We met at the school at 8:30 am and were packed and on the road by 9. This year there were 11 Scouts and 5 Scouters. With a stop for gas in Maniwaki it was just over 3 hours to get to Le Domaine, the park office. We got ourselves checked in and unloaded, and just after 1:30 we were hitting the water. We had only about 4.5 km to go to our campsite, but with a lot of novices and a bit of a headwind we took our time and stopped 2 or 3 times on various points to make sure everyone was OK. It was just past 4pm when we were pulling into our camp site - site 11-118 which is the only site on a fairly big island. This is a large site with plenty of different places to pitch tents and hang hammocks, and was the last site we were on in our 2015 trip when we did a different route.
It was about a 4.5 km paddle to our first of three portages and we covered that distance in just over an hour, which is half the time we needed to cover the same distance the day before. Already we were working better as a team and paddling far more efficiently! The landing at the first portage was narrow with a wooden wharf along the right hand side. It was only possible to fit 2 canoes at a time to unload, and the rest had to wait in line. The water was jet black right at the edge of the water, and as the first one out of his canoe Scouter Alan recognized this as a bog. Nonetheless he still managed to mis-step and sink past his knee in the thick pungent muck of the bog.
Most people cooked their supper while Scouters Alan and Eric went out in the canoe to get in an hour of fishing. Not long after they returned the sky started to darken as Alan and Eric prepared their own supper. Some time later when most of the Scouts were in their tents we noticed a rainstorm making its way across the lake from the far side about 5 km away. We quickly made the rounds to ensure everything was secured and batoned down and by the end of that the rain started. And in a quick moment the rain became a deluge and in a quick moment after that the deluge was accompanied by what had to have been hurricane force winds. Tents started to be whipped around as Scouters scrambled from tent to tent to ensure everyone was safe. The winds were strong enough lift 2 of the canoes into the air and luckily Scouters were close by and able to secure them and move them further into the woods away from the full force of the wind. Within minutes which seemed like hours the full force of the winds had subsided and we were left with a serious situation to deal with.
We assembled everyone and took inventory of the situation. It was chaotic to be sure but Scouters worked quickly to ensure everyone was safe and calm. The Scouts could sense this was a serious situation and almost instinctively they all pulled together and worked as a team. One Scouter had been struck by an airborne canoe but fortunately it caused no injury. Everyone else was fine so we did a full assessment of whose tent had gotten swamped and what gear was no longer usable until dried out. We had only about an hour of sunlight left so we had to move quickly. Two tents and a hammock had gotten soaked inside along with some of the gear in them. We emptied them of water and used shop towels and sponges to dry the floors to make them serviceable again for the night. The tent poles were warped from the winds but the tents could still be used. Two sleeping bags had gotten swamped and would not be usable that night. We always carry an emergency barrel on our canoe trips and that includes a spare sleeping bag along with numerous other things, so that took care of one of the Scouts. One of the Scouters gave up his sleeping bag to the other Scout and spent a chilly night cocooned in several layers of clothing. Once we were assured our basic immediate needs were covered we did a quick inventory of the canoes and whether or not there was any damage, and had everyone locate their life jacket. At this point we had mostly recovered from the situation and were ready to head for bed. The hurricane force winds were long gone but there were still strong winds howling throughout the night and into the morning, and as such Scouters took turns holding vigil to ensure everyone remained safe.
Overall our trip was not the one we planned it to be as there were a lot of changes in plans and several emergency situations. However, the very purpose of the longer trips is to give Scouts an opportunity to challenge themselves more so than on the shorter ones, and give them a greater opportunity to develop as a team. We believe the situations we faced on this trip exposed the Scouts to the importance of teamwork, making informed decisions especially around the weather, and planning for emergencies. We hope that by seeing how the Scouters discussed and sought input from the Scouts they learned a bit about how to share opinions, while also respecting the process of making decisions together. Though that is not to say we were better off this way vs the trip as planned. It was a rough trip that we hope we don’t have to repeat any time soon, but we all got home safely and learned an incredible amount about ourselves and our Scouting team.