by Stephen Dafoe
The Fred Scharmann Memorial Hiking Trip departs from Morinville Community High School (MCHS) Sept. 21. It is the fourth annual outing to the mountains in memory of a Morinville business owner remembered as an avid outdoorsman and community volunteer. About 21 MCHS students will take part in the three-day trip, returning Sept. 24.
Greg Boutestein, an MCHS teacher, and friend of the late Fred Scharmann said the trip had been at the school for many years but had not been as consistent as the annual school bike trip through Jasper National Park, which Scharmann was a dedicated volunteer participant in for about 16 years. The hiking trip was revitalized four years ago in Scharman’s honour and has been popular since.
Boutestein said this year students and chaperones would be staying at the Whiskey Jack Hostel in Yoho National Park, which he said is just across the border in BC as the crow flies.
“We’re hoping to get some good days of hiking in,” Boutestein said, noting the quality and duration of hiking runs is dependent on weather. “In the past, I think the most we’ve done in a single day is up to 30 k[ilometres], depending on the strength of the group. But on average we’ll do 20 km in a day. You’ve got to gauge the groups, and we try to give ourselves options.”
Boutestein said one trail students would face offers a couple of options on a looped path where more experienced hikers can do a longer route, meeting up later with those who take the shorter leg.
“It’s called the Iceline up in Yoho Valley, and there are a couple of options where the kids can break. There are two supervisors, so if one group isn’t as strong, a supervisor can go with the smaller group,” Boutestein said. “The first day could have as much as 26 km of hiking. “If the weather is cooperative, there is about 20 km on the second day. Both of the hikes we are doing are not traditional – walk straight up and straight down. The one hike we’re doing is a loop, so you never hit the same trail during the day. It’s new terrain the whole day through. The second day we walk right out of the hostel (there’s a trail head right there) and go right out over the mountain and come out at Emerald Lake, which is 20 km away.”
Strong numbers this year
Boutestein said the fall trip has been so popular with students; it fills by June. There is already a waiting list of five students hoping a spot opens up.
Boutestein said the majority of the students taking the hiking trip are female. This year’s hike has 17 girls and about four boys taking the trip. Students range from Grade 10 to 12.
“It’s very popular,” Boutestein said of the hike, adding he believes the popularity is an opportunity to experience the mountains and engage in a physical activity most can do. I think there are just kids that want to go out and see the mountains and I know the bike trip we’ve had issues with numbers the past few years. We look at the numbers on the hiking trip – and I think part of it is you don’t need a bike. All you need is a good pair of shoes and a backpack. Pretty much anyone can hike. To start hiking, it is not something you need to invest a lot of money in.”
The MCHS teacher feels the trip is one from which students take away a lot. Not only are they building memories that will last well beyond their high school years, but they are also taking an opportunity to challenge themselves.
“I think there’s misconception out there that you have to be an athlete to be a hiker,” Boutestein said. “I tell the kids, ‘Have you seen me? I am no athlete. I am certainly no athlete.’ For hiking, there has to be a lot of mental fortitude as well. You’re climbing up those switchbacks, and there’s no end in sight. Your mind starts to play tricks on you. You have to be strong, not just physically but mentally as well. When these kids achieve that and stand on top of the pass, they all in some way or form conquer their own mountain out there.”