Students embrace outdoor adventure
Special to the Post Independent
ABOUT THE CLASS
This year, for the first time since the 1990s, Glenwood Springs High School is offering an in-school outdoor education program. Thirty-one seniors are enrolled in this elective class, selected from more than 70 students who signed up for the class in the spring of 2014.
Teachers Scott Nykerk and Mike Schneiter proposed and developed the class as an off-shoot of the school’s climbing club, and with a $10,000 Innovation Grant, were able to purchase the basic equipment needed to get the class off the ground. I joined them this year, and as a team we bring academic expertise in science, social studies, and language arts, as well as thousands of hours of outdoor-education experience. An outdoor education program of this scale is uncommon at a public school, and we plan to expand the program to reach as many students possible in the coming years.
— Shaina Maytum
“When I stepped on top of the cliff we rappelled off of,” writes Glenwood Springs High School senior Luke Prosence, “that was definitely the most beautiful thing I saw that day. Looking across the canyon and realizing the immensity of the wall we were about to go down was incredible.”
What Prosence described is the “final” for our year-long outdoor education class: students worked together to build a natural anchor (an anchor built from trees and rocks as opposed to using a metal anchor already bolted to the rock) to which they then trusted their (and our) lives. This was a pass/fail final in the truest sense — messing up this kind of thing is truly a matter of life and death. Of course, we teachers checked the anchor (we’d be rappelling off it first) and backed the students up on a bolted anchor at the top of the cliff, but the feeling of the task’s gravity was perceptible nevertheless.
“Dude, this is sketch!” exclaimed one student as he carefully inspected the knots the group had tied. But ultimately, they all put their trust in the work they had done and rappelled 150 feet to the canyon floor.
A three-day climbing and rappelling trip to Rifle Mountain Park last week was the culmination of our year-long outdoor education class, and it also served as a celebration for our class full of seniors who will be graduating next week. Climbing and rappelling have long been lauded as ideal activities for outdoor education programs, at least in terms of “bang for your buck.”
The mental and physical demands of these activities cut to the quick of who people are forcing participants to immediately confront fears and insecurities. As a result of this initial discomfort, however, these challenges also promote confidence and a profound feeling of accomplishment.
Zane Lundin, a Junior ROTC student with a full-ride scholarship to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, trembled at the top of the rappel and almost walked back down. After a day of climbing, however, he realized, “It has nothing to do with heights, but everything to do with the right holds and the right mental status.”
Senior Sheabrea Carson, the recipient of our class’ “most growth” award wrote: “I feel [so much better] about this trip than the backpacking trip. I found something sporty that I enjoy … I adore rappelling and climbing and feel decently adequate in it.”
Carson struggled immensely on our September backpacking trip and considered dropping the class when we returned. But nine months later, she spoke excitedly about getting involved with a climbing club or taking a climbing class when she starts at CMC in the fall.
Our trip wasn’t all serious, though. Hilarity ensued as we attempted to indoctrinate students into climbing culture by teaching the slang of the sport. All day we heard students shouting out things like, “Hey! Give me the beta on the crux so I don’t have to hangdog and throw a wobbler!”
Translation: “Can you tell me how to climb this hard part so I don’t have to hang on the rope and throw a fit about it?”
There’s also this one: “What a great day of cragging! I totally sent that route because of all the bomber holds and the weather was totally splitter. I can’t wait to become a dirtbag instead of going to college.”
Translation: “What a great day at the cliff. I climbed that route without falling because the holds were really good and the weather was perfect. I can’t wait to live in a van and not have a job instead of going to college.”
As I sat in the sun (which finally started to dry out the rock halfway through our second day) watching students belay and encourage one another, I saw a new generation of climbers developing right in front of me. In the words of senior student Kiefer Brocker: “The first thing I told my mom and dad when I got home was that we need to buy climbing gear.”
Brocker added: “The excitement of climbing, hiking, snowboarding, and being in the outdoors in something that cannot be described by words. You simply have to get up, go outside, and do it. You have to reach for what is beyond your limits and your comfort zone. You have to strive for something greater in your life.”
Reading his final journal entry for the class, I knew we had succeeded this year. As Aldo Leopold famously wrote: “I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.”
This is my hope for these young people. May they ever have rocks to climb.
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Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort is working on adding new terrain, and plans to build a new chair lift in the coming years.