During July 2014, 8 staff and 13 cadets headed for British Columbia, Canada for a 26 day RFCA expedition, supported throughout by the Yorkshire Cadet Trust. It commenced almost 18 months ago with 60+ cadets vying to gain a place on the team. The selection process took place over Easter 2013 (North York Moors) and a weekend in the Lake District, during which the cadets, and adults, took part in team exercises, ever lengthening walks and were asked about their motives and the benefits from taking part. After some tough decisions, the lucky ones were selected.
Following selection, training commenced, which included adventure and first aid training, camp craft, bear and other wild animal safety, water purification and trekking. Rucksacks were gradually increased in weight to prepare the team for Canada and the cadets also participated in a Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold practice expedition.
The expedition itself was in three phases: first, a self-supported seven day trek in the Rainbow Mountains of the Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park, the highlight being the summit of Mount Mackenzie. The team started with heavy packs containing all their personal kit, food and cooking equipment for seven days. This was a shock for some, as the weight was more than they had ever had to carry, even after the training. The trail wound through an area of burned out forest, leading to alpine meadow, which was refreshing after the bug infested forest. The team soon learned that bugs and trekking went together!
Setting up camp the first time was an “interesting experience” for many, and a skill which improved greatly over the week. Over the course of phase 1 the team were introduced to bear caches, camp toilets, water points, drills and other useful tips. Mount Mackenzie day started with a creek crossing and wet feet for those who opted not to change into river crossing shoes; only one person failed to follow the path through the river and still ended up rather soggy! Following a steep climb through forest, the team climbed to a small lake, close to Mackenzie Pass. The summit was now in sight; steadily traversing a scree slope, leading to a steep track and finally a ridge walk saw everyone assemble at the summit at 2146 metres. Great relief was felt by all; the summit saw the end of 5 hours uphill walking! It was well worth the effort, as the views in all directions were superb. The team descended quickly, reversing some of the route via the forest and the creek crossing; fortunately the second group were observant finding an errant boot at the crossing point, which one of the cadets had failed to take with him, oops!
During this phase the expedition team practiced and carried out navigation skills, route finding, camp and bush craft, mountain walking, river crossings, bear safety, with other health and safety. The latter included water treatment, insect avoidance and after-bite treatment, especially useful for the swarms of mosquitoes and horse flies, which were constant throughout the trek.
After a one day replenishment and a quick swim in the Nimpo Lake, partly for pleasure and also to complete swimming tests, the expedition team was flown by float plane to Ptarmigan Lake in the Caribou Mountains, where a base camp for phase 2 was set up. During the acclimatisation walk to the summit of Mount Marvin, at 2169 metres, a female cadet suffered an ankle injury, the expedition’s only injury. Thanks to team work and the strength of the adult staff, she was carried to base camp using a make-shift rope harness. Her injury necessitated her evacuation with a female adult instructor, by float plane the following morning, for assessment and treatment. Her injury was not serious but did involve a 2000km round trip to hospital involving a mini bus, 2 ambulances and 3 planes. Fortunately the team carried sufficient insurance for such eventualities.
The remainder of phase 2 went without incident. With the temperature reaching 30°C the itinerary included: a walk to the foot of a glacier, several high camps in the area of Ptarmigan and Molly Lake, a descent to Turner Lake, where some canoeing was carried out and a shorter walk to observe the Hunlen Falls, Canada’s third highest waterfall. On the final day the team trekked over a descent of 800 metres and distance of 16km, followed by a light pack walk to the trailhead, of 11.25km, a challenging end to the expedition.
The final phase involved rest and recuperation at Bella Coola, including a tourist river drift, in the hope of seeing bear which had evaded us for 16 days and a cultural visit to native petroglyphs with a First Nation Guide who kept us enthralled with his tales. During the final 2 days in Vancouver the team managed to spend up and recuperate.
During the entire expedition the team were enthralled by the scenery, the mountains, the almost permanent blue skies, the views from the peaks, the power of the glaciers and rivers and the multitude of flora and fauna, mostly flora to the chagrin of many. However, the small animals sighted plus the numerous Bald Eagles seen on the river drift almost made up for not sighting bears!
In conclusion the expedition completed the majority of the aims without incident save for the one minor injury and are extremely grateful for the support they received from their kind and generous sponsors such as the Ulysses Trust. Thank you.