better than expected progress by the end of the day. There were no capsizes at all on the first day, meaning the group had nice, dry kit for the evening. Everyone was assigned jobs and an excellent fire and water-boiling system was constructed, whilst other members cooked dinner or sorted out the day’s kit. It was nice to sit and chat round the fire in the evening, which provided much welcomed warmth and cover from the mosquitoes! The second day continued in the same fashion, with the group’s growing confidence and skills leading them to attempt more difficult and exciting rapids. Good speed on the second day meant the expedition was finished a night earlier than planned. This allowed the team to return to the original practice river to consolidate their skills and see how just how much they had progressed over the past two days.
Once back in camp, all that remained to do was to return any issued equipment and enjoy a cultural day exploring Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park, experiencing the varied wildlife and landscape. It was here that the only bear of the trip (a Black Bear) was sighted, meaning we could all go home happy!
Overall the expedition was a huge success, resulting in the skills and confidence of the students improving massively, and putting them in a position to gain further canoe qualifications in the future. It offered everyone the opportunity to face personal challenges and to making lasting friendships.
OCdt Elliott Wensley