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What is it like?

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When we say COLT is dynamic, we mean it. No two days are the same. One day you might be paddling on the Gold River, an hour from Strathcona Park Lodge. The next, you could be hanging off a rock wall, or in class learning navigation skills.

The 100-day COLT schedule is demanding, but we will set you up for success. We strategically incorporate rest and recovery into the itinerary. Modules are long enough to gain skills, but not too long to burn out. We alternate between land and water activities to give bodies and minds a break. Goals are set, evaluated and debriefed. And we make sure that your base for the program feels like home, complete with healthy meals and a friendly atmosphere.

 

What you get to do

Every day is a different adventure. Most days are in the field, exploring rock walls and rivers, oceans rapids and mountain faces. Activities vary from sea kayaking to mountaineering, first aid to backpacking. Every day you will learn something new, hone skills and practice leadership.

The program builds towards two major expeditions. The Tidal Sea Kayak trip is a five day trip among the powerful tidal rapids on the east side of Vancouver Island and serves as an exam for your assistant sea kayak guide certification. The Mountain Journey is a week-long expedition into the mountains of Vancouver Island lead by the students with only supervision by the instructors.

The schedule varies between the Fall and Spring programs and from semester to semester, but roughly breaks down like this:

Sample itinerary

Water

  • Canoeing: four days in the canoe, first on the lake learning basic strokes and then day trips to nearby rivers transferring those skills in solo and tandem boats
  • Whitewater kayaking: six days spread over two modules, on either the Gold or Campbell river getting more comfortable and progressing skills
  • Swift Water Rescue Course: two days learning how to perform rescues and travel safely on moving water
  • Tofino Surf Trip: four days of kayak surfing and camping in Tofino, Canada’s surf capital
  • Nimpkish River Expedition: three day trip on a larger river on northern Vancouver Island run expedition style in a variety of boats
  • Nootka Sound sea kayaking: nine-day sea kayak trip on the west coast of Vancouver Island, building skills and exploring the rugged coast
  • Canoe Instructor Course: five-day course on flatware canoe skills leading to an exam
  • Tidal Sea Kayak Expedition: six-day sea kayak expedition in the tidal rapids on the east side of Vancouver Island

Land

  • Introduction to rock climbing: four days learning the systems and techniques to safely climb one pitch climbs
  • Squamish Rock Camp: seven days of rock climbing at one of the best climbing areas in Canada, including single pitch, rope rescue and multi-pitch climbs
  • Introduction to mountain travel: six-day backpacking trip, on and off the trail, into the mountains of Vancouver Island
  • Snow and glacier: six days spent at a base camp at the base of the Big Interior Glacier working on glacier travel and other mountaineering skills
  • Mountain Journey: nine days in the mountains on an expedition chosen and lead by students

General

  • Orientation: a day spent at the lodge working on group dynamic skills and trying out the high ropes and zip line courses
  • Directed Outdoor Studies: two days with the choice between a mini-practicum shadowing an outdoor education group at Strathcona Park Lodge or a self-planned and executed expedition
  • Rest days: six to seven days total spread throughout the course, including a three-day mid-semester break
  • Wilderness first aid: 10 days mostly in the classroom but some outside work earning an industry standard certification
  • Radio operator: one-day course and exam on proper VHF radio operation
  • Debrief: two one day debriefs, one mid-course and one at the end. Individual and group evaluations

What’s better: the spring or fall semester?

The COLT outdoor education program runs twice a year, spring and fall. Both semesters are identical in the itinerary but vary slightly in skills and experience. The mountain portion of the Spring program includes more time camping and climbing in the snow, while the fall program enjoys rivers full of migrating salmon.

Weather-wise, both programs include a diverse mix of temperatures and precipitation. Vancouver Island has a wet, Mediterranean climate. June through September tends to be warm and dry. October and November are wet with occasional snowfalls in the mountains. April and May can be wet, snowy or sunny and warm.

Where you live

The COLT program’s base is Strathcona Park Lodge, a busy outdoor education centre and resort. The lodge sits on the shore of Upper Campbell Lake and just outside Strathcona Provincial Park, the oldest park in B.C. The sunsets here are amazing: the lodge looks west where the lake narrows, squeezed by some of highest mountains on Vancouver Island.

It’s about 50 minutes by car to Campbell River, the nearest town, where you can enjoy a dose of the city on your day off, or pick up personal supplies.

The rest of the time the lodge is your home. It’s ideal for recovering from your latest adventure. The lake warms up to perfect swimming temperatures. There are trails to wander, excellent food to enjoy, and 80 staff to befriend.

The lodge is like its own little town run on the principles of sustainability. Power comes from a hydro system and as we are off-grid and remote, there is no phone service or TV. The Internet is available but limited in speed. We compost and minimize garbage.

Read more about Strathcona Park Lodge

How you get here

COLT students are responsible for getting to Strathcona Park Lodge for the start of the program. It’s about a four-hour journey from Vancouver, including the ferry to Vancouver Island. We can also pick you up in Campbell River or Comox. Several airlines fly into Comox and Campbell River with global connections. There are also bus and shuttle lines stop in Campbell River every day.

 

Where you sleep

COLT students live in the rustic but cozy Big Den, an exclusive area with a communal lounge, gear drying area and classroom. You’ll share a room with two or three other COLT students. Each of you will have a bed, chair and closet for gear storage. There are shared laundry facilities and bathrooms and parking for those that have their own vehicles. Big Den is a short walk from the dining room and other lodge facilities.

What you eat

The food here is legendary. Hungry COLTies are never left wanting. We serve buffet-style meals three times a day at the Whale Room, a communal dining room. Local, free range and unprocessed foods are a focus. Meals are healthy and varied with plenty of options for sides and mains. The kitchen staff can usually accommodate all diets, with options for vegan, vegetarian, lactose and gluten-free meals.

The COLT students prepare food for out-trips with help from the kitchen staff. The kitchen is well equipped with food options for every kind of trip.

Who you live and learn with

Your lodge life involves three groups of people: your COLT group, your instructors, and the lodge staff.

Meet the people of Strathcona Park Lodge

Your group

You will share your COLT experience with up to 10 other students. They range in age from 19 to as old as 60. They’ll come from all over Canada, U.S. Europe, Australia, Japan and even just down the road. They all share a love for the outdoors, but other than that there is no typical COLT student. You will go through a lot with these people. Expect to make a few lifelong friends.

Instructors

Some of the COLT instructors are lodge staff. Others come specifically to teach modules. Our instructors approach every situation with the focus of teaching you how to run activities on your own. They are there to help you learn in a safe and supportive environment. That means they’ll let you make mistakes, but also help you get back up and do better next time.

Lodge community

This is part of what makes COLT unique. From the office staff to the maintenance crew, this is a community that supports and encourages each other. Meal times are communal. You’ll eat at the same table as lodge guests, COLT instructors, staff and even the Boulding family who run the lodge. When there are big social events, like our famous Barn Parties, COLT students are welcome.

How you get around

We provide all transportation during COLT activities. Usually, we travel as a group in a van or bus.

On your free time or days off you are responsible for your own transportation. Some COLT students bring a personal vehicle to the program. There is parking available on site.

What you do on days off

COLT students get seven or eight days off per semester. We keep you working hard the rest of the time! Thus it is important to get some good old R&R during these days. You will have a scheduled three-day break around mid-term to allow visits with family or friends, see Vancouver Island on your own, or to just simply hang out.

What does a typical day look like

LIFE IN THE FIELD

Usually, the pace is steady, but not rushed, so there’s time for discussions and lessons about what’s going on. The camp is typically set up early enough in the day to allow some relaxation before dinner. Days may begin very early to take advantage of the safest conditions, but the amount of time on the move is usually no more than 8 hours.

A DAY IN THE LIFE…

7:00 am – wake up and head out for breakfast, served in the Whale Room at 7:30 am. On out-trips, you’ll be making it over a camp stove.

8:30 am – with breakfast settling it’s time to get ready for the day. At the lodge, you may pack a day pack, grab lunch, and jump in a van for a day of paddling or rock climbing. In the field, you’ll prepare for another day of adventure.

8:30 am to 4:00  pm – climbing, paddling, hiking, learning.

6:00 pm – Dinner. Served buffet style at the Whale Room or if out on an out trip cooked to perfection over a stove (hopefully) by you.

7:00 pm – Debrief, socializing and learning. In the field, the post-dinner hour is for relaxing. You may also discuss the day’s activities, debriefing and learning from the excitement. You’ll then have free time to learn a new skill, watch an interesting movie, or listen to a guest speaker.