Old Mountains, New Perspectives

Emily Hancock is a participant in Wintertide, Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps. Before joining the CCC Adventure, she hiked the US Appalachian Trail in 2017 and the US Pacific Crest Trail in 2018.

Oh, Appalachian Mountains; clear waters, spontaneous swims, afternoon thundershowers, and grassy balds.

Snickers for breakfast and a bit of humble pie as the light dies down. A trail community – floating through each other’s lives – sharing experiences but only until we cross the next peak.

This was my experience on the Appalachian Mountains just over the border. They were where I fell in love with nature, developed my independence, learned to trust my instincts, and became self-reliant.

But up north, in the snowy mountains of New Brunswick with the Canadian Conservation Corps, I learned how to rely on other people again. And I realized that I don’t need – nor want – to always be self-reliant. I re-learned the value of the shared experience, going through the tough times together, and coming out of them stronger as a team.

Winter in the Appalachians © Emily Hancock
Winter in the Appalachians © Emily Hancock

I entered the CCC Stage One with visions of learning the skills and gaining the confidence to set out on a solo winter expedition. How to build a pulk, deal with the cold temperatures, travel and navigate winter conditions. I expected to battle the frigid cold, overcome difficult ascents, and gain the confidence to venture out into the snow on my own. While I can’t deny that waking up in a canvas tent with your sleeping bag frozen through taught me some useful skills, it pales in comparison to what I was able to learn from the members of  Wintertide, Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.I watched their leadership skills develop, witnessed them trying new things, pushing themselves up mountains, climbing out of snow holes, building fires to boost morale and come together to help each other succeed. I’ve met a group of people with different backgrounds and strengths. We’ve gone from strangers to good friends. We have different views but have learned to discuss our values and see other points of views. Yes, we’ve learned how to make a route plan; but somehow that doesn’t seem quite as important anymore.

A frosty morning at Armstrong Camp © Emily Hancock
A frosty morning at Armstrong Camp © Emily Hancock

When I stumbled upon the CCC program I expected to learn about conservation and how to survive in the winter. What I’m really taking away from this is that it’s okay to rely on other people and you don’t always need to do everything yourself. You can be strong without needing to know everything and there’s more beauty in a snow-capped mountain when you’re there with others.


wintertide © Emily Hancock
Wintertide © Emily Hancock

I came seeking independence but I’ve learned the value of interdependence. I can’t thank the rest of Wintertide enough for being open to the experience, giving it your all, and making the cold just a little warmer. Thank you for sharing your views and broadening mine.

Tides Come in High and Low, so Does Wintertide

Lisa Chen is a participant in Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

After a week-long debate, Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps has finally decided on the group name “Wintertide.”

It was argued that it was the most artistic option on our list and that we will be making waves (hopefully) in conservation. What we did not realize at the time was how tailored the name was in describing our group and what we were about to experience.

Nothing could have prepared me for the first news Outward Bound Canada delivered about our CCC wilderness journey: this is a new adventure, we’ve never offered it before.

Pre-departure route planning. Photo by Lisa Chen.
Pre-departure route planning. Photo by Lisa Chen.

With quick lessons and briefings, we were plunged into route planning, food prepping, pulk making, and tent flooring. While I was extremely excited to learn new skills, I was also exorbitantly anxious about the consequences of various decisions that we had to make.

Eventually, the highly anticipated day came when we finally left the comfort of our 1.5 weeks’ stay at Chalet Restigouche and dove into the wilderness of Mount Carleton, N.B.

From the start, I could already feel some of the biggest challenges of our trip:

Snowshoes added extra weights to our feet and widened our gaits and with loaded pulks at our hips. “A walk in the park” has just gotten much more difficult. It also did not help that the weather decided to greet us with a -30C, so while sleeping cold, getting up to use the outhouse, then tripping over someone’s feet and grabbing onto the tent’s frigid center pole was absolutely miserable.

The lows then struck us periodically when moving days were unexpectedly long, everything was perpetually wet, and extremities were diurnally cold. However, through these difficult times, we learned many invaluable winter survival skills.

At the intertidal zones, we were slammed with various levels of challenges such as struggling with frozen peanut butter and jam bagels, crossing Nictau Lake with pulks while being blasted by arctic wind, hiking up Mount Sagamook only to sink in the snow even with hiking poles and slide backwards 3/4 step for every step forward.

Crossing Nictau Lake with pulks. Photo by Andrew Stokes-Rees.
Crossing Nictau Lake with pulks. Photo by Andrew Stokes-Rees.

Finally, the highs welcomed us with exhilarating feelings as we summited three mountains and rewarded us with gorgeous panoramic views of Carleton Park from different angles.

Like waves, every one of Wintertide came in different sizes, personality, and expertise.

Like tides, Wintertide would not have been complete and be able to survive this harsh winter expedition without each individual wave.

Like tidal cycles, every high and low was indispensable to our overall experience:

The highs were our dopamine at the end of our hardships, whilst the lows and the intertidal shaped us to become more resilient and grow closer as we become interdependent on each other to survive the ordeal.

It never failed to amaze me that everyone soon fell into roles of their strengths and many would work outside their duty roster and take initiative in doing whatever needs to be done, whether it was cooking, hydro, or simply delivering water and food to those in need. Even I, the self-proclaimed weakest person (physically) in the group, soon found important jobs as the navigator, route planning, and trip recorder.

Gorgeous night sky from Armstrong Basecamp. Photo by Samuel Hoffe.
Gorgeous night sky from Armstrong Basecamp. Photo by Samuel Hoffe.

Having survived this severe winter expedition, I am confident that Wintertide will be a tidal wave in all our future endeavours.

Learn more about the Canadian Conservation Corps.

Doing the Carlton

Harry Townson-Doucette is a participant in Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I didn’t know what to expect going in to Stage One of the Canadian Conservation Corps (CCC) but I knew I wanted to experience new things.

I thought my life was in a rut but life brought me the CCC.

I saw an ad on Instagram with someone from Stage Two tagging or measuring a snapping turtle. I thought that was super cool and something I’d enjoy doing if I had the opportunity.

When we got the email of dates and flights, I packed my gear. I got on a plane to Thunder Bay, then to Toronto and then to Fredericton, N.B. to meet up with the rest of our group at the airport.  First, we went to the store for our food for two weeks then we were off to Kedgwick / Restigouche. We got to know each other while learning first aid training and team building. We met the Outward Bound team and learned about navigation, wilderness, snowshoes, and rescues.

We started off with a short hike to Armstrong base camp in Carlton Park spending the next two days figuring out how to sleep in the cold tent.

I had never seen a mountain living in Manitoba and now I’ve summited three in New Brunswick.

There were some valuable skills we learned with Outward Bound: knots, freeze dried food preparation, taking initiative in camp, food and water preparation. We did a day of ice fishing in Carlton park and I caught my first salmon there.

When we returned to Restigouche we took leadership and education training.

Learn more about the Canadian Conservation Corps.

My Solo Experience — Winter Camping Adventure

Simon is a member of Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

 The morning of solo, we had to indicate how comfortable we were going into the overnight camping experience in our own snow shelter.

Since it was supposed to be a much warmer day and night than our previous -20 to -30 nights, I felt confident that I could resist the cold. I opted to give myself an 8/10, trying to secure myself a spot with a lakeside view.

I started digging my trenches in a spot well covered by the trees. I saw a woodpecker knocking on nearby trees. It looked really cute so I stopped to observe it. Then it suddenly came really close and started knocking on my snowshoes. This made me smile and gain energy to go back to work. When I finish digging my quinzee trench, I felt confident, and was truly enjoying my experience. However, this was quickly about to change…

Since I was quite nervous about the idea of sleeping in a quinzee, I had already planned to make a secondary shelter where I was actually intending to sleep. However, as I was perfecting my cave to give myself more room to move, it suddenly all collapsed. I would now have to rely on my quinzee to sleep.

I had to work with my knees on the snow. I didn’t like that because it meant that my pants would get humid or wet. But it was the best way to go so I kept on digging. Then suddenly, my entrance collapsed. I saw that the quinzee was still big enough for me to fit, so I dug my entrance again and managed to go deeper. As I got about a quarter in, I heard my quinzee collapse by 1-2 cm.

Everything seemed to be all right as I made it to about half of my quinzee. But then, I heard the same noise that happened when my quinzee collapsed a ¼ of the way in. I instinctively jumped out, and a second later, everything crumbled. My quinzee had a huge crack right in the middle. In the frenzy I let go of my shovel which was still under the snow. I started digging in with my gloves, and luckily found it, as I feel this is the most important of all my belongings, and the only thing I can’t afford to lose. I’m now definitely not confident anymore and pretty scared that I won’t be able to spend the whole night out in the woods.

sled sleeping outside in winter

I started working on another sled shelter. I managed to make it long enough to fit me, so I try putting my sled on top. I gathered some pine tree branches and used them to cover the entrance to my cave. I put my sleeping bag in my cave and gave it all a try. As I got in, I felt pretty squished, but thought to myself, as long as I don’t move, I’ll be just fine.

As it was getting dark, I gathered a few more pine tree branches, and then settled in my shelter. I was too uncomfortable to take notes, so the only activity I had was my rubiks cube. After solving it once or twice, I decided to try to get some shut eye. I woke up, and it was completely dark. I had to go to the bathroom….

I tried everything I could, but still didn’t manage to finish the night outside. Today, I think that this experience showed me a lot about my character, and how I handle myself in difficult conditions.