Winter Camp and First Geocache Find in 2011

Mrs. GeoK and Youngest GeoKid arrived a little early for Grade 6 Winter Camp at Ribbon Creek Hostel in Kananaskis. We had 10 whole minutes to unload our bags and haul them into the hostel before the bus pulled up and another 23 students, 4 parents and 1 teacher arrived to begin 52 hours of winter fun!!

After a bit of an orientation to the hostel, overview of the activities for the rest of the day and some time to eat our packed lunches, half the students went off to go cross-country skiing while the rest practiced fire starting and had a seminar on avalanche safety. In the meantime, the parents unpacked and stowed the groceries, checked out the supper menu (hamburgers with fresh veggies) and then headed outside to enjoy some afternoon sunshine.

Mrs. GeoK donned her snowshoes and tromped around the vicinity of the hostel, setting several trails that had accumulated about 15 cm of new snow overnight. Of course, she took her new Olympus E-PL1 along, hoping to capture some interesting shots…

Wave patterns on the new snow near Ribbon Creek Hostel, Kananaskis

The leafless tree branches look like lace against the cloudy sky

Tuesday morning was cold (about -20 C), but after a hearty breakfast of pancakes and Spolumbo’s chicken & apple sausages, they were all set to head outside to begin piling snow for their quinzhees (snow shelters). Many breaks for hot chocolate, snacks, lunch and more hot chocolate were required before late afternoon, when the shelters were ready for use. As soon as possible after lunch, Mrs. GeoK headed out on snowshoes, this time with half an idea that there might be a geocache waiting to be found not too far away. Sure enough, the Garmin GPSmap 60CSx showed GC28FX5 Mountain Goat about 900 meters away (line of sight) After a quick look at the trail map, Mrs. GeoK figured it would be about 2 km each direction, up a fairly steep grade on snowshoes. However, the prospect of the first geocache find of 2011, combined with the possibility of spotting grey wolf tracks along the way, spurred me on.

The trails were in pretty good condition and I did spot wolf tracks. In fact I tried to photograph them, but either I needed to adjust the white balance or needed a polarizer. Lesson learned!

Fortunately, I only had to bushwhack about 20 meters on my snowshoes. Standing in the forest, on top of a meter (+) of snow, I looked around at all the possible hiding spots, thought about the fact that all I had was the cache name – no size, no description, no hint – and decided 15 minutes was a good time limit to put on my search. After giving the GPSr a couple minutes to settle down, I picked the most likely hiding spot, poked my trekking pole into the snow, hit a log that wiggled in a funny way and – seconds later – had a nice big ammo can in hand!!

Found a nice big ammo can geocache hidden under the snow today

The cache was in great shape. I signed the logbook, dropped in a pathtag and then replaced the container in it’s hiding spot, being careful to sweep a new blanket of snow over top. Then, it was off to mess up the snow around some nearby logs and tree stumps, just in case some winter-hardy muggle came wandering by and decided to follow the snowshoe tracks into the woods.

About 30 minutes later, coming out of the trees towards the Ribbon Creek upper parking lot, I spotted a lone moose, but it was too far away to capture a good photo.

After supper, everyone headed back out to the quinzhees, to enjoy them in the dark and to visit the other groups’ snow shelters. The kids put a lot of work into these structures and they sure enjoyed showing them off.

The grade 6 students all had glow sticks to light up their quinzhees tonight

Wednesday, our last day at winter camp, I joined the second group of students for a cross-country ski lesson. Again, it was chilly, so after some basic instruction on balancing, gliding and how to get back up after falling, half the group headed back to the hostel for a quick warm-up. Then it was back to the trails for an actual ski. My small group made it to the first bridge along the creek. After we turned back, we met up with our guide and several other students. Rounding the next corner, we came upon a mooseblock – a pair of juvenile moose (or is that meese?), grazing beside the trail. They were in no hurry to move along and we enjoyed their company for a good 4 or 5 minutes before following them for a distance, back towards the parking lot. This was the highlight of the trip for several of the students!

We waited for at least 5 minutes while a pair of juvenile moose just hung out on the cross-country ski trail

For our last activity, the camp guides asked all the kids to name one thing they appreciated about camp, one memorable moment and one thing they’d like to change. Over half said they wished they could stay longer – and so did I!!

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