A group of 10 high school students were thrown into the elements of the Kananaskis area to put their survival skills to the test.
The Dave Rozdeba South Alberta Flight Academy has been running for the past two years at Eagle Butte High School in Dunmore, but because of COVID, students were unable to experience the outdoor portion until this year.
“We partnered with Outward Bound and the students went on a five-night backpacking trip that included bushwhacking through the wilderness, starting fires with flint and steel, building shelters, cooking their own food and of course, developing flexibility, resiliency and co-operation and connection with their classmates,” said Reagan Weeks, deputy superintendent of the Prairie Rose School Division.
Weeks was pleased to attend the outing, as well as three certified mountain guides.
“The trek included a mock plane crash and students had to respond to it,” Weeks said. “They did everything from climbing to the top of an open field and building flares in hope that they could signal passing air crafts. They rationed food, and demonstrated all around impressive survival skills.”
The trip was from June 28 to July 2, during the province-wide heat wave. “Every kid carried over 40 pounds on their back the whole way. They filled up water in creeks and streams and used chlorine tablets to purify water,” Weeks said.
Among attendees was Wyatt Lehr, who just completed Grade 10 and his first year of the flight academy. He has loved his experience so far and highly recommends the program.
“The scenery was my favourite. It was really cool to be out there. Not a lot of people get to do something like this, so just having the experience was the best part,” said Lehr. “The greatest takeaway would probably be the knowledge that I have after it; the mapping and how to navigate through the mountains.”
Trigger Ellis, who also just finished Grade 10 and year one of the academy, hopes to some day get his commercial licence.
“My favourite part was definitely Wednesday, which was our simulation day. That was the main reason we were out there, to simulate a plane crash and know what we need to do, like first aid, having a plan, getting a shelter and fire,” said Ellis. “Monday was the most challenging day. We had to hike around nine or 10 kilometres with our 40-pound bags. I’ve never done any kind of backpacking before so it wasn’t the easiest for me.”
Ellis said, “I think the most important takeaway is the knowledge and the attitude and the experience that is needed to survive in a real life emergency situation.”
“It was very challenging,” Weeks recalled. “No doubt that every single one of us was pushed to our limit, but also I had the chance to watch every student rise to the occasion as well. And honestly it’s one of those things that was both physically and mentally demanding, so to watch people overcome those challenges and to demonstrate the kind of qualities that we hope we instill was phenomenal.
“My favourite part of it was watching the mock emergency and watching every single person step up as a leader and respond in a way that made me feel like, you know, if the world ever edges even closer to a dystopian novel, align yourself with these kids, because you’ll come out the other side. They’re just unbelievable.”
LAUREN THOMSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News