Looking at the Mahoosucs in Maine from Roger’s Ledge on one of our last days.
I just got back from leading a 9-day winter backpacking trip for my high school, Gould Academy. Every year, Gould sends out as much of the junior class as possible into the Whites and Mahoosucs for what is essentially a character-building trip, modeled originally on an Outward Bound-style expedition. This was my second year leading a group with my friend and mentor, Nancy. We took a group of nine girls to the Kilkenny Range of the White Mountains. This was a very unusual trip for me, but a damn good time.
When I was a student on the Four Point ten years ago, I was still very new to hiking. I remember little of my experience, but I do remember that I was not a fan. I didn’t get along with most of my group, I was a walking disaster, and nothing seemed to go right for me. Many years later, or even weeks later, I looked back at the trip and knew that it was something big. I just didn’t know it during the trip.
Arriving on Unknown Pond.
With this trip last week, the girls hiked in to Unknown Pond, set up a base camp, stayed for a few nights, then hiked over to Roger’s Ledge and down to the Berlin State Fish Hatchery. Most of the girls had never hiked before, never peed in the woods, or even lit a match. The time we had out there wasn’t enough to completely change their minds about backpacking and snowshoeing, but it at least got them out of their world of computers, smart phones, facebook, Lady GaGa and all that. I’m pretty sure none of them had been without those things for more than a few hours since they started high school.
We had a bit of a snowstorm at Unknown Pond. And walked right across it.
Now, each of the girls can say they slept under a tarp in a snow shelter at -20 degrees for a week, pooped in the woods, cooked dinner on a camp stove, built a fire, hiked over several feet of snow along a mountain range, and carried everything they needed for nine days on their backs. It’s amazing what you can do when you least expect it, and I know many of the students dread this trip because it’s like nothing they’ve ever done before.
Sunset at Unknown Pond
Between the highlights of the trip, like a beautiful campsite at Unknown Pond and sunset at Roger’s Ledge, I had a lot of time to think about this bizarre course that my alternative high school education set me off on. I didn’t realize it at the time, but experiences like Four Point were the most important formative events in my early years. Now I can’t get enough of big hiking trips and living in horribly inhospitable conditions. I even enjoy it now. And the few opportunities I have to give others a taste of my world are one of my favorite parts. The AT and PCT really don’t compare to this. Those were fun, but every time I lead a group in the wilderness I gain so much more than any of those big hikes. I feel like I’m doing something important.
So now I wonder if any of those kids that just got back to their world of Internet and electronics will ever look back on the past week and think, “maybe I’ll do that again.” I never thought I would.