Posted by: csdailyblog | March 11, 2010

Backcountry Ski/Camp Trip: “The Corps of Exploration”

A winter fire warms the heart as well as the toes.

Post by Michael Salat, Conserve School History Teacher. Photos by Jon Ciatti, Conserve School Graduate Fellow, and students Gabe and Casey

Exploration Week lived up to its name for 8 adventurous students and 3 staff members with a backcountry ski/camping trip across the Sylvania Wilderness Area.

The cabin -- a welcome sight after several hours of skiing.

On Monday, the group prepared for the overnight trip with a 4 hour ski over the lakes and portage trails of our neighboring Sylvania Wilderness. While exploring the “5 lake loop” in Sylvania, the group took time to investigate the damage left from a small tornado that ripped through the north end of Deer Island Lake about 6 years ago. After completing this full afternoon of backcountry skiing, I knew the group was more than ready for the challenges ahead.

Wednesday morning found two inches of fresh snow already on the ground and temperatures in the upper teens while snow showers blew in from Lake Superior. The conditions were perfect for the 8.5 mile ski across the southern end of the Sylvania Wilderness. The destination for the evening would be a small cabin where the group could prepare food and get warm, while still planning on sleeping out in tents for the evening. The ski was excellent as the group took 4 hours to complete the day’s skiing.

Casey, Jess, and Jake in the small cabin where the group warmed up before setting up tents for the night.

Once at the cabin the “Corps of Exploration” group fueled up on snacks before setting up camp and preparing a roaring blaze. Some of the group decided to take on the added challenge of skiing the “Back Bowls”, which consist of a series of challenging downhill runs. Many laughs were had as the adventurous cross-country skiers learned the meaning of the term “face plant”. (See some of the face plants here.)

Throughout the day snow continued to fall as we picked up another two inches of light powder. After a hearty dinner,  members of the “Corps of Exploration” enjoyed a campfire, played Frisbee under the moonlight, and relaxed. From all reports, it seems as though everyone was toasty and warm during the night as the temperature dipped to a low of 7 degrees with continued light snow. In the morning, Ben treated the group by fixing breakfast for all. It is amazing how you can jam 11 people into a small space and have them work together as a harmonious team.

Light snowflakes fall as the group crosses a lake.

Finally around noon it seemed like a good idea to head back to campus even though nobody was in any hurry to leave. The ski back had temperatures rising to near 30 with clear and sunny skies. The beauty of Sylvania was all around us and everyone seemed to be savoring the moment. It was really a great experience for me to lead this outstanding group. Never once did I hear anyone complain or say it was too difficult. One of the most satisfying aspects was seeing how everyone improved their skiing abilities.

Members of "The Corps" cross the frozen expanse of another Sylvania lake.



  1. Joe, your name was mentioned on more than one occaision. You have left a wonderful legacy through your work with those kids.

  2. MIchael – Man….this is living….

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