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NICHOLAS MERCER: Test your metal

The Blow-Me-Down Mountain range offered a group of students a challenge as they completed their Duke of Edinburgh medal silver qualifications.
The Blow-Me-Down Mountain range offered a group of students a challenge as they completed their Duke of Edinburgh medal silver qualifications. - Contributed

Clara Ryan had been on day hikes before but nothing like this.

She’d tackled most of the trails in the Corner Brook region, but they weren’t like what she and some classmates experienced a couple of weeks ago as a part of her Duke of Edinburgh silver trials. 

Then, the Grade 11 student at Corner Brook Regional High made a four-day journey across the Blow-Me-Down Mountain range. A part of the International Appalachian Trail Newfoundland and Labrador, the Blow-Me-Downs is probably not the easiest terrain for a novice backpacker to attempt.

It is more than 30 kilometres of backcountry across a trail that gives users breathtaking vistas of the Bay of Islands, the Lewis Hills and Serpentine Valley.

It is also something I’ve thought about more and more as my time here on the west coast gets longer.

I’m not nearly prepared for it, but it’d still be a blast.

The group started at the southern trailhead which starts at the end of the Serpentine logging road where they crossed Serpentine Lake, hiked the mountain and cross the plateau before ending at the base of Blow-Me-Down.

“We followed the trail markers,” Ryan said of the trip. “The weather was really nice, but we had to walk though Serpentine River.

“It was cold.”

My guess is you learn a little about yourself when faced with a trek into the wilderness like the one she experienced.

For Ryan, it was facing the fear she has of heights and overcoming that psychological obstacle.

On Day 2 of the excursion, she was forced to meet it head on as the group ascended the trail that reached an elevation of up to 600 metres.

“I felt really accomplished when I got to the top,” she said.

Of course, making the journey isn’t the only challenging part to a trip like the one Ryan and her group went on.

Eating, making camp and manoeuvring with a backpack constantly affixed to you can test those not used to extended stays on the trail.

Ryan figured her pack would get lighter as the weekend went on. With each passing meal, the backpack would lose just enough to make the final leg of the trip that much easier she surmised.

That wasn’t the case. It felt just as heavy or heavier than when she first began her journey.

Then, there was the sleeping.

If you’re interested in making a similar journey, Ryan suggests avoiding rocky areas because they can make for a rough night in the tent.

Through the Duke of Edinburgh program, Ryan got a crash course in reading a map and using a compass, making camp and other skills she can use for the rest of her life.

In particular, it prepared her for what can only be described as a challenging end-of-school activity.

“I felt prepared and I would do it again,” she said.

Making my way into the backcountry for a couple of days is something high on my west coast to-do list.

I really don’t have the skills for it, but I’d still like to make that journey. I imagine it as a test of yourself and a way to see what exactly you’re made of.

It’s kind of like that Liam Neeson movie called “The Grey” — except for the pack of murderous wolves, and the harrowing snow storm, of course.

Mostly, I’d love to make the trek and come back with those experiences and a memory card full of pictures to document the trip.

That would be something for the gram — Instagram that is.

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