Returning from the First Backpack

wpdev17 Jul, 2016

A quick update from students Jess and Bill: Before we started our hike, we received our groupings for the six-day journey we were about to take in the Alaskan Talkeetnas. The best backpacking group in the history of AT was created; which included Jess, Max, Simon, Jamie, Liz, Bill, Lena, Sam, Colin, Thayne, and Paula. We started our backpack with high spirits and dry feet. It rained but we still had a great day full of laughs. We arrived at camp with mud to our thighs. In the next few days, we hiked through rivers, bushes, up mountains and through valleys. We saw moose, caribou, and little marmots. We joked that the views were so amazing that they couldn’t possibly be real and that any moment we would find out it really was just a dream. We told stories and learned things about each other that no one could have guessed. Although some of us only met a few days prior, it seemed like we had known each other for years. Adventure treks brings out sides of people that never gets shown at home, and that is one of my favorite parts of our little groups. From forging poop chairs and eating Snickers, I feel like our backpack group has become a family and I can tell that it’s possible that years from now we will all still be great friends. We may be back in the front country, but I think that the memories we made will be ones we remember forever. I would like to give a special thanks to our amazing instructors, Nicole and Alex who kept our spirits aloft and led us fearlessly through the Alaskan backcountry.

A quick update from student Harry: Talkeetna Mountains are a sub-range within the Chugach Mountains, which is a sub-range within the expansive Alaska Range. Additionally, the Talkeetnas were our home for 6 days during our first backpack. On the first day, we started off on an ATV trail winding through dense, mossy woods. After 10 miles, we settled into a cozy campsite overlooking Boulder Creek, our absolutely stunning terrain for day 2. It lay within a deep valley, so views of the mountains were plentiful. At the end of the day, we found a campsite with a tarp and tree stump chairs already set up, score! After a peaceful night and a rocking round of the Skittles game, we got up early and embarked on our most beautiful day of the entire trip – the ascent to Chitna Pass! It included the most beautiful views many of us had ever seen in our entire lives. On this day, we also passed the other half of our group. That night, we camped on a hill in the middle of the pass with awesome 360 views. The next two days we hiked through mud up to our knees and enjoyed the last couple of nights as a group in the Talkeetna mountains. This was an incredible backpack and brought me closer to nature.

And now a few words from Dock…

The reason we choose backpacking as the first activity is because in a small group it’s easier to make friends. Conversations in tents, beautiful views, tasty meals cooked and shared together, and the absence of electronic distractions allow students to get to know each other at a level often lost in the digital age. In this small group, our instructors are able to make a big imprint by modeling behaviors like teamwork, collaboration, and kindness—values already instilled by parents.

After the first backpack, the big group comes back together for a “Mexi Cook-off,” a celebration of all the fun, hard work, and growth achieved on the backpack. Here, teams of students cook a meal for a panel of celebrity judges (i.e., the instructors). This is a great time for the three smaller groups to be welcomed back into the big community again, and to demonstrate how their group has improved their collaboration and communication skills. Because entertainment and presentation are as an important part of the evening as the actual food, there are numerous opportunities for “collaborative creativity.”

Before we go any further, we want to stress that we make Adventure Treks fun for a reason. More than simply competing with digital media, teenagers are most receptive to learning when they are relaxed, having fun, and don’t feel like they are being forced to learn. They have had enough of that during the rest of the year.

Just by living in this environment and having careful, low-key reinforcement by instructors, the learning happens “subversively.” Social skills are being reinforced through day-to-day living with other students, many who started as strangers just a few days ago and are already close friends. Self-confidence grows when one overcomes initial fears and succeeds beyond expectations. Acquiring new outdoor skills, whether rock climbing or rafting, boosts confidence, making students more receptive to tackling future challenges. Independence is developed when they learn they can survive (and thrive) away from family and the comparative comforts of home. The supportive AT environment enables students to “be themselves” instead of trying to live up to the norms of the “in” crowd at school. More than anything, we hear this from our students: “I love being at AT because no one judges me here. I am appreciated for who I am, not whom others want me to be!”

– Dock


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