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A Groulx-ing Adventure

Spring break in the Quebec mountains

When March comes to Hanover, most students are eager to trade the local climate for a sunny and sandy spring-break locale. But this March, an adventurous group of hardy souls did just the opposite. Led by Brian Kunz, assistant director of outdoor programs, and Michel Denis, a French Canadian guide, the group traveled north to spend spring break camping in Quebec's remote Groulx mountains.

A student hiking the Groulx mountain
Students who hiked the Groulx mountains not only learned how to survive in the wilderness, they also learned about Quebec's environment and culture. (Photo by Josh Hurd)

In Groulx, spring means the snowpack is only ten feet deep. There are no services; a snowmobile and satellite phone were the group's only connections to civilization. Local wildlife includes wolves, caribou, wolverines, foxes, porcupines, fishers, and lynx.

"It's not like checking into Yosemite or Teton National Park," says Kunz. "A lot of people don't realize that in many ways Quebec is more remote than Alaska. The roads stop a lot sooner."

Kunz has organized the Dartmouth outdoor programs trips since they began fourteen years ago. For one week, about ten people cross-country ski above the tree line by day and sleep in shared canvas tents by night. They cook their own food, build their own shelters, and chop their own wood. Participants are mainly students, but alumni, faculty, and community members are welcome, and some attend every year. Kunz says the trip isn't just for no-peak-high-enough, no-trek-long-enough outdoor sports enthusiasts. Many, he says, are simply looking to experience something different.

Faisal Fazalbhoy '04 decided to go on this year's Groulx trip because, he says, "I hadn't done anything like this before. I didn't know how to light a fire, chop wood, ski uphill using skins, or put up a tent. I have spent most of my life near the equator, so learning to deal with the cold was a new experience."

How cold? Nighttime temperatures in Groulx can plummet to minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit, but the group stays warm by using woodstoves in the tents. More than just a place for shelter, the tents are shared living spaces and catalysts for conversation. "One of the joys of the trip is the community, as well as the conversation, that happens in the tent," says Kunz.

Chris Farmer '08 with Michel Denis
Chris Farmer '08, shown here with guide Michel Denis, was one of several students who headed north for spring break.

"The tent community was really interdependent," says Joshua Hurd '08, who arrived in Groulx with years of outdoor experience under his belt. "Each of us had assigned tasks that were necessary for camp living. If nobody gathered firewood, then we couldn't cook or be warm. If nobody wanted to cook dinner, then we couldn't eat. But because each of our roles was important to the community as a whole, we became really close."

Andrew Harvard '71, director of outdoor programs, is looking forward to participating in an upcoming Groulx trip. "A long trip in the winter, where you are out in the daytime and return to a tent in the evening, evokes the longer expeditions to the high mountains and the arctic poles. The students get an experience that shorter trips or trips farther south just can't deliver," he says.

Along with wilderness survival skills, the campers learn about Quebec's culture and environment. "Michel Denis is one of those old-time outdoor people," says Kunz. Denis, who once survived a dogsled trek across Quebec by eating a caribou he killed with a knife, shares his knowledge of the region's culture and history, the natural landscape, and native languages.

"Everyone comes away with an appreciation for this wild place, as well as for the fragility of that wildness," says Kunz.

To those considering spending a week in the Groulx mountain snow instead of the sand, Fazalbhoy has some advice: "I'd tell them to stop considering and just go."

Learn more about the Groulx mountain trip at www.dartmouth.edu/~opo.

By SARAH BENELLIĀ 

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Last Updated: 5/30/08