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Student hikers on trail rescued

They didn't expect raging snowstorm

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It's a decidedly Manitoba-style gym class -- hiking out of the deep wilderness amid a raging snowstorm.

Neat, eh?

Especially since this wasn't another Franklin expedition -- everyone made it out safely.

A group of 22 Grade 12 students and three teachers from Collège Pierre-Elliott Trudeau knew it could rain when they set out for three days on the Mantario Trail early last Wednesday, but they had no inkling of the massive snow and ice storm about to hit southeastern Manitoba.

"They started the day with their T-shirts. It wasn't until late in the evening that it started to rain on them," vice-principal Michelle Williams said Tuesday.

By Thursday, the expedition was on a 71/2-hour trek to a dirt road near Nora Lake in the Whiteshell to meet their rescuers in four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Everyone made it safely home to Winnipeg by late Thursday night.

"They said it was a trip of a lifetime, something they'll never forget," said Williams, who was overseeing the rescue from the Transcona school. She was in contact with the group and setting an RCMP and Manitoba Conservation search and rescue in motion while notifying and updating parents.

"Their teachers definitely helped in the situation. They kept them very calm," Williams said.

The school gives Grade 12 students the option of fulfilling the out-of-school physical activity portion of their mandatory phys-ed credit by hiking the Mantario Trail, a wilderness route with many steep, rocky inclines. It's a tough challenge even if the ground and trail are visible.

"That group is called the outdoor education group," she said.

They had tents and all kinds of gear, but on Thursday morning, they were "cold, wet kids."

As the snowstorm hit, "they made the decision to come out that morning. They had to hike out at least 5.2 kilometres," Williams said.

The teachers had a spot messenger -- a satellite device with three buttons. There's one for everything's fine, one for someone needing medical assistance and one "to activate the emergency action plan," Williams said

"We're to contact the RCMP and Conservation. They sent out a search and rescue to get them," Williams said.

The device is one-way, but the group eventually reached cellphone range and Williams was in constant touch. They knew help was coming.

"It was a very long day. It took them 71/2 hours on the trail to come out," Williams said, adding falling trees hampered the trek.

When they reached their vehicles near Caddy Lake, even though road and highway conditions were frightful, they got lucky: "They followed a grader on the way back," Williams said.

River East Transcona School Division has declined to make the teachers and students available for interviews.

The school gave the students full credit for the hike. Although it wasn't completed, it was far more arduous than the curriculum required.

As for future expeditions on the Mantario Trail, the phys-ed teachers are already planning a similar journey during the second semester, though this time in late May, Williams said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 10, 2012 A6

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