Mountain Classroom: Questions for the Stars, Catalina, and Cooking

Posted by Mountain Classroom


Proctor Academy's Mountain Classroom program enters its final month on the road as it meanders through California. Read more from their adventures on Catalina Island and in the Sonoran Desert, as well as learn all about the do's and don'ts of cooking on Mountain Classroom in this week's blog! 

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Questions for the Stars - Anya '20

My rubber-clad toes are curled over a precarious foothold while my left and right arms are spread wide, fingers crimping the sharp rocks above. My leg is shaking and my knee is scraped and bloody. My brow is shiny with sweat and my breaths are coming in shallow. I take a glance downward to see Ben and Alex C far below me, holding onto my rope. They are shouting for me to keep trying.

It isn’t obvious where to go next. The rock face is suddenly very smooth. But I remind myself that there is always a way. My brain is humming as my eyes take a quick scan of my options. Foothold to my left, too slippery. Overhang for my hands several feet up, too far. My muscles are cramping. There isn’t much time before I’ll have to fall. I can feel the sun on my back and shoulders and there is a breeze against my skin. I know that I can do this.

In a leap of faith, I bring my foot up to the little edge to my left. Slippery, yes, but in a pinch I know it will do. Summoning all of the strength inside me, I do what is probably my favorite part of rock climbing. I stand up on my leg and suddenly I have progressed an entire three feet up the wall. From there I can grasp the ledge with my hands and take some weight off of my questionable foothold. Now there is a pocket to my right that I wasn’t even aware existed. I shove my right toes inside and stand up again.

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom Boarding School

The question of where to put my hands presents itself once more. How am I going to get out of this one? My brain is humming again. I grope the area above my head, extending my arms as far as they will go. All of my weight is resting on my right leg and my calf is burning. Suddenly my fingers brush the rough edges of an imperfection in the rock. I grip it with my fingertips and pull myself up to a ledge protruding from the wall. Finally, a stable place to put my feet. I can stand here.

There is only a little ways to go. Almost immediately my brain is working to solve the puzzle before me. I locate a bulge on which I can rest my foot and stand up. My hands wander the surface of the rock again. They discover a deep crack that is perfect to slot my palms inside. Satisfaction blooms in my chest. I am moving quickly now. I feel like a gecko on the wall.

Suddenly I am at the top anchor. I slap it and the sound of the clanking metal fills me with a sense of accomplishment. Now is the time to turn and take in the view. I am panting as I survey the rolling desert filled with tall standing, green cacti. There are dark, pointed mountains on the horizon line. I experience a moment of profound happiness. I never thought I’d reach the top of this route, and yet somehow, here I am.

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom Boarding School

Rock climbing is something I’ve never done before and probably never would have tried on my own. But over the last few days, I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s intimidating and difficult and, frankly, terrifying at times, but that is just part of what I like most about the sport. I love being scared. I love the feeling of strength. I love the cycle of doubt and determination and everything that happens in between.

Mountain has brought me out of my comfort zone time and time again. There is something so strange and so wonderful about this experience that I cannot put into words. I often feel overwhelmed by this indescribable feeling in the late evening. It happens in the few moments that I am alone. On Mountain, we are constantly surrounded by our friends. So during those rare times when I have a second to myself, either on my way to the bathroom or back to my tent, I always pause to stand in the chilly night air and look up at the stars.

Desert stars are breathtaking. They look like twinkling, icy shards in the wide open sky. They inspire a deep existentialism within me. They carry questions on the light that they send out into space. Why are we here? Why am I here? What in the world am I doing? I have tried to answer these star-questions, but I have come to a different conclusion every time. I know that it is just an incredible stroke of luck that I am here. I know that I have no assigned purpose. There is some fear in that, but also a great deal of comfort.

I’d say I have a predisposition to existentialism as it is, but Mountain is definitely feeding that predisposition. I welcome it, just as I welcome the star-questions. I can feel my mind changing as I realize what is really important to me. My true ideology is surfacing. I fill my pocket with starlight and carry it with me all the way back to my sleeping bag.

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom Boarding School

Catalina Island by Cole '20: 

Coming off of a very relaxing weekend with Patty and Lynn in San Diego, the group once again prepared to go into the backcountry. This time, we would be on an island off the coast of Los Angeles. We got up early on the 27th to catch the ferry to Catalina. There, in the parking lot, Alex C and Lila prepared a delicious Greek quinoa salad for lunch. For Dalton, this meant four slices of cold pizza, leftover from the night before. We were going full force into looking like vagabonds crossed with clown car with all of our stuff strewn around organizing and preparing for the trip ahead. 

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And in that very parking lot was the beginning of the end. While cleaning in the hot California sun I felt more tired than usual and had to retire in the equally hot shaded bus, DEB. But of course I thought nothing of it and the rest of the day went off without a hitch — whatever that means with our group. We said goodbye to DEB and Rocinante, our beloved trailer. When on the ferry my conversation with Anya was only interrupted 4 times by Alex giving us frequent, action packed, gripping updates on how she had clogged the toilet and was trying to resolve the situation. Eventually landing on the island an hour later our tensions were drawn to the fantastical casino on the edge of the shore, but we had no time for gawking and we embarked on our pilgrimage on the land outside of the Angels. It was only a mile and a half to our first campground. It was a rather uneventful setting up of tents and settling in for the evening while the cooks finished up dinner. This is when I began to feel my headache, as I was unable to focus on the work I wanted to get done and try to rest. 

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom Boarding School

When dinner was called, I sat down and decided to eat, no matter what my body was telling me because I knew I was hungry. That seemed to be when my stomach decided to teach me a lesson of what I could force it to do. Around finishing my first helping I had that feeling I needed to get up. I got up quietly and thought maybe I could make it to the bathrooms before throwing up. However four steps and I began to puke. The number was three times I puked before making it to the bathrooms and hearing the trailing words “I don’t think Cole is feeling well,” from Anya and “The bathrooms are on the other side of the building,” from Erica. I ended my night with a delicious Advil and another water bottle full of water. The next day I was fine and no need for worry and the constant check-ins I got the rest of the day, however, it was still much appreciated.  

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom Boarding School

We hiked 10 miles in the beautiful sun with plenty of ocean views and hills to make the average tourist very pleased, however, we were no average tourist. We were on the hunt to find the animal that was once almost erased from the continent. The bison (or as others call it the Buffalo) has a population on this island due to, of all things Hollywood. In the 1920s film crews brought bison over to film a western movie and have never been taken off since. Unfortunately that film cut out all scenes with the bison, but jokes on them I would say because the bison are now more famous than the movie. 

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom Boarding School

Now the third day, this is when other sicknesses start to appear and Alex, Lila and Anya started to feel unwell. I’d like to mention that these are very different sicknesses; completely unrelated to me. However they were troopers and kept forging on. We tried to fuel our soldiers with the staple ration of the mountain group pita, hummus and half of a grocery store worth of veggies. At our beautiful campsite on the third day we met and made friends with a wonderful Doctor, who came from the oasis. Alec was a godsend from the bison who looked down upon us and took pity on our sickly group. We offered him a wonderful broccoli mac & cheese with chicken.  We were all quite excited to have another person to talk to and we dressed in our dressiest attire: sweaty athletic shirts, stained hiking pants and the occasional open toed sandal. At that dinner we learned he was a doctor and was able to diagnose some of our ailments. 

Our fourth day became our last when more soldiers fell to the plague: Sophie, Ben and Erica. Even though our time was short on the island, and we may have been sick, I believe it was a truly beautiful place with an interesting history and an animal that has the nation on its hump. Special shout out to all doctors and drivers who transported one or two of us to a clinic Bob, Ranger Steve, Captain Black, Derek, Jeff and Bryan and especially Alec. 

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom Boarding School

The Do's and Don'ts of Cooking on Mountain Classroom by Dalton '20:

On Mountain Classroom, my passion is cooking. Long before Mountain I aspired to make great meals at home for my parents and me due to my father's love of time management which often led to microwave dinners. My dislike for the meals and my willingness to cook appointed me head chef of the household. I have taken my talents to Mountain and I believe it has been a success. Mountain is very different than any cooking I have ever done and it is a true challenge. This is why I will be going over the dos and don'ts of cooking on Mountain Classroom. 

Provide Nutrition: 

Our very first week we were given a lesson on the nutritional benefits of meals that we are trying to make to fuel ourselves to get the most out of the days. This is key on long hike days which require massive amounts of energy. On backpacking days a student should be eating 3000 calories whereas on a lighter day we should be consuming 2500 calories. These calories should be broken down into three categories, with 40-55% coming from carbs, 10-35% protein and 20-25% from fat. This doesn’t sound challenging, yet if not followed it can lead to low energy and longer days for all. 

Do Not Poison Your Classmates: 

We have had a few instances this term where we have had nuts in some of our dishes which has led to Lila becoming sick due to her being allergic. The safety of the group is most important which means that you need to triple check the items you are buying to ensure that none of your group gets sick. 

Trust Yourself and Your Abilities: 

Trust in yourself and your abilities. Everyone comes to Mountain with different cooking abilities. This doesn’t mean that if you don’t have much experience you can’t succeed. Have confidence in your cooking and push your self to make better and better meals each time you cook. Anya is a perfect example where the first time she cooked she made a mush that was pretty stomach-turning. Fast forward and she is one of my favorite cooks in the group that has great meals full of variety that truly makes my tastebuds explode. 

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Appeal To All: 

This sounds challenging, which it is, believe me. Students need to open their horizons on Mountain and be willing to eat many different foods. Yet when your group has two vegetarians you need to make exceptions. This means that for meals you need to have a vegetarian option which is often not the challenging part. I would consider myself a carnivore, I enjoy my meat and sometimes I felt that it was lacking. My advice is that if others in the group are working to ensure vegetarians are always pleased then try and reverse the gesture by having a meat option at least for one of your meals a day. Also, meat allows for vast amounts of protein and often leads to happiness from the boys on the trip.

Variety is the Spice of Life:

There is nothing that puts a smile on my face like a different dish each day of the week for dinner and lunch. There have been points on Mountain where for lunch we have had pita and hummus with veggies for multiple days in a row. I promise this is a great meal, especially for the “Veggies” vegetarians, yet it will get old. It is often hard to provide variety, especially in the backcountry. But, even different flavors of hummus and a variety of veggies each lunch allows enough difference that it does not get old. For dinner though the opportunity for variety is vast. It often takes time thinking about meals but you can find inspiration in the cook books that are found in our library. Also, use your imagination, think about meals that you have seen on tv or in your own home and try and recreate it. There may be failure yet more often than not there will be a success and truly variation allows for great meals and smiles at all turns. 

Take Risks: 

Taking risks is a very important aspect of making great meals. I promise there will be times where it is easier to just make pasta with tomato sauce. The thing is you won’t be remembered for that meal as it has been done so many times. Instead, shoot high and try to make the food you never thought would be possible. Yes, this could lead to some pretty horrible food, but I promise more often than not you will surprise yourself and the group with a delicious out of this world meal. 

Add Cheese and Fry It: 

One quote from Quinn that remains true to this day is “add cheese and fry it”. You can make some pretty great dishes by adding cheese and frying it in oil. Almost anything can be made better by adding cheese to it, like garlic bread, pasta, potatoes. This does not work for a person who has a dairy intolerance, yet for others I promise it will. Also frying almost anything will bring up the taste value. Like the frying of eggplant which was a great meal provided to us by Quinn and Erica our faithful instructors. 

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When in Doubt, Saute It: 

One of my personal favorites do’s for cooking is sauteing. If you have peppers onions to put in a meal, promise me you will always saute it. It will add so much flavor to the meal you won’t regret it. Often people don’t want to take the time to do it but please trust me its worth it. the same goes for precooked chicken. Your tastebuds will thank me if you sauté them and add some spices to boost the flavor and add some heat to the meal. The extra ten minutes may seem tedious especially after a long hike but your group members will thank you. 

Shop with a Plan: 

When in the grocery store have a plan. Food shopping can be scary to some and provide a high level of stress. If you have a plan though it will go by quicker and without a hitch. You can always add some flare. If you see some things that catch your eye in the store then, of course, follow your stomach but have a basic idea of what you need to get. 

Don’t be Afraid of Favorites: 

Come back to favorites. If a meal worked then recreate it at a later date. Don’t take this as preparing the same meal every time you cook but instead a week or so after coming back to a fan favorite to liven the mood and taste buds of all group members. 

Get What You Get and Don’t Get Upset: 

Lastly, this is for all the eaters of the meals on Mountain. Get what you get and don’t be upset. I am not always a follower of this rule as I want perfection in food and I need to work on this. Not every meal will be amazing but the cooks are putting time into it and they are providing you sustenance. So please say thank you no matter if you throw up after the taste or from the amount you ate because it was so delicious. Furthermore, let the cooks do their job and don’t crowd the kitchen. I know its exciting work but let the professionals be at work in peace. Allow yourself to enjoy cooking and truly devote yourself to it because it is a skill you will use for the rest of your life. I promise when you are the only one In college that is not simply cooking ramen noodles, you will thank Mountain Classroom. 

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