Skip to content

Bow Valley High School students braved a glacier

A group of Bow Valley High School students braved the cold, worked together and conquered a glacier last week.
Tyson Wasylik, a student at Bow Valley High School, reaches out to touch glacier ice on the school’s field trip to the Saskatchewan Glacier in Banff National Park. The
Tyson Wasylik, a student at Bow Valley High School, reaches out to touch glacier ice on the school’s field trip to the Saskatchewan Glacier in Banff National Park. The school’s Outdoor Leadership program made the three-day trip at the end of March, tenting on the glacier overnight.

A group of Bow Valley High School students braved the cold, worked together and conquered a glacier last week.

Scott Thompson, a teacher at the school, took 25 of his Grade 11 and Grade 12 Outdoor Leadership students to the Saskatchewan Glacier in Banff National Park March 27 to March 30.

The high school program aims to teach students skills and knowledge and develop attitudes that will prepare them for safe and challenging outdoor experiences.

“We ski-toured 10 or 12 km onto the Saskatchewan Glacier, then camped in our tents on the glacier night one. We used that as a bit of a base camp then day two we went up another eight kilometres to the apex of the Columbia Icefield. Then at the end of the day we skied all the way back to our base camp. Day three we skied all the way back out,” Thompson said.

The class was accompanied by a couple of guides from the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) who talked about watersheds and glaciology.

The school was able to send its students and staff on this trip thanks to the generosity of Mountain Equipment Co-op, ACMG, and the Calgary Educational Partnerships Foundation for covering the $5,000 cost. All the students had to supply was appropriate clothing for the excursion, while the school and supporters handled the rest.

“The trip was an extension of the curriculum we do – we always talk about conservation and glacial issues. I had a particularly strong cohort of kids so I wanted to provide an extended version of the program,” Thompson explained.

Not a trip to be taken lightly, the last time Thompson took his class on a trip of this magnitude was roughly three or four years ago. In preparation for this year’s adventure, he and his students went on shorter excursions to ease into what the experience would be like.

“It’s hard living, there’s always a bit of suffering involved. You’re sleeping in the snow and it’s about minus seven or nine overnight and strong Katabatic winds that come off the glacier.”

During their trip, the class came across a section where the glacier had receded creating an ice cave.

“It was a gorgeous system of polished ice and snow. Some of the kids said it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen,” Thompson said.

For Jessica Reeve, a Grade 12 student at the school who went on the excursion, the Outdoor Leadership class provides an opportunity she wouldn’t normally pursue.

“I can honestly say I wouldn’t have done a trip like this otherwise. My family’s not very outdoorsy like that, we like to be outside but it’s not really hiking and skiing. So through the program I get a lot more experience in doing activities and excursions like this,” Reeve explained.

Reeve said the guides were very knowledgeable so it was an excellent learning experience for the class. It was especially great that they were learning things first-hand.

“We actually got to touch glacial ice and experience it firsthand which was really awesome.”

Both Reeve and Thompson can attest to how tired everyone was by the end of the adventure but it was time well spent.

“It was definitely a first for all of those kids. Talking with our guide, he said we were the only high school in Canada to do this trip,” Thompson explained.

“It’s definitely hard work – it was lots of kilometres and elevation gained, and it was cold, so it was a bit of suffering. But if you asked the kids about the experienced they would say ‘yeah it was hard work’ but they enjoyed it.”

Reeve would recommend other students give Outdoor Leadership a try when considering which optional classes to sign up for in high school.

“Although the trip was hard and we struggled, we all struggled together. You make a lot more friendships and you gain a lot more experiences just from being in those amazing situations where you struggle but you end up getting somewhere that you’d never get before.”