Mountain Classroom spent its final week and a half in the Sespe Wilderness east of Ventura, California. The Thacher School graciously allowed us to use a property they own in the wilderness area called Patton’s Cabin for our finals. The cabin meant that everyone was able to stay dry in the midst of a historic deluge that turned the Sespe Creek into a muddy, rapid-filled river.
Each Mountain Classroom term finishes with a final phase to acknowledge and celebrate the skills students have acquired. Coco and Timbah took a step back so the students could assume full responsibility for their community culture and expedition experience. The students’ last mission of the term was to design a backpacking route that brought them back to Ojai for a pizza and gelato feast.
A day backpacking in the Sespe Wilderness is a day full of surprises. Being in the Sespe means you get to wake up on a ridge with the sun poking up over neighboring mountains. The daylight provides a view of the mighty Pacific Ocean along with the beautiful Ojai Valley.
Next comes the trek of the day. Exhilarated by the morning sunshine our group moves deeper into the Mountains that we have adopted as a temporary home. The climbs to each lookout have a variety of terrain. We get to experience the thrill of rivers, muddy pits, and even a few snow deposits. Each time we make our way through new terrain and find ourselves at the top of a ridge we are rewarded with a vista that will last a lifetime.
An unparalleled sense of accomplishment is paired with the amazing view of the endless ridges and peaks of the Sespe. From these lookouts we can see for miles, which means that when the navigator looks at the map and points out our destination we can all get excited about descending to camp. By this time we are all tired from heavy packs and the shining sun beating down upon us. Despite this, our motivation and determination takes over. We are all working towards a goal. The goal is to find our next.
Depending on the night we ended at extremely different campsites. Some nights were spent on a ridge looking out over all that surrounds us and other nights we spent at the bottom of a valley with the Sespe River flowing a short distance away. Every night was a good one after our delicious dinner finished cooking and we all sat around a crackling campfire telling stories, laughing, and staring at the stars. This evening time is one of the best when we get to debrief the day and allow for the anticipation to build while talking about tomorrow. Tonight we all get to go to bed at the base of surrounding mountains with the sound of the river raging in the distance.
Ten weeks can feel like a long time over the course of a Mountain Classroom term. But, it feels like it has flown by when I look back now. I can't believe the places we have gone as I scroll through photos taken since January. We have made home in six different states in the Southwest plus going to Bahia de Kino, Mexico.
Our group has become so close this term. We have had challenges that have helped us learn how to succeed in these adventure-filled and incredible weeks. The payoff to our success was reaching the program’s final phase where we no longer needed Coco or Timbah to guide us through our days. At that point we needed to rely on one another more than ever.
For about two weeks we have been backpacking and living in the Sespe Wilderness. In the middle of our stay we had our final exams in Patton's Cabin, which is owned by the Thacher School. It was an intense few days with our academics, but we all enjoyed our time in the cabin that overlooked the beautiful Sierra Madre Mountains. We were thrilled when we finished our academics. Scott pulled out his ukulele and we all started to sing Redbone. It was a celebratory moment that started off our long awaited final expedition.
On a foggy Tuesday morning, we said goodbye to Patton's Cabin and hiked back into the beautiful Sespe. We were excited because we were finally on our student expedition that was led and planned by the entire group. We hiked eight miles to our campsite on muddy trails.
While setting up tents in the rain we reflected on how crazy it was that that it was our last night on a Mountain Classroom expedition. As we hiked out in the morning, it became a reality that in 48 hours we would return to our normal lives. I don’t want to think about leaving Mountain Classroom in two days. I want to stay in the moment because it has been one of the best adventures of my life. Thank you Catherine, Alfie, Grayson, Jaz, Matt, Drew, Jon, and Scooter. I cherish my memories of this group and the places we traveled.