Tuesday, July 16, 2019

New education program focused on outdoors comes to Trinity


While many Trinity students look forward to their midterm mini-vacation as a time to eat home-cooked meals, sleep in their childhood bed, or actually catch up on studying (or Netflix?), several students took advantage of this fall’s Trinity Days with a three-night camping and rock climbing trip in the Adirondack Mountains.

As part of a new Experiential Education program run out of the Athletics Department at Trinity, the trip was the first of many student-organized trips focused on outdoor recreation, leadership skills, and wilderness education. The program was designed as an extension of Quest, the popular pre-orientation backpacking program for incoming freshman. Director of the Quest Program Kevin Johnson sees the experiential education program as a way to bring outdoor opportunities to the entire student body, and to provide interested students an opportunity to peer-lead such trips.

“This isn’t the typical education that you’d get from a classroom, but important life skills that go beyond the walls of school. There’s an opportunity for everyone to get involved,” said Johnson, who came to Trinity this year after spending many years leading Outward Bound and other wilderness orientation programs in New York.

Dave Bell ’14 was the student leader for this trip, along with seven other student participants: Mike McLean ’14, Jami Cogswell ’16, Schirin Schenkermayr ’16, Adam Hammershoy ’17, Victoria Zimmerman ’14, Will Gleysteen ’14, and Anthony Flores ’16. There was a wide range of experience among the participants, from McLean, who is president of the rock climbing club, to students who had never rock climbed outside before.

Bell and Johnson began planning the Trinity Days rock climbing trip in the second week of school, and were able to use equipment from the Quest program for both camping and climbing. Food and transportation were included in the program, and each participant paid just twenty dollars to subsidize the trip.

They had originally planned to head up to the White Mountains of Vermont, but due to the government shutdown the recreational areas were closed. At the last minute, Johnson was able to find a comparable site in the Adirondacks, near Keene, New York. As an added bonus, the Reel Rock Film Tour, a series of climbing-related films, was playing in Keene on Saturday night, so the group got the chance to relax and watch some of the climbing great on the big screen.

“It only rained one of the nights, and we were still able to climb every day!” said Johnson, stressing the importance of flexibility in outdoor excursions such as these. The group did different types of climbing on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of Trinity Days, including crack climbing, face climbing, and a day of hiking to an overhanging cliff.

“We had to bushwhack our way through a couple miles along a ridge, and the view from up there was amazing,” said Bell, who said that was his favorite part of the weekend. “Everyone, no matter their skill level, was definitely challenging themselves all weekend,” he added. Johnson, Bell, and other participants who had relevant experience helped teach technical skills throughout the weekend, such as belaying techniques, “anchoring,” and self-rescue skills.

“The main point of this trip, besides climbing, was to teach self-reliance,” said Bell, who has been a Quest leader for three years and spent a semester in Utah and Wyoming on a NOLS outdoor leadership course. He is interested in pursuing a future career as an outdoor guide, and this program is giving him real, marketable experience.

Johnson is in the process of launching the rest of the experiential education program, which will include shorter day trips, longer trips outside of New England, on-campus clinics, and a half-credit leadership course. Activities will include canoeing, hiking and backpacking, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and many other exciting outdoor sports.

“The leadership course will be designed to teach students the different elements of planning an outdoors trip and giving them the skills they need to execute a trip,” said Johnson. Students will go over risk management techniques, learn practical wilderness skills such as fire-building, and learn relevant first-aid and emergency procedures for the backcountry. The main assessment point of the course will be a mock trip proposal that students will then execute under Johnson’s close supervision. The long-term goal of the program is to produce student leaders qualified to lead and facilitate a variety of trips offered to the student body. Johnson and Bell both see very high interest levels in outdoor activities among students at Trinity, but many don’t realize how much is being offered. The rock climbing club, started in 2010, has brought at least 50 people out on trips this year, and has a weekly appointment with an indoor climbing gym. The Outdoors Club, rejuvenated under new leadership, has been organizing hikes this year almost every Sunday to mountains within a few hours’ drive, and have had great turnouts. The Experiential Education program will advertise future trips through complementary student groups such as these, as well as on outlets such as Trinity Today and through word-of-mouth. Johnson sees the experiential education program as an extension of the Quest program as well. “There are a lot of people I meet who didn’t participate in Quest but say they really wish they had, and now there’s an opportunity for that,” Johnson said.

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