There are youth clubs and there are youth clubs, but one of the best around is the federally funded Royal Canadian Air, Army and Sea Cadets. This national program for Canadians aged 12-18 promises fun and challenging activities both at home and abroad.
Wadena’s Michael Rutko, having attained the rank of chief warrant officer, is now in his seventh and final year as a member of the 2271 Pipestone Royal Canadian Army Cadets. During his time with the cadets, Rutko has participated in the weekly meetings during the school year and has also travelled to Vernon, B.C., for general training, basic leadership skills and expedition instructor courses. He has tested his skills in an expedition in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, experienced the cultures and military components of Wales, England and France, and he has just returned from Chile.
The expedition to Chile started in Victoria, B.C., where Rutko and 18 other cadets, selected for their fitness and prior achievements, met up with their officers to be kitted-out. The next stop was Toronto, where they boarded another plane bound straight for the capital city of Chile. There, in Santiago, they had 10 hours to explore a city founded some 450 years ago in 1541. After a three-hour flight south, they landed in Punta Arenas, a sprawling but colourful metropolis on the edge of the Strait of Magellan at the southern end of Chile, where Antarctic weather conditions sometimes prevail.
From here the group would spend the next seven days in the Torres del Paine National Park, hiking up, down and around mountainous countryside carrying tents, sleeping bags, maps and gear, but not food. That came in the luxurious form of a three-course meal provided every evening at staging posts, so “army rations” were not a part of the kit!
Some of the sites visited included the breathtaking vistas of Mount Tarn, the three granite towers from which the park takes its name, and the horn-shaped peaks called Cuernos del Paine. A trek to the Olguin Glacier culminated in a boat trip to the wall of the glacier. There was also a visit to the prehistoric Mildon Cave, a huge complex determined by archaeologists to have been occupied by both animals and humans in prehistoric times. There was a full day of horseback-riding and a two-day kayaking trip following the Rio Serrano in the Torres del Paine National Park. This area of Patagonia is known for its soaring mountains, glaciers that calve electric blue icebergs, and golden lowlands known as the Pampas.
Rutko’s modest manner hides a myriad of achievements, from ice-climbing, clay pigeon or skeet shooting and handling rifles on the ranges to riding dirt bikes and horses, kayaking, climbing and firing the odd machine gun, to name just a few of the activities.
“Being in cadets helps you achieve what you thought you wouldn’t be able to,” he says.
By Andy Labdon
Photos courtesy Michael Rutko