Story: Angie Abdou
Photos: David Richards, Mountain High River Adventures
Imagine yourself all alone in the woods for twenty-four hours. Imagine that it pours all day and all night, and the temperature hovers around an unfriendly zero. Imagine that you have no food and no shelter. Now, imagine that you’ve put yourself in this situation on purpose.
That scenario describes the recent experience of Fernie’s Mountain Activity Skills Training (MAST) students. All 26 of them were dropped off in the woods on Friday, November 8th and left to fend for themselves until Saturday, November 9th—probably two of the wettest, most dreary days Fernie has seen this fall. Other than the clothes on their backs, the MAST students were allowed to pick two items off of a list containing: lighter, cup of peanuts, cup of water, plastic sheet, book, and knife. Most went for the lighter and the plastic sheet—wise choices considering the weather conditions. Even so, all of them recount being soaked to the skin for the majority of their excursion.
“It was great!” asserts MAST student Ryan Scorgie. He admits the conditions were not ideal, that it was in fact the worst weather they have had on any trip this year, but claims the trip was a success regardless. “Sure, I was soaked at first. I spent most of the day making myself a shelter and I got drenched. But once my shelter was up, I made a fire, dried myself off and I was toasty for the rest of the night.”
Toasty but hungry? “No, I really didn’t think about food. If you simply don’t have food available, you put it out of your mind. I focused on staying dry and getting some sleep.”
One student focused a little too much on staying dry. Catreena Collister explains that through the night she kept fiddling with her shelter, trying to improve it. The more she fiddled, the worse it got. Finally, she gave up on the shelter all together and curled up next to the fire—only to wake up to her rain poncho aflame and melting to her fleece. Fortunately, nothing was injured but her clothing.
Why do students willingly subject themselves to this discomfort? “It was such a confidence booster,” explains Beavan Sara. “Once I had my fire and my lean-to built and I was drying off my clothes that were absolutely soaked from the day of work, I was just so warm, so comfortable, and I thought I can do this!” After graduation, most of these students plan to work in recreation tourism, and knowing they can survive when things go wrong is crucial.
The weekend survival trip is only one small part of the nine-month course offered in Fernie through the College of the Rockies. The students also partake in rock-climbing, ice-climbing, backcountry touring, white-water canoeing, and a host of other mountain activities. It is “school for people who hate school,” explains Sonya Surbek. By the end of the course, they will be well on their way to adventurous careers in the mountains. As the students themselves would say: “Sweet!”
For information about the MAST program please contact Brian Bell at (250) 423-4691 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The MAST website is at www.cotr.bc.ca/MAST
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