Since 1995, we have been bringing students into the nearby North Cascades mountains to get away from technology, to work hard, to be uncomfortable, to experience the beauty and serenity of remote wilderness, and to learn to take care of each other. Each fall, the first day of classes is followed by three days of preparation for the backcountry as students work in small groups with their leaders going over personal gear, stoves, tents, rain gear, food, transportation, and routes. Before the sun rises on Monday morning, we are all at the ferry landing ready to take off in ten groups of twelve into the mountains.
We can count on it to be both too hot and too cold. We can count on it to rain and sometimes snow. We can count on blisters and tired backs. And, most importantly, we can count on getting to know each other deeply; of learning how to take care of each other without doing their work; of leading and helping others lead; of the wonders of warm bean burritos, hot chocolate, and a dry sleeping bag. On the fourth night, each group with its two leaders makes its way to a basecamp where our 12 become 120, as we share a meal and reflections around a campfire. Through the combination of confronting challenges together, new friends are made and memories that last a lifetime are forged. Around that final evening’s campfire, we often say that this is the first day of school because 120 of us are now one.