The Arctic to Manhattan Semester
a journey from the heart of the winter wilderness to the soul of American civilization
January – June 2020
A wilderness expedition for high school and gap year students
September 10, 2020: Important COVID-19 update – Click here to read our statement
A wilderness expedition for high school and gap year students
T he Arctic to Manhattan Semester Expedition is a 750-kilometer journey from the heart of the winter wilderness to the soul of American Civilization. Kroka Expeditions’ hallmark program is pioneering a new itinerary that combines backcountry skiing adventures in the best alpine wilderness in the east, with a 300-kilometer paddling and sailing expedition from the Canadian border to New York City. The program will culminate in three weeks of social and environmental justice community service projects in New York City, and at the Kroka organic farm and village in Marlow, New Hampshire. Team members will develop sound judgment for healthy risk-taking as they become competent in technical adventure sports. They will practice earth skills including basketry, knife, and paddle making. Students will emerge from the program empowered and inspired to transform what they have learned in nature and community into altruistic action.
While developing one’s full human potential students engage in a challenging academic program encompassing humanities, social studies, and natural science. While everyone is expected to give 100% to disciplined study, training, and work, Kroka respects individual learning differences and is committed to supporting all striving, hardworking students, regardless of their learning needs.
The first four weeks of the semester are devoted to community development, Nordic ski training and the practice of winter adventure sports (Telemark skiing, ice skating, sledding, and ice climbing). Students develop sustainable living skills, a sense of forest stewardship while residing in Earth Lodges at Kroka Eco-village. The academic studies are focused on French language immersion, practical math competency, geography and navigation, exploration of sense of place and expedition leadership. Students prepare for every aspect of a four-month-long wilderness expedition ahead of them.
Leaving Kroka on foot in the heart of winter we will follow the famous Catamount Ski Trail along the spine of the Green Mountains. 18 days of skiing and snowshoeing will take us to Farm and Wilderness Base Camp in Killington, VT. The focus of the first expedition is developing a winter skill set, from staying warm and reading the forested landscape to finding dry firewood and making a snug home for the night. We live in an expedition wall tent complete with a portable wood stove. 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
We head north to the mountains where 18 feet of snow falls every winter (more snowfall than any other location in Eastern North America). Surrounded by Boreal Forest and majestic peaks we traverse the Eastern Most Reach of Appalachians on a 14-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 American-Canadian Environmental History, Boreal Forest ecology and classic literature. At the end of the expedition, we wrap up our studies, rest and celebrate with 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 celebrate the end of winter at in Quebec City.
It is time to begin the 4-week return journey home. This year, we will pioneer the route through the center of American Civilization. But first, we will launch our student-made 8-person voyager canoes and cross the border into the US while paddling south on Lake Champlain surrounded by breathtaking views of Adirondack to the west and the Green Mountains to the east. At the southern end of the 60-mile long lake, we will go through the locks of Champlain Canal, connecting with Hudson River that will take us all the way down to famous Battery Park. As we paddle south through the waterways that played a vital role in American History we experience the return of spring in fast forward. We study watersheds, river ecology, hydrology and explore the relationship of water and culture.
At the end of May, we will reach NY, paddling straight into Manhattan. During our week in the city, we will focus on Social and Environmental Justice and application of skills learned in Nature to the life in the front country. Working with our partners, such as NY City Composting project we will participate in community side-by-side local activist groups, students and citizen volunteers. Our time in the city will combine service and cultural immersion. On the last day, we will board the Amtrak Vermonter and head north. Disembarking at the village of Bellows Falls we will complete the remainder of distance by bike, arriving back at Kroka village.
We are back, in the familiar world of Kroka farm, Earth Lodges and excited shouts of young students as we are welcomed back home. Yet we have changed, transformed by our journey, by everything we have seen and experienced, by a supportive community and the Natural World itself. This is time to reflect, celebrate and give back to the larger community through a small group project week. Our projects fulfill real needs ranging from construction of woodsheds and cabins to cultivating the soil and planting next season’s crops to developing and maintaining public recreation trails in the local area. We culminate our five-month long journey with a theatrical presentation to the community.