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High school students battle the elements

A group of 10 outdoor education and specialist high skills major students went on a week-long canoe trip to wrap up their school year.

GERALDTON – The final trip of the year for 10 students from Geraldton High School was one they won’t soon forget.

A group of 10 students in Grades 9-12 in the outdoor education and specialist high skills major class embarked on a seven-day, 60-kilometre canoe trip at the start of June that saw them paddle from Marshall Lake to Foubert Lake and back.

“It was certainly the longest and hardest trip that we have planned since COVID,” said Kate Beaulieu, a teacher at Geraldton High School.

“It really went well. The whole idea was to have a trip that was challenging and that would push the students, but not have them too overwhelmed.”

To go on the trip, students had to have participated in one of the other adventures that had taken place during the course of the year, which included a canoe trip in the fall, a winter camping trip and a lengthy hike in the spring.

While some students had gone canoeing in the past, including on a year-end trip in 2023, there were some who were getting their first paddling experience.

“It was pretty interesting early on as we had a few people that would normally stern (to help steer) that couldn’t do so because of injuries, so we had to move some people around and the new faces had to learn how to stern really quick,” Beaulieu said.

“Anyone who has paddled before knows it can be pretty tricky, especially when you are coming fresh out of the gate and trying to learn what to do. However, by the end of our seven-day trip, everyone drastically improved their paddling skills.”

The other major challenge of the trip was the weather, which resulted in the trip being shortened from its original 80 km roundtrip.

After starting out under warm and sunny conditions, high winds and heavy downpours of rain meant that adjustments had to be made on the fly.

“Any time you are going into the bush, you run into something that makes it difficult,” Beaulieu said.

One of those situations came when they made it to Foubert Lake, where the group was on alert for bears.

“The last time a group had camped there, a bear had come to visit and wouldn’t go away, so they had to pack up at 5 a.m. and get out of there,” Beaulieu said.

“We knew that there was a possibility of bear sightings, and there was evidence that one had been in the area as there were scratch marks on the trees, so we were extra vigilant. We revised our meal plans, made sure that we didn’t cook any meat at our site and went out into the lake to wash our dishes instead of doing it by the shore.”

Despite all of the unplanned obstacles that came the group’s way, Beaulieu was proud of how the students handled them.

“The thing that means the most to me is just how much the kids grow in a short amount of time,” Beaulieu said. “Even as things look tough for them, we know that they are going to make it through.

“Over the course of the year, they’ve gone from being super nervous when they head out on a trip to or finding themselves in a situation that is really hard - to coming out of the other side going ‘Damn, I just did that.’

“There’s so much confidence instilled in them in a rapid period.”

Although summer vacation is now in full swing, Beaulieu is already thinking about what the students will have waiting for them next year, with a possible hiking trip to the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory in the works.

“Once we got back, there were kids coming up to me saying, ‘What are we doing next year . . . can we return to the bush?’” Beaulieu said.