Crew 729's Impeesa Extreme experience

Date: Wed, 03 Sep 2003 10:07:40 -0400
From: Scott Simpson
Subject: [High_Adventure] Crew 729's Impeesa Extreme experience
Just wanted to give a report on our trek to Impeesa Extreme. Although we were gone a total of two weeks, the trek itself had to be cut short to 7 days, given that we had to fly into Seattle. That meant that our total traveling time just to get to camp was three days coming and going. I will forgo descriptions of the travel to camp and just describe our trek.

Camp Impeesa is located in the southwest corner of Alberta, very near Waterton-Glacier National Park. We never saw it. The entire west is fighting forest fires this summer, we drove past many, and the trek site was moved up to the Kananaskis area on a parallel with Calgary. About a day before we left for Seattle, that area too became subject to fires, so our operation was moved even farther north. If you go due west from Edmonton toward the Rockies, you will see a town called Nordegg. The road continues south a little ways to Abraham Lake. About midway down Abraham Lake on the western side is a tributary called the Cline River. That was our trailhead.

Our trek guide was Jeff Kittmer, the Fearless half of the Fearless Leader and Awesome Leader Dynamic Duo who led our 2001 trek to Atikokan. It was great spending time with Fearless again. Because this was all new territory, hundreds of miles north of the Impeesa base, Fearless was unfamiliar with the area, but remained his usual undaunted self. We had to rely on a guidebook which described the Pinto Lake trail that followed the length of the Cline River from Lake Abraham to Pinto Lake, a glacier-fed lake abutting the snow-capped mountains at the eastern edge of the Banff-Jasper National Parks border. We were then to cross over the saddle connecting Minster Mountain to Cline Mountain and enter into the valley on the other side formed by Waterfall Creek. From there, the guidebook assured us we could pick up a trail taking us back down to the Pinto Lake Trail, allowing us to circumperambulate the Minster Mountain massive.

Suffice it to say that there really isn't a trail down the length of the valley. We had to bushwhack our way down almost the total length of the valley climbing over rock fields and pushing through thick copses of shoulder-high evergreens. We picked up game trails where we could. The second go-around, I am quite confident that Fearless can make the trek much smoother, though the scouts thought the bushwhacking was one of the high lights of the trek. Our crew should be entitled to a pathfinding commission for subsequent treks.

The entire trek was roughly 65 kms and was accomplished in 5 days. The sixth day we rode horses at the Timberline program area deep in the Alberta wilderness. This too was the real deal, no nose to tail of the horse in front of you walking around the corral. We negotiated serious hills and valleys and stream crossings and saw some terrific countryside. Many of the scouts felt it was a highlight of the trek. There was a significant contribution to scouting made by the Canadians whom B-P met during the Boer War. It was neat to learn how those elements survive in today's scout uniform.

"Philmont is nothing compared to this."
-- Jahzeel Montes, Philmont July 2003, Impeesa Extreme August 2003.

For me, the highlight was crossing over the saddle into the valley beyond. From atop the saddle, high above the tree line, we could look down on herds of grazing big horn sheep and look out to snow capped peaks that surrounded us on all sides. If Pinto Lake and the valley beyond were in the lower 48, they would be a crown jewel in the National Park System and visited by millions ever year. Up here at the back door to Banff, no one pays them any mind. The view was beyond spectacular; so much so that by the time we arrived for a day at Glacier National Park in Montana, we were pretty much jaded and not too impressed with the Many Glaciers Campground. What we saw on the trek completely blew it away. The mountains were so high and so huge that I couldn't use the panoramic setting on my camera, since I couldn't take a picture of the lakes, rivers at the bottom of the frame without cutting off the tops of the mountains. That is how huge, tall, and close up the mountains were. The only people we saw during the trek were two who were choppered in. The only signs we saw of civilization were the helicopters flying over that were chartering sightseeing rides for people to see the ice fields where we were camping. Understand the significance of this. Where we had pitched our tents, other people had come from all over the world to charter helicopters to take them to see. We were camping in a National Geographic special.

Major credit goes to Mike Bingley for pulling this off. Though I have yet to see Impeesa, both Fearless and I feel strongly that the Pinto Lake trail needs to be kept open as an optional satellite base for the program. Our crew consisted of me and my wife, Kathy, and five boys and five girls. The youngest was 13. All had a tremendous time, they all took care of themselves, they were all overwhelmed by the landscape. I probably had the hardest time dragging myself over the saddle and would do it again in an instant.

Bingley is a true visionary, and as more young turks move into executive positions at Scouts Canada, they will have the opportunity to seize the potential for high adventure treks that Canada has to offer. Bingley outlined four other program areas he has in mind from Newfoundland to Vancouver that could service the 35,000 scouts that are turned away from Philmont every year. At Impeesa there is a cave formation called Gargantua that can take three days to explore. One of the options they are investigating calls for a three-day campout inside the cave, including a 50-foot rappel. I am convinced that with a million dollars in capitalization and ten years, Scouts Canada can own high adventure in North America. We will all be the better for it.

In closing, it is not my intention to put Philmont down. I just want to point out the tragic reality that for so many troops across this country, Philmont is an all-or-nothing proposition. Troops either get into Philmont or they do nothing and try again next year. Many troops refuse to consider viable alternatives to Philmont. That is most unfortunate. For my money, Impeesa Exteme is just like Philmont except a. you won't come out of the experience feeling like processed sausage #C-2479, b. you won't see anybody else on the trail, c. the mountains are ten times higher and green and d. every campsite is either by a glacier-fed lake, waterfall or river.

Scott Simpson
Crew 729
New York City

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