Backpacking and Hiking
Changing the environment of school for an outdoor setting was key to the first weekend. Students found a different setting added to the bonding and the camaraderie. For the second weekend, the entire group traveled to Carmel, New York, to the Clearpool Education Center, which was used as a base for the next two days of activities. Students would set up tents, sleep in sleeping bags, and cook their food outdoors. Unfortunately, much of this took place in the evening when it rained, adding another challenge to those of the planned activities.
A day-long hike in the mountains on the east side of the Hudson River, just north of Cold Spring, where the Hudson winds through two high ranges creating spectacular views, was planned for the two groups. Day packs with raingear, eating utensils, food, mats, water bottles, hiking boots, and other gear were provided for each student, along with a map of the area, whistle, and compass. The groups approached the ascent from two different directions, crossing each other's paths at the halfway point.
A moderate trail was selected for a mix of participants, ranging in age (19 to 49), physical fitness (excellent to fair), hiking experience (none to a great deal). The students were responsible for spotting and following trail markers in relation to the pencilled course on their maps. They selected the lunch spot and rest areas.
In a different way, the issues of leadership and teamwork emerged. Taking the lead and rushing up the mountain, some students set the pace, while others, less able, lagged behind. Those taking the lead were forced to realize that they were responsible for the whole group and needed to find a pace that all could manage. While providing motivation to others, they also had to make sure everyone was in sight and hearing range at all times.
Taking the lead and being a leader, they realized, were two different things. Bringing up the back of the line became as important to the group's safety as setting the lead. Noted one engineer on the experience: "I established in my mind that there is no such thing as a [set in stone] leader or a follower. I realized hat the leaders base what they do on the followers, so the followers become leaders, and vice versa."
Along the route, students alerted others to impediments like hanging branches, slippery rocks, alternate paths, or muddy ground areas. Each team member had to make sure that he or she drank enough water to keep themselves healthy and paid attention to safety, as the result of any sickness or injury would be that their colleagues would have to carry them down the mountain.
Like the Alpine Tower, the hike was a physical challenge even to seasoned hikers, and, at times, a seeming impossibility to those with no experience. Yet, in recalling the hike, a student wrote: "I got everything I expected before the course and more...and I have improved my self-confidence. After our hiking experience, I won't be able to look at anything and think that it is impossible."
The group required of itself that it keep everyone together and motivated to get to the top and then to get back down safely. The final descent was completed in darkness and, for one group, rain, adding further challenges to the route. Here, teamwork, keeping one's spirits up, and close contact with the person in front and in back was essential: "I learned more about how confidence, teamwork, and leadership fit into my life and personality" and "I learned that I can face and overcome my fears." The trust built up from the Tower, canoeing, and initiatives became of tantamount importance in this final challenge.
Although the two groups of students were separate for the entire four days, except for when they grouped together each morning, one of the most moving moments of the entire adventure was the night the second group came back late from their hike, exhausted and soaking wet from the rain they had got caught in. The first group helped the others to get warm and dry, made them hot chocolate, found them blankets and pillows, and then cooked them dinner. So much for teamwork. Or, as one student recalled: "The experience was about teamwork. I think what was so beautiful about this experience was the bonding and comradeship that developed."
(go back home)