Conquering Juan de Fuca: When Wilderness Becomes the Ultimate Classroom

September 26, 2023 4 min read

What is three words, 48km long, and features rugged terrain, unpredictable conditions, and breathtaking scenery? Juan de Fuca Trail, of course! Located along the coast of Vancouver Island, it is one of the most well-known hikes in the west and our students set out to find out why.

Outdoor Education (OE) is one of the most beloved option courses at CA, and its popularity is well-deserved. The program fosters friendships through collaborative problem-solving, peer support, and shared outdoor expeditions.

Last April, a tight-knit group of 11 Senior School students eagerly strapped on their backpacks, laced up their hiking boots, and hit the Juan de Fuca trail—a demanding coastal adventure that lead OE instructor, Jason Lindsay, describes as “no joke.”

“OE is based on learning skills and then applying those skills. You can’t do that without trips, including overnight trips. On longer trips, the dynamics change, the students change, and that’s what I was seeking.” – Mr. Lindsay

The idea came to him in December and just three weeks later, his OE class was given the green light to begin preparing for their year-end expedition, just mere months away.

With 11 previous Juan de Fuca treks under his belt, Mr. Lindsay understands that even seasoned hikers encounter new challenges on this trail, highlighting the importance of preparation and proper nutrition.

Packing the correct food supplies is crucial for outdoor excursions, and the OE students excelled at efficiently using it as fuel. This was evident in their cooking challenge this past April where they were put to the test in creating well-balanced and portable meals.

This ensured they were equipped long before their journey began, aligning with Mr. Lindsay’s objective to “show them how to thrive in the wilderness, not just survive.”

To begin their trip, students departed Calgary to Victoria by plane and boarded the West Coast Trail Express bus. After being provided with fuel and bear spray, they began their excursion through lush forests and tall trees.

Students learned that ever-changing terrain, including river crossings, waterfalls, and rocky beaches, to quick weather changes, only to be met moments later with expansive ocean views and bountiful wildlife, are what make Juan de Fuca an awe-inspiring adventure every step of the way.

The second day proved the most strenuous as it featured the trail’s highest elevation gain. Each subsequent day, students overcame adverse weather conditions, wet and muddy forest floors, a missing storm shelter, and a bridge that had been knocked down by a tree.

Unexpected conditions aside, it was in the moments of calm that students came to appreciate the vastness and serenity of nature and reflect on how hard they had pushed themselves thus far. Students eyed lots of wildlife, including bald eagles, seals, sea lions, and hummingbirds.

Following one of their most exhausting days, students concluded it with a relaxing campfire on the beach to appreciate the vastness of nature, share laughs and stories, and create stronger support systems that would carry them through the rest of their journey home.

I’m incredibly proud of the students. They’ve been a really great group and I look forward to reconnecting with each one as they continue in nature and grow into their own version of an explorer.”

As their trip came to an end, Mr. Lindsey reflected on many epiphanies that emerged, with one standing out among the rest. One of the biggest lessons on the trip was to break down any challenge into small, manageable steps. This is something that can be applied in anyone’s life, but for students to be able to learn this at a young age when they are on the cusp of graduating is one of the biggest hopes for Mr. Lindsay’s students.

“Being able to say, ‘I can persevere, I am resilient, I am capable, I can trust other people to help me along the way, and I’ve got a whole bunch of friends now because we did this together,’ this is one of the strongest epiphanies that came out of this trip.” – Mr. Lindsay

Students in Grades 9–12 can become students of nature with OE by gaining skills in self-discovery, adventure, and resilience. There are many more exciting opportunities planned for the 2023–24 school year. Find out more about Integrated Studies here.