Proctor Academy's spring Mountain Classroom students are off and running (or hiking) on the adventure of their lifetime. For the next eight weeks this group of ten students and two instructors will criss cross the American west, winding their way back to New Hampshire through Colorado and the Great Plains before eventually pulling onto campus, parking in front of Maxwell Savage Hall to sprint the rotunda stairs and ring the bell. As Stewart '22 and Alana '23 share in their beautiful prose below, it is the journey itself where students grow, stretch, and evolve as young people. Enjoy this window into the Mountain Classroom experience.
Stewart '22: Sonoran Ice Cubes and the Lightning Position
Sitting on our sleeping pads atop a saddle somewhere between the next campsite and our last, the hail began to fall. It was small at first, only a nuisance, but when it got to be the size of marbles we all just wanted cover. Then, a flash, a crack, the mountain reminding us to stay in lighting position* protecting our hearts. Hearts that were beating so fast it may have even topped our rattlesnake encounter. As the flashes and cracks grew further and further apart the mood lifted. We began to make jokes and take pictures, while we gnawed on some fresh Sonoron ice cubes.
Eventually, the danger subsided and we made it to camp without a hitch. The next morning we slept in late, all the way to 7:30. With a long day ahead of us we storm proofed camp and gathered everything we would need for an adventure. Jeff and Carol gave us the mission. We would try to navigate to the top of Black Top Mesa, we could use any means available except the well maintained hand cut trail roughly one mile to the north.
So we set off, in good spirits passing by old saguaros, saguaros that stared down at us like dried pineapples that had been wrinkling for centuries. But the mood quickly changed. As we looked for a way to cross the river at the base of the mesa we started to voice strong conflicting opinions (we argued for a half hour). Someone up front would say we absolutely need to backtrack while someone in the middle emphasized the importance of pushing on, meanwhile, stepping up onto a rock (for dramatic effect) someone else might remind us that getting started is the hardest part and we should start our ascent as soon as possible regardless of route.
Finally, we took a vote to eliminate options and made a plan. We would approach from the west making tactical switchbacks to the top of the pitch before wrapping around to make our final approach from the south east. Once we had our plan neither spine nor thorn could stop us, though we did spend a long time walking around them. Before long we made it to the top. The sweet taste of victory in our mouths accompanied, for some, by the scrumptious taste of two mouthwatering gummy bears. As it turns out, and as cliche as it sounds, the biggest obstacle we faced while tackling a mountain really was ourselves.
*Lightning position is when a person sits on top of some insulating object, in our case either a backpack or a sleeping pad with only their feet and butt on the ground. This completes a circuit so any lightning that may spash to us will be grounded without traveling through the heart. As you could imagine electricity and vital organs do not mix.
Alana '23: Home and Peace
On our first of five nights backpacking through the Superstition Wilderness, in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, I found myself reading Erosion, by Terry Tempest Williams. It might have been the torrential downpour, the lightning attacking the mountains encircling us, the wind threatening to topple our tent, or the fact that it was two in the morning, but a singular passage touched me, unlike the other hundred read that sleepless night.
“Like the red rock desert before me, I too, am eroding. Nothing fixed. Nothing static. Only a steady state of flux. I live by disturbances. They keep me awake, a physical stay against complacency.”
Over the past two days, miles hiked, (and two gummy bears stolen), I have found myself pondering the deep connection, these words instilled within me. Earlier today, while resting at the summit of Black Top Mesa, attempting to not to remember the rattlesnake sunbathing a hundred feet away; I concluded that this hectically and sleep deprived connection is rooted within a longing to find peace in inevitable and ever-coming change. Mountain Classroom, through five AM wake ups to chase the receding shadow of night into the desert, seeking sanctuary from the scolding sun beneath century old saguaro cacti, or navigating within the center of unpredictable lightning/hail storm; this constant and unpredictable change has become our normal.
Home and peace can no longer be derived from my bed or childhood living room, yet rather the shifting stars bringing light to the abyss of a desert sky and the forty pound backpack carving blisters into my hips.
My peace is no longer stagnant or ritualistic, but is the continual adventure, inevitable change, and ever going challenge; I am learning to call HOME.