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Students take a walk on the wild side

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AVALANCHE CREEK – They learn survival skills, do trail work and go on a 10-day backpacking trip.And that’s all before they even sit in a classroom.Welcome to freshmen orientation at Colorado Rocky Mountain School.Incoming freshmen come to CRMS’s campus one day and the next day they are off, embarking on 10-day wilderness trips all over the Western Slope. From the Avalanche Creek Trail to the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness, small groups of newcomers set out with faculty members, acquiring the basic wilderness skills of setting up camp – where they sleep under tarps secured to ski poles and trees, they cook, they learn about safety and they even work on trails. One group, led by facility member Peter Benedict, set off from the Avalanche Creek trailhead 13 miles up Highway 133 from Carbondale. The seven students, assisted by one CRMS alumnus, another CRMS teacher and Benedict, hiked up the trail about five miles along Avalanche Creek to Duley Park. They played games to keep their minds occupied as they strolled through the Maroon Bells Wilderness area, graced by aspen and pine trees in full bloom, wildflowers sprouting on the sides off the trail and with a soundtrack of the rushing creek and chirping birds to listen to.They set up camp and got settled before diving into the trail work project. They labored for four days from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., using pick axes, shovels and pulaskis to make the trial along Hell Roaring Creek wider and more accessible for horses.”The service project is important because one of our goals for the school is to develop a connection to the environment and kind of a sense of stewardship,” said Benedict, an algebra teacher who has worked at the school for nine years. “It’s nice to start out with that and they are trying to make it a nicer place for people to visit.”

After four days, the group trekked back down to the trailhead to meet Administrative Dean Nancy Hanrahan to resupply. Hanrahan just joined CRMS’ facility and was happy to help out with the trip. Although she’s new to CRMS, she already knows how important the wilderness program is to the students and the school.”I spend a lot of time talking to alums, and every single one of them references the wilderness program and how important it was to them,” Hanrahan said.Splitting up food into breakfast, snack, meal and dessert categories and deciding who was carrying what, the group took about an hour to reload. Then they added their 14 to 16-pound food bags to their already 40-50-pound packs and headed back up to camp.Over the 10-day trip, Benedict’s group traveled around 20 miles and climbed from 8,000 feet to almost 13,000 in elevation – A pretty big journey for 13 and 14-year-olds, especially considering snow fell during one night’s stay. They will also moved the camp each night on the last six nights of the trip. All of these things make the kids stronger, Benedict said.”My goal is for them to have some kind of feel like they are stronger than they thought they were when they started and that they’ve undertaken some challenge that they didn’t think was possible,” Benedict said. “It could be something as simple as going to the bathroom in the woods or it could be as intense as carrying a 60-pound pack or going 24 hours by themselves. For a lot of people, that’s one of their greatest fears coming into it – being alone for 24 hours. “So with all those challenges we hope that they get some sort of discovery out of it.”

For 24 hours of the wilderness trip, each kid is forced go out on their own for 24 hours. They have to set up a small camp 200 feet from creek and 100 feet from trail, and are not allowed to see or hear anybody else. “I’m a little nervous. I don’t think I have ever been alone-alone. I’ve always had my dog or something,” said Kyra Jabow before the 24-hour journey.Each CRMS student will journey on a wilderness trip each fall and spring all four years they are in school. Their first 24 hours of being alone, is supposed to teach them what to do for future trips and prove to themselves they are strong enough to do it.Alex Griffen of Glenwood Springs was looking forward to the trip.”I am excited. It’s kind of funny whenever I am alone, I just am kind like spacey and I can find anything to do with anything,” she said. “We have a journal, so I’ll write I guess.”



As a teacher, the other thing Benedict likes about the wilderness trips is that they form a tight bond between the guides and the students.”I kind of have that bond with them so they don’t see me as a math teacher, as someone that is out to get them or make them look stupid,” Benedict said. “It’s more about me being a partner in their learning and in general, because of that relationship, they’ll work a little harder.”Joe Hanlon, who just joined the CRMS staff and will be a chemistry teacher, loves the bond that forms between the students as well. Hanlon was invited on the trip as part of his facility orientation.”It’s not only a great introduction to the place, but gets the social bonds really tight so when you get to school you are sort of comfortable there,” he said. “You know you have friends, which is a really good thing.”The students wrapped up their 10-day trip, arriving back to their new school just before they started school in late August. Already confident and stronger from their journey, they are ready to begin their careers at CRMS.


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