Explore Life Coaching, Patti Phillips

Mantario in May

What a wonderful thing. To be able to do a backpacking hike in Manitoba in May. With our early spring this year, what is usually a swampy, difficult, seemingly impassable mess turned out a very manageable, slightly muddy trail. On May 18-19, two friends joined me to do an overnight backpack into the west Caribou Lake Campsite on the southern end of the Mantario Trail. The Mantario Trail in the Whiteshell Provincial Park is considered the best and most challenging backpacking hike in Manitoba. The Big Walk Team, which I previously wrote about in the blog, is planning to take on this very same adventure. As this group is new to backpacking, I wanted to have current knowledge to pass on to them regarding the trail.

It was perfect for hiking with warm weather, no other hikers, and no bugs. Despite the fact that we were able to benefit from a dry spring, I still found the trail itself to be quite difficult and maybe it’s just me getting older. My two friends who have also hiked the West Coast Trail in BC a number of years ago (for one it was her first time on Mantario), also found it had some challenging section. In terms of difficulty, they rated the Mantario a “7″ on a 1-10 scale, with “1″ being easy and “10″ being the most difficult. They rated the West Coast trail only slightly higher at an “8″. The challenges were the following;

  • it is a 10 km hike each way
  • there were close to 100 logs of varying heights (no exaggeration; we counted on the hike out) that had fallen over the trail and had to be climbed over.

  • There were some overhanging branched that had to be “limboed” under (with 30 pounds and 10 extra inches of height on your back)
  • There were 3 beaver dams to cross, which required pretty good balance and sure footedness.

  • We also crossed over a number of bogs which have logs thrown into them to acts as sorts of bridges, but again require balance. They weren’t very deep but may have resulted in a “booter” which makes hiking uncomfortable
  • Lots of roots and uneven terrain which are inviting a sprained ankle, twisted knee, or a fall

  • a few steep descents that required well-gripping boots and faith
  • a few steep ascents that are heart pumping

  • a couple of blisters were earned on the second day; if they came first day they may have posed a problem
  • lost the trail once for about 5 minutes due to downed trees before we found it again
With all they being said, it is a beautiful hike and the campsite is lovely (the outhouse, however, not so much)! We went for a swim in Caribou Lake to get the mud and sweat off as soon as we arrived. It took us 4.5 hours to get from the parking lot to the campsite, with snack stops and rest breaks and then we did it again the next day. What makes a hike like this the most difficult is the added weight of the pack. A missed step that puts you off balance is so much more difficult to recover with that weight. A missed step on a downhill has much bigger consequences than an flat terrain. A hiking pole does help a lot to distribute weight and maintain balance.
Just because this trail is in Manitoba does not mean it is easy. If you plan to take it on, preparation is very important. Training specifically for backbacking is very important as it helps to build the confidence in yourself and the traction of your boots, learn to adapt your body so it can maintain balance on uneven terrain, and build your fitness.  Some people may downplay the importance of preparation. “It’s on 10 km each way, how hard can it be?”. Well the difference between taking on this challenge and another physical challenge like a half or full marathon with minimal training is significant. If a person feel they have to quit or they have an injury during a running event, they simple walk off the course and go home and medical help is readily available in the case of an emergency. Quitting a backcountry hike is not an option as there is really no place to “exit” the adventure. Only the most basic medical help is typically available, like blister care and maybe small cuts. Avoiding injury is the key to a successful backback and this is done by being fit and practising in control of your body while carrying a significant amount of weight on your body.

The Big Walk Team is taking 3 months to prepare for this Adventure of a two day overnight backpack. It includes a ten weeks personal training program and 3 team day hikes in various parks in Manitoba. My job as their adventure coach is to give them the most accurate information regarding the challenge they have chosen to take on and to help them overcome any barriers they may face in preparation for the hike. Each participants’ responsibilty is to get herself physically and mentally prepared, as well as being open enough t oshare with the group any fears she may have. My hope, as a coach, is that each women who completes this adventure will build the confidence to take on may more adventures that are available in this amazing world.

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