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Adventurous Learning: RRHS class takes a dog-sled trip

By Ken Johnston

Imagine taking a class where you get to go on a dog-sled adventure! That is exactly what students in the Rainy River High School Outdoor Activities class did recently.
With the inclement weather lately, the original plan to take two groups on the adventure was changed to one trip on Feb. 18 and 19th. “It all worked out fine. I can only take ten kids at a time and when four could not go and the weather caused us to cancel, we planned the trip for ten,” said teacher Guy Arpin.
The students prepared for the trip by learning to build quinzee huts out of snow, winter survival techniques and about trapping.
Ontario Provincial Policeman Steve Sopotiuck taught winter survival and safety skills and Brian Love, President of the Northwestern Ontario Trappers Association taught them about trapping. Love even brought in an animal and skinned it out for them.
Traveling to Vermillion Bay, Ont. to Borealis Sled Dog Adventures, they were put through orientation by proprietor and their guide, Burton Penner. “He walked them through how to harness the dogs and safety around the dogs,” said Arpin.
Then six teams of dogs (41 dogs in total) were assembled and the students began their journey out into the wilderness. There were two people per sled and two instructors. Arpin was joined by Mark Jodoin who is teaching the Confederation College portion of the class. “The students can earn a college credit from this program as well as high school credit,” explained Arpin.
Because of the collaboration with Confederation College the class has access to a budget for extras. “This year we purchased a Go-Pro camera,” said Arpin. The camera was strapped to the chest of a student to give a view of the dog sled journey as the student sees it. “They will use the video to complete a presentation on their experience,” added Arpin.
Due to the deep snow pack this year, it was slower going than normal for the dog teams. “It was hard on the dogs,” said Arpin who said he stepped off the trail once and the snow was waist deep!
They travelled 14 miles across Eagle Lake, Clearwater and ended up at Penner’s cabins on Delaney Lake. While he does have heated cabins there are Quinzees built there and four of the students slept in them. “I was cold because I got wet,” said student Jeff Lauzon. But he became wet because it was actually too warm in the quinzee. The body heat caused the roof to melt a bit and drip on him.
However, Devan Grover said, “It was the best sleep I ever had!”
Because of the large amount of snow the students did not get to check as many beaver traps as they have in previous years. Because of that they did not get any beavers and did not see one get skinned or get to eat beaver. However, on the second day the traps yielded a weasel and a beaver. The otter traps were empty.
Arpin said the students were exposed to different opportunities that not many people can say they have experienced.
Later this spring they will also be going on a canoe trip. Between now and then they will learn many skills such as fire building, how to tie knots and once spring comes water/canoe safety. “We will go over to the pool in Baudette as well where they will learn about capsizing a canoe,” said Arpin.
The students will have a chance to get their level one or two canoeing certification. Arpin and Jodoin both have level three which allows them to take the students on the trip. They plan to go to Quetico.
“This course not only teaches them outdoor skills, it gives them a new appreciation of what the area has to offer,” said Arpin.