Into the Wild | AspenTimes.com

Into the Wild

Robin B. Smith

More than 100 Aspen Middle School eighth-graders set out on Sept. 17, a crisp, cloudless morning, to begin a weeklong outdoor education trip of backpacking through the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Split into guided patrols, the teens would trek almost 30 miles to converge on Marble from five separate routes through the mountains.

Their backpacks stuffed with food, water, clothing, tents, sleeping bags and cooking gear, the teens shifted and adjusted the 40-pound loads during the first hour of hiking. Then they hit their strides and took off.

Starting at Maroon Lake, the three Buckskin Pass patrols turned right just before Crater Lake, and four hours later, all had reached the 12,460-foot pass. Some of the early arrivals dropped their packs and ran back downhill to cheer on those still ascending. The panorama from the pass was a spectacular reward, as they could look from North Maroon Peak around to Snowmass Mountain in the next valley, guarding Snowmass Lake below, to Pyramid Peak to the southeast.

Day-hiking parents had joined the patrols for the first morning, helping adjust straps, glad to be out in the beyond. After lunch on top, however, the parent volunteers turned back. It was time for the patrols to disappear over the pass en route to the first night’s campsite on the other side of the mountains.

Eighth-grade outdoor ed is considered a rite of passage. It is a vehicle for moving away from the comforts and certainties of childhood and for stepping forward into the independence of young adulthood via the challenges of a wilderness experience.

Were the teens chanting “let the adventures begin” as they disappeared from view?


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