Steel Lake

If you look at the group photo for this year’s Spring Trip, you may notice something (or someone) missing. Mr. Haslam was off work for most of the Spring and announced his retirement shortly after. His years as a teacher and true Outers master were coming to an end. Although he passed on his expertise over the years, we were still left thinking “What now?”. GCHS has been so fortunate to have such a dedicated leader of the Outers program since the early nineties when he joined John Arts on many (mis)adventures. Mr. Carr, Mr. Johnson and Ms. Carlson were left with the monumental task of filling the shoes of an Outers legend.

Lucky for us, we had a lot of help. Mr. Haslam met with us in good spirits and with a great trip in mind. We settled on the Steel and got to work on meeting new OPHEA and Extended Field Trip guidelines, hunting down a chaperone with Lifeguard qualifications and preparing our ever-famous Outers menu. The students gathered in good numbers to meetings and accomplished the mandatory swim test with ease.

The Steel trip promised great scenery, some “true Outers days” of paddling and portaging, and newly maintained ports thanks to Biigtigong First Nation. We would put in at Grehan Lake, travel through Evonymous, Kawikabondog, then Eagle Crest and turn around at the beach campsite on Steel Lake. We would exit at the Eagle Crest landing but also planned for potential extraction points along the way. With a new InReach communications system, updated-as-can-be satellite weather forecasts, loaded Garmin maps on the GPS and the feeling of something missing, we were on our way.

DAY ONE-June 17, Grehan to Evonymous

Loading up the bus and students, we couldn’t get over the sunny start to the trip. After strapping down the canoes with our new ratchet straps, we left from GCHS around 9:45, bound for Longlac. The Catlonite Road was bumpy, dusty and busy with logging trucks. Once we arrived at Grehan, 38 k from Longlac, we ported down a ditch across from a large gravel pit. Students took turns yelling the occasional “TRUUCK!”. Once safely on the water around 12:30, Mr. Carr led the group in some basic paddling exercises. Lists were triple checked and we realized some canoes were outfitted with four paddles instead of the usual three. Better safe than sorry.

Fireman Gavin brought along a hand drum and started the day off with a traditional song. He was backed up by some fellow students and it set the tone for a beautiful day. Staff Lynnea offered tobacco and we got to paddling.

As our joints loosened, we found our stride. We came across our first port, neatly cut by Mr. Haslam and Rob Lavoie. It was a great introduction for our peons and some of the out-of-shape staff. The port starts at the mouth of a clear creek. While we waited for canoes to unload, we watched little trout swimming beneath us. After Brigade Leader Logan tried for nearly twenty minutes to scoop a prize clam shell from the silty bottom, a mink sneakily hopped across downed cedars on the water’s edge, smugly showing off his own freshly caught clam.

Marsh marigolds and water lilies welcomed us onto the meandering port. Once we tackled it and ate lunch, we headed for Evonymous around 3pm. The Outers made great pace on calm, clear waters. Our next hurdle was a set of narrow chutes. Staff Lynnea and Carr stationed themselves against a log and a bloated dead fish, whistling twice to send through one canoe at a time. Water levels were high enough that nobody had to get out of their canoes.

We set up camp at the south end of Evonymous, where a previous group had built a structure we can only imagine was made by hunting parties for cleaning fish. The plywood counters and tarp blocking the wind made cooking dinner a breeze. Mr. Johnson made light work of clearing spots for our tents.

That feeling of forgetting something made sense when we realized we had neglected to bring our mega frying pan. Hamburger helper was on the well-planned menu, so we resorted to eating a luxurious Kraft Dinner instead. The structure provided easy set up for our big blue tarp when it started to rain.

Jarryd and Tecumseh pointed out that NovaCraft 4 was taking on water during their paddle. We flipped it over to find a dime sized hole. Epoxy and fibreglass did the trick and Staff Lynnea even built a garbage bag tent over the drying patch job to protect it from the elements.

Our night around the fire ended with a heated discussion we later referred to as “The Spaghetti Debate”. When you order spaghetti, do you specify that it is served with sauce or is it assumed? Do you call plain old spaghetti “naked spaghetti”? The argument was never completely settled. Spring peepers and chorus frogs sang us to sleep.

DAY TWO-June 18 Evonymous/Kawikabondog to Eagle Crest

Outers began to stir around 6:30 as loons called across the lake. A smudge and a good meal of bacon and bagels kicked off the day. We loaded up and departed around 9:30 am with the wind at our backs and clouds diffusing the hot sun. At 10:45, we emerged from a beautiful river system to rest at “Doreen’s bridge”. Mr. Haslam met us there with our frying pan, famous Outers bacon and two extra pot lids.

We paddled down the lake to Little Steel River and leisurely paddled through, avoiding dead cedars and swarms of Swallowtail butterflies. Clouds cleared for the last leg of the day through picturesque Eagle Crest. An eagle greeted us almost immediately and a pair of mating frogs reminded us that spring means reproduction in the wild.

We set up camp at the river base, and some of the students threw their rods in the water below the rapids long enough for us to catch some yummy pickerel for dinner. The campsite was situated at the beginning of the next day’s port so Brigade Leader Logan, Mr. Carr and Mr. Johnson set out clearing what they could that night. They returned bug-bitten and sweaty. Some wary students walked part of the way to see what they were in for the next day. Although recently cleared by Biigtigong First Nation with added signage, the going would be tough for some.

DAY THREE-June 19, Eagle Crest to Steel

Our early start was made easier by Outers bacon from European Meats in Thunder Bay. We had to plan an extraction for two students who couldn’t carry on while also managing the difficult portage ahead. Brigade Leader Jarryd, Mr. Haslam, Ms. Carlson and the two students paddled their way back through Eagle Crest to the landing on Eagle Crest road while the rest of the group carried on. When Jarryd and Ms. Carlson had finished the return trip, the portage from last night’s campsite and a little paddle up the river, they came across a group of canoes gathered at a rocky port opening and everyone looking quite frustrated. The group had navigated the long, hilly port extremely well but were met with a new challenge on the second, shorter port.

The slippery rocks and the narrow opening left a few of the Outers with some minor injuries. We planned to learn from our mistakes and plan for a different exit point on our return trip. We patched up the minor injuries, had lunch and set off into the Steel around 3:15.

We planned to cover some of the 30 k paddle across the Steel as the weather and morale were good. Our closest established campsite was formerly known as the “Emergency Bug Hole”. We came up on the campsite after a 13 k paddle, on the right hand side of the Steel. Up on a hill, it was hidden well.

For those of us who have suffered from the worst itch ever known, we can recognize the breeding grounds of Swimmer’s Itch when we see it. Most of us avoided the warm, weedy shore as we unloaded. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Carr got to cutting as the majority of the group helped to clear the thick brush.

Once cleared out, the site proved to be quite comfortable. There was room for all of our tents nestled together and Mr. Johnson’s usual private tent spot. The only exception was the lack of clean water for drinking and dishes, so we sent students out in canoes to keep us hygienic and hydrated.

There has been a steady improvement in the quality of our Outers dishes. One of the favourites is our Smokie Stir Fry. Fried, chopped smokies, green peppers, onions and rice seasoned by our Head Chef Kendra filled our bellies and readied us for bed.

Our fatigue and fullness quickly disappeared when Mr. Carr came up from the beach with blood soaking his white slides. He had mistakenly stepped on a stick that went through his shoe into his foot. Our newly qualified “Lay Wilderness First Aid Responder” staff members quickly went through the motions of their recent training. Assistant Brigade Leader Jorden fetched clean water faster than we could ask, Staff Lynnea gave direct orders to Ms. Carlson to dig for gauze and tape in the med barrel and Mr. Johnson ensured his buddy was calm and in good spirits.

The night tapered off as everyone calmed down again. The girls braided each others’ hair, made shadow puppets on the prospector tent’s canvas walls and Christine sang everyone a Dream song.

DAY FOUR-June 20,2019, Steel Lake

We woke at 9 am with a smudge and a song, chowed down on breakfast and hit the water around noon. We were met with yet another sunny day and had 17k to cover. The wind was at our backs again, pushing us south towards the “beach of all beaches”. Around 2pm, we rafted up for lunch and took a little break knowing we still had around 7k to go. We passed rocky shores and found our way into a beautiful bay around 3:45. As we washed up on the shore, more than a few Outers asked the lifeguard if they could go for a dip. The water was cool and clear.

Not much clearing of the site needed to be done, although there was some glass and a bit of garbage. Tent spots were established and went up quickly so everyone could enjoy the rest of the afternoon on the beach. While the boys constructed a beach “hot tub”, staff deliberated on the plan for the next day. Weather was looking good and we knew our journey home could be done in two days if we weren’t met with any storms.

As we watched the Outers hamming it up on the shore we decided on a rest day. We ate a late dinner of spaghetti-with-sauce and told stories late into the night. Mr. Carr’s story of Stan the Prospector Tent man was the creepiest of them all. Bed by midnight.

DAY FIVE-June 21, 2019, Steel Lake

The longest day of the year was absolutely well spent by this bunch. We recognized National Indigenous Peoples’ Day with a smudge of traditional medicines and Firemen Bowen and Gavin led the group in some songs.

Our rest day was called an exercise day for a few reasons. Some of our staff had recently been trained in “Advanced Wilderness and Remote First Aid” by the Red Cross. They learned a variety of skills for dealing with first aid in the bush. The response to situations in a remote area are different than those in residential areas where help is a few minutes away.

Staff split the group into two teams and provided both with first aid manuals and five minutes each to prepare one day bag with any survival supplies they thought they might need. Staff acted out injuries and maladies while the two teams responded.

Some of the students were trained in First Aid while others had little to no experience. They came together to save their beloved staff members using solid teamwork, problem solving and ingenuity. Mr. Carr and Mr. Johnson recovered from their broken elbows and heat stroke. Lynnea and Ms. Carlson miraculously walked away from the scene after suffering broken legs and twisted ankles.

The timing couldn’t have been better because it was time to learn canoe over canoe rescue skills, which was also a great excuse to get everyone in the water. The sun shone down as pairs took turns flipping their canoes and rescuing one another. These skills are fun in practise but absolutely necessary to master in order for students to be fully prepared for any situation.

Once the rescues were over with, it was time for some competition. Before canoe races began, Mr. Johnson challenged Fireman Bowen and ABL Jorden to a swimming race. Mr. Johnson’s butterfly stroke got him off to a great start, but in the end, Bowen finished first.

Canoe races were split into singles and doubles and everyone took turns paddling out to the lifeguard canoe and back. Brigade Leader “Super Outer” Jarryd won almost every race he took part in. Doubles races even had Mr. Johnson racing his way to an unsure, way-too-close-to-call finish against Jarryd. Competition was heated with no clear winners in many of the races. Staff are still referring to video footage to confirm.

Once the commotion of the races died down, we kicked off our first annual Outers Fish Derby. Six canoes set out on the bay hoping to win the most fish, biggest or weirdest catch. After an hour on the water, canoes were called back. Lynnea won biggest fish with her beautiful pike, and also brought back some gorgeous blue walleye. Jarryd and Bowen won the prize for most fish and Walt came in second. Honourable mention to Bowen for catching a small perch from the rocks at the end of the beach. Lynnea got to cleaning the fish so we could add them to the dinner menu. Noodles and canned turkey seasoned by chef Kendra perfectly complemented the giant pot of fried fish.

While the sun slowly went down, Ms. Carlson started constructing a driftwood dream catcher to celebrate Summer Solstice and National Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Outers and staff got to work finding a small item to symbolize themselves. By the time it was completed, Outers had gathered items including: fish bone, feather, birchbark, Brisk logo, flowers, matchsticks, carved wood, beads, a fishing jig, sacred medicines and pinecones. The dreamcatcher hangs at the Steel Lake site as a symbol of the trip.

Staff decided that the group would be ready for a real Outers Day in the morning if we sent them to bed early.

DAY SIX-June 22, 2019, Steel Lake to Eagle Crest

4:30 am starts can be rough. However, our Outers had canoes on the water by 5:30. The moon shone above us as fog rose from the lake around us. We bid farewell to our beloved beach and made tracks as we had 30k to cover and the dreaded injury inducing port after that. Staff Lynnea had smudged the canoes and shores before we left, so we were feeling optimistic. We paddled on into the early morning quietly and with good speed. When it was time for a break, the winds were so favourable that we rafted up and made sails from our jackets. We covered a whole kilometre while resting.

At 11:30, we came across our port site. We put in at the right of the river to avoid the “danger rocks” of Day Three. The entrance was quite steep so we unloaded one canoe at a time and used a chain system to get everyone and everything up and over. Waiting canoes in the water stayed to the right to avoid being sucked into the river to the left of the port. The chain system really helped prevent any slips like the ones we experienced on Day Three. We also decided to break up the longer second port of the day by canoeing the empty canoes down the final section instead of bringing them through the trail.

Outers pushed hard all day, first with a 30k paddle and then with some potentially dangerous and somewhat long ports. The sun was lovely at times but also made the going that much tougher. Once we arrived at the campsite on Eagle Crest, everyone needed a break and cool water.

Setup went smoothly as the site was just how we left it. Tents went up slowly as some brave Outers rinsed off in the cool waters below the rapids. Outers eventually chowed down on Sidekicks Soup. The plan was to add canned milk but for some reason water was the only choice.

Promotions followed soon after dinner. Outers were invited one by one to survive the Outers Council. Staff Carr, Lynnea, Johnson, Carlson and Gosselin discussed the growth, struggles and goals of each individual. Promotions help to establish roles moving forward, praise their effort and problem solve any issues on the trip. This year we ended the promotions with a goodbye to Brigade Leaders Jarryd Goodman and Logan Furoy. They have worked their way through the ranks and been excellent leaders in the bush. We wish them well on their next endeavours and hope that they spread the good word of Outers to everyone they meet. This year, Mr. Johnson constructed a citronella staff, and Jarryd and Logan blew out the candle to signify the end of their watch as Brigade Leaders.

DAY SEVEN-July 23, Eagle Crest

We rose at 6 am and were on the water by 7:50. We had oatmeal with water boiled on the stove as we wanted to get a move on. We had one small port to cover so we took our time. Staff Lynnea spent her waiting time at the port fishing with her daughter’s Tinkerbell fishing rod and caught a fish with every cast. We carried on with our last bit of paddling and made sure to take in the scenery we would soon be leaving behind. By 10:15, we were unloading on the landing at Eagle Crest. Canoes and barrels were carried slowly to the road and cooks got to work preparing their ever famous PB&J wraps while we waited for the bus.

The wait wasn’t long and soon our trusted bus and trailer arrived, signifying our return to the  “real” world. Outers made quick work of loading the canoes and soon we were kicking up dust on the Eagle Crest Road. A quick stop at “Doreen’s bridge” was warranted as everyone was short on water and we had about an hour drive ahead of us. Before we knew it, we were pulling out in Longlac.

When we got back to the high school, we remembered that there was a scheduled power outage in Geraldton. We opened up the shop doors for light and fresh air, and hung our tents, emptied barrels and organized what we could. Outers were picked up one by one and hugs were shared as this marked the beginning of summer for some, and the end of an era for our graduates.

We couldn’t have asked for a better first trip without Mr. Haslam. We thought of him often and found ourselves asking “What would Haslam do?”. While we’ll miss him every trip, now we can get away with working him into our evening campfire stories as one of the Outers legends-a wise, sometimes firey, old soul with the heart and leadership only the greatest teachers possess. If we can do half as good of a job as he did over the years, I think we’ll be alright. If you’re interested in what he’s up to with canoeing these days, check out the Greenstone & Area Canoe Routes group he created on Facebook. In his spare time between building his giant freighter canoe and jamming with his band, he’s been updating tried and true routes Outers have travelled (or tried to travel) over the years. The legacy lives on and has inspired others to get out and explore.

As for next year, “The destination will be revealed upon arrival..”