Algoma students’ summer of High Adventure
“What did you do on your summer vacation?”
As students and teachers across the county, state, and country came back to school, the autumn standard, “What did you do on your summer vacation?” was asked by peers and teachers alike. For a select group of students from Algoma High school, their answers went something like this;
“I climbed two mountains.”
“I visited four national parks and a national battlefield.”
“I came face-to-face with a black bear.”
“Leadership through High Adventure.”
The Leadership through High Adventure Program was conceived about 20 years ago by a group of teachers at Algoma High School. The goal of the program was to get students out to explore nature, the beauty and history of the American West, and to help students challenge themselves, grow, and work as a team.
After four successful trips, the program was put on hold for 15 years, until it was revived this year. A simple “thank you” isn’t enough to express the gratitude the students and teachers who embarked on this adventure have for the Algoma School Board, who enthusiastically approved getting the trip started up again, as well as the generous donations from the Randy and Renee Ebert family, which will allow students to have this experience for years to come.
One of the founding members of the program, Eric Nelson, got the program going again. The time was right, the fellow teaching staff was right, and the students were right. The Leadership through High Adventure Program was ready to ride again.
In the middle of July, when other teens were lying on a beach, kicking around a soccer ball, or working, 21 soon-to-be seniors were back in class. By participating in the Leadership Through High Adventure Program, students had the opportunity to earn a half credit of science or social studies towards graduation.
The students researched various topics that would be seen on the trip and prepared presentations. They also prepared and packed all of the food and supplies they would need for their adventure.
A practice camp took place at Algoma High School on July 20, with tents pitched in the back of the school, and a cook station and fire pit set up in the parking lot.
Students broke camp early the next morning for the last day at home. Many finished packing, and enjoyed the last night in their comfy bed for the next 10 days. The group returned to the school at 4 a.m., loaded up the trailer and vehicles, and collected cellphones. It was time to disconnect from the digital, and reconnect with the natural, and each other.
Although everyone was still a little sleepy-eyed from the early hour, the excitement was palpable. It was time to go west, to follow in the shadows of Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone, and so many other generations of Americans who have looked westward for adventure and self-discovery.
After a long, hot day of driving, the group reached the banks of the Missouri River around evening and set up camp. For those who have never seen the Missouri, it is quite the experience, where the landscape begins to drastically change.
Students exclaimed that it was the most beautiful thing they had seen, while the teachers smiled knowingly of the mountains to come, and simply replied “just wait.” Another student remarked about the landscape that she felt like “she woke up in a textbook.” Camp was made, students hunted for fossils and arrowheads along the banks of the river, and the first campfire classroom of the trip was in session, where students taught the group about what would be seen the next day.
Throughout the trip, at Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse National Monument, Devils Tower, Little Bighorn Battlefield, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, The National Wildlife Art Gallery and Teddy Roosevelt National Park, the classroom literally was the topics of study.
They saw the passage of time in the layers of stone in the Badlands. The students listened to the Native American legend of Devil’s Tower in its shadow. They saw the unpredictable geothermal landscape created by the underground volcano of Yellowstone first hand at Mammoth Hot Springs, the Grand Prismatic Spring, and the ever popular Old Faithful. They learned about bison, elk, prairie dogs and black bear as they saw them in their natural habitat. Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy of the National Parks and conservation was all around them.
The students also learned about themselves as well. Two substantial hikes, one up Bald Mountain in the Bighorn National Forest, and the other through Paintbrush Canyon in the Grand Tetons, were tests of perseverance and positive thinking.
At Bald Mountain, students needing to push themselves past the immediacy of “I’m tired, I’m sore, I’m hot” to the end goal of “I want to climb a mountain.” Students who had made it to the top first cheered on those still climbing. Some even walked down to walk with those who were almost there. The elation and elevation, 10,031 feet to be exact (Algoma sits at 581 feet), were enjoyed by all.
The next mountain climb took place in Paintbrush Canyon. Early on, one group of hikers came around a corner and met a black bear enjoying a huckleberry snack. As the climb got hotter, higher and harder, students were asked to tap into themselves and keep pushing.
Many remarked, “I already climbed one mountain, I can do this too,” demonstrating the confidence gained in such a short time. Songs were sung to motivate each other. Their efforts were rewarded with a nice shady rest by a lake, at the foot of a stunning peak, before descending.
The down trip had its own challenges, as the heat had increased, but it was literally, “all downhill from there.”
The desire for home grew with every mile on the last day, but it was bittersweet as well. The car games, inside jokes, and unknown possibilities were drawing to a close. Students got to know each other and their teachers in a much different way.
The High Adventure into the wilderness had that timeless effect of binding the group together as a family, experiencing things that others wouldn’t understand, seeing things in each other and themselves that no one else had. This wasn’t just about seeing new places and possibilities.
As Terry Pratchett wrote, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Algoma students' summer of High Adventure