Classroom Without Walls
started in 1994 with a backpacking trip to the Beartooths. In the years since, we have learned how a national park operates from the people who run Yellowstone, drilled with Confederate infantry at Gettysburg, climbed the third highest peak in Wyoming, and toured the Sawtooths in Idaho. Recently we have undertaken a study of mountain goat genetics, comparing the DNA of the transplanted Beartooth herd with that of our native Bitterroot herd. In the future we hope to introduce guest teachers from other school districts to the program.
Three adult advisers, each a teacher at Corvallis, accompany each trip and are experienced in backcountry travel. These teachers have training in wilderness first aid, and some have guided professionally. All are interested in kids and backcountry travel. Teachers choose students based on an application process, students that show both academic rigor and high-level interest are chosen. Not all students have backcountry experience, and none is necessary. Teachers provide instruction in safe, low-impact backpacking. What IS necessary, though, is an understanding that at times this trip will be difficult, both physically and mentally. We will be traveling 30-40 miles at a base elevation of around 10,000’ with 40-pound packs for at least six days. Feet will hurt. Backs will ache. Shoulders will pinch. We’ll all stink, and our hair will get filthy. There will be steep passes to climb, intimidating scree fields, long hours on the trail, lessons to film when people would rather be resting—and no bathrooms. Weather is relatively stable in August, but snow is possible. Rainstorms are sometimes sudden and violent, and they can be unnerving. Anyone who does not seriously consider and accept backpacking’s inherent difficulties should not go. As grim as this may sound, it is an important consideration. Rest assured we are prudent and place safety before all else, but we cannot control nature; THIS IS NOT A WALK IN THE PARK. That much said, the rewards are every bit as intense as the price one pays to earn them—ask any student who has ever done it.