ARCTIC TO ATLANTIC WINTER SEMESTER
January 15– June 01, 2024
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J oin us on a journey from the heart of the winter wilderness to the spectacular maritime coastline, following the seasons from January to June. Kroka’s flagship Arctic to Atlantic Semester combines two months of backcountry skiing expeditions in the best alpine wilderness in the East with a traditional wilderness canoe journey down the Penobscot River and out to sea.
Beginning in northern New England in January we travel using methods seldom practiced by modern people on a self-supported ski expedition along Vermont’s Catamount Trail. Concluding our training expedition we depart for the sub-alpine Canadian peaks of the Chic-Chocs and Uapishka range in eastern Quebec. As the snow melts we will travel to the Maine Local Living School to practice earth-living-skills including ash basketry, knife hafting and paddle making. As snowmelt courses into the rivers of New England and spring wakes the land, we will begin a monthlong journey by canoe down the Penobscot River and out to sea.
You will develop sound judgment for healthy risk-taking and competency in technical adventure sports of backcountry skiing, whitewater canoeing, and marine navigation. You will engage in rigorous experiential curriculum encompassing humanities, social studies, and natural science. You will emerge from the program empowered and inspired to transform what you have learned in nature and community into altruistic action. Join our expedition team!
The first three weeks of the semester are devoted to community development, Nordic ski training and the practice of winter adventure sports (telemark skiing, ice skating and sledding). Students develop sustainable living skills and a sense of earth stewardship while residing in hand-built Earthen Lodges at Kroka’s campus. The academic studies are focused on geography and navigation, exploration of sense of place and expedition leadership. Students embark in preparations for every aspect of the four-month-long wilderness expedition ahead of them.
We depart in the heart of winter, and for three weeks we follow the famous Catamount Ski Trail along the spine of the Green Mountains toward Craftsbury, Vermont. The focus of our first expedition is developing winter expedition skills: from staying warm and reading the forested landscape to finding dry firewood and making a snug home for the night. We live in a handmade expedition-style canvass wall tent complete with a portable titanium wood stove. Each day we make camp along the frozen lakes and bogs, gather boughs to insulate us from the snow, and set a cozy camp. As night falls each day we study forest ecology, thermoregulation, winter adaptations in plants and animals and develop observation skills through journaling.
“The wind, snow and sun are our companions as we move northward. Our skies forecast the weather and tell us the time. The earth warms us from beneath as we sleep at night. We breathe the clean air deeply and smell the hemlocks and spruce. We take in this life in hopes of handing down our learning when we leave here.”
– Semester Student
Leaving Vermont and crossing into Quebec, Canada, we head northeast to the Chic-Choc mountains of the Gaspesie. Here the slopes of Mt. Logan boast the high annual snowfall east of the Rockies! Surrounded by boreal forest, majestic peaks, and up to 18 ft of powder we traverse the easternmost reach of Appalachians on an 8-day hut-to-hut backcountry ski expedition. The focus of this journey is on becoming a competent skier as we climb the mountains and descend into the valleys, carving endless telemark turns in deep powder. At night the cozy cabins of the Park National De La Gaspésie welcome us with woodstove heat, bunk beds and a comfortable place to study the relationship of humans to nature through environmental history, boreal forest ecology and classic literature. At the end of the expedition, we wrap up our studies, rest and celebrate at Manor de Sapines on the shore of Gulf of St. Lawrence, sharing Quebec Maritime Culture with our generous hosts.
Crossing the Gulf of St. Lawrence on an icebreaker ferry we head north on the Trans Labrador Road reaching Uapishka (the White Mountains in Innu language) thrusting up from the Canadian Shield at the 51st parallel. We prepare for our expedition at Camp Nomad at the foot of the range, hosted by Jacques Duhoux an 82-year-old guide and arctic explorer who has lived in this mountains for the past 35 years. The expedition begins with a three-day accent to the plateau as we shuttle our food and equipment up the frozen streambed. Ahead of us are 20 days of tundra and breathtaking mountains that have been explored by few. This final expedition of the winter combines the wilderness living skills of Leg 2 with backcountry skiing and navigation of Leg 3 as we traverse the vast mountain plateau, climbing unexplored peaks and descending into valleys to make camps complete with igloos and snow block walls. Here, in the vastness of true north, the group transforms into well-functioning expedition team working towards the common goal and putting individual and group skills and endurance to the final test. At the end of the expedition, leaving mountains behind, we will face south, feeling the warm breath of spring and celebrating the end of winter.
As snow melts we return to a place-based study and practice of daily life rooted in reciprocal relationships with the land. Our home base is Maine Local Living School in Temple, Maine. Here we will engage with critical questions and learn practical skills for sustainable living and homesteading. For this month our food comes from the root cellar, ash for our baskets is harvested from the woods, and sweet sap drips from the sugar maples. We find meaning not from our destinations, but from the work we do in reciprocity with the Earth and in a close-knit community. As we delve into working with the forest and on the homestead, we consider questions like: How does a human come to belong to a place? How do we practice reciprocity? How do we align our values and our life? How do we carry the wild rapture and lessons of the far north into meaningful long-term living? This block explores our potential as positive agents of change in an ecosystem and beyond.
As we engage with traditional handwork crafting our own baskets, paddles, and knives for the spring expedition, we will also give back through meaningful service to community members and elders in the local area. As ramps begin to carpet the woods and buds surge in the red maples, we will turn our attention to preparation for the spring expedition down the Penobscot River and out to sea!
Departing the Maine Local Living School we experience the magical transition from river to sea as we travel down the Penobscot River out into the vast Atlantic Ocean. Long before the European invasion, humans had developed and maintained rich cultures on the coast of Maine based on gratitude and living in harmony with nature’s rhythms. This journey will focus on creating a deep connection with the land and its story as a tool for envisioning a positive future. We will launch our canoes in the ancient waterway of the Penobscot River and travel south to Sugar Island, a cultural site of the Penobscot Nation. Here we will have the privilege of learning the land’s story from those who have been living with her for generations. We will hear stories, eat a traditional meal, and work with our hands to weave baskets. Waving goodbye to our hosts, we will continue south to where the river gradually gives way to the open ocean. Feasting on wild foods, and when the wind is with us, we will sail and learn to navigate with chart and compass. Our nights will be spent on beautiful islands as we reflect on the interconnectedness of our surroundings, and end our days in song and celebration of our simple lives and our salty, nomadic life.
At long last we return to Kroka Village, the familiar warmth of the Earth Lodges and excited shouts of young students as we are welcomed back home by a circle of friends. We have changed — transformed by our journey, by everything we have seen and experienced. Our final weeks are time to reflect, celebrate and give back to the larger community. We will engage in campus construction projects to leave a legacy in return for our learning; we will work on the farm helping to prepare beds and plant seeds for the coming season, and culminate our five-month long journey with a theatrical presentation to the community.