100 km on snowshoes: Harrowing Arctic journey bonds military and civilian women

An air flight specialist and a navy lieutenant take a walk through an northern mountain pass.

‘There's something to be said for going through a bit of hardship’

Military members and business leaders snowshoe through Antarctica in 2016. (True Patriot Love)

As a flight service specialist, Teresa Griffith monitors weather conditions from her office in Leduc, south of Edmonton.

But this week, she's trekking through snow and wind in Canada's North.

On Thursday, Griffith began a two-week female-led expedition through Nunavut's Baffin Island.

The group of 14 women, along with guides and support staff, are snowshoeing 100 kilometres through Akshayuk Pass, a natural corridor cutting through mountains and ice.

They're hauling 60 pounds on sleds and carrying another 20 pounds in their backpacks.

"I love a good adventure," said Griffith, who once captained a York boat along the Peace River for three-weeks and snowshoed five days a week when she lived in the Northwest Territories.

During her Christmas break she read about the Akshayuk Pass in a copy of Explore Magazine.

The next week an issue came in the mail containing an ad for a trip to the Arctic with True Patriot Love, an organization that sends military members and civilians on trips together to raise money for veterans training for new careers.

Griffith signed up and began fundraising the $50,000, her portion of the group's $1 million goal.

The next month, she flew to Hamilton to begin training for the adventure.

Teresa Griffith stands with her teammates on a training camp in Hamilton last January to prepare for their expedition to Baffin Island. (True Patriot Love)

There she discovered not everyone had the same amount of wilderness experience.

For some of the women, this would be their first camping trip.

"We had to practise putting up our tents and sleeping outdoors because some of the ladies had never done that," she said.

But for others, this is yet another expedition.

Kathryn Logan, a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Canadian Navy, is part of the team.

"When I was deployed in the past, it's always 'Canada says go so I go,' but many of the practical aspects are the same," she said. "Do I have everything I need? Am I going to starve? What could I bring to make myself more comfortable?"

Logan has been deployed on a Navy warship in the Arabian sea, served a tour in Afghanistan and another in Libya.

But this trip will come as a shock to the system, Logan said.

"Coming from Victoria where I'm currently in the sunshine and wearing a T-shirt, I think I will have the biggest weather shock because I haven't had that -30 C weather in a while, so the Ontario folks might have an acclimatizing edge on me," she said.

"But I think it'll be great for the military people and the civilian participants to get everybody out of their comfort zone."

Bonding through adversity

Griffith and Logan have been paired together to mentor one another. 

The two were matched up through a personality test.

Griffith will help Logan learn about the business world and Logan will help Griffith during the expedition.

"[It's about] bonding through adversity," Griffith said. "In many cases on this expedition the military members have the expertise so they mentor the civilians on the trip and then after we bond and become friends, then we mentor them to transition back into civilian life."

At 36, Logan is approaching retirement age from her military career.

"I've spent my whole adult life in a military setting," Logan said.

She had enrolled in the Royal Military College of Canada at age 17.

"I was just looking for something different and the idea of a challenge. I think my 17-year-old self was just like, 'Oh yeah cool, a university that will make me do push ups,'" she said.

Soon Logan, as she puts it, will have to decide what she wants to do when she grows up.

"I hope that I can expose some of the civilian women to what military women live with in our jobs and we can hopefully learn from each other," Logan said.

"There's something to be said for going through a bit of hardship with people; living in close proximity in tiny six-man tents in freezing Arctic.

"I think that will definitely make us closer."

With files from Clare Bonnyman


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