The Colgate Scene
July 2005

Commitment and fun
Staff training from one "Outdoor Eddie's" perspective

Ushnish Ray '08 climbs out of the beginnings of his survival shelter, preparing for a night out at Beattie Reserve. [Photo by Jimmy Maritz '05]

Outdoor ed has been one of the defining experiences of my life here at Colgate. After participating in Wilderness Adventure, the weeklong backpacking trip for incoming first-years, I was hooked.

Without hesitation, I applied for the staff training. At the informational meeting we were told that the time commitment would be equivalent to a varsity sport and that we would give up most of our breaks. We had class for four hours a day, twice a week, and went on trips most weekends, usually to the Adirondacks.

The curriculum focused on leadership skills from risk management to gender awareness. During weekend trips we worked on technical skills, ranging from kayaking to rock climbing, from map and compass work to stove maintenance.

My training class had 15 members. The first day, I didn't know a single one of the trainees. In typical outdoor ed fashion, we were quickly put at ease by Josh and Molly Baker, the co-directors.

Outdoor education staff members are notoriously friendly and open. We were also led through training by assistant directors Abby Rowe and Adam Dale as well as two staff members who put up with our shenanigans all year, Cam Pittelkow '05 and Avery Woods '05.

We spent our October break canoeing in the Adirondacks with the aspen, maple, and beech trees in all their fall glory. One morning we hurried to break camp and get out on the water before the fog lifted. As the sun burned the fog off the pond, we were serenaded by the crying of loons.

Over winter break, we spent four days at a lodge in the Adirondacks and did day trips like ice climbing. My group climbed to the top of Pitchoff Mountain, and after climbing the 40 feet of vertical ice we could look out and see the entire valley. When the weather became conducive, we went out for a six-day, five-night snowshoeing trip. Spending five nights in an 8-by-8-foot tent with three fellow trainees unavoidably leads to serious bonding. We lucked out and had fairly "moderate" temperatures that never dipped below 8 or 9 degrees. I got my first personal experience with backcountry medicine when I planted my butt on my ski pole and broke skin.

While the first semester introduced us to the components of outdoor leadership, the second semester was practical application of all the instruction that we had received. One of the main components was apprenticing a PE class. I was paired up with two seniors to lead an overnight cross-country ski trip. Being only a first-year, it was a bit intimidating to have mostly seniors in my first class. Despite falling when I was demonstrating proper skiing form, I would consider the class a success.

The final leg of training was giving up our spring break for a 72-hour intensive first aid class called Wilderness First Responder. We had nine hours of class for eight days. Now that we've completed the course and are certified, we are officially paid staff members for outdoor education.

The next step is teaching classes and leading trips. I will be teaching Backcountry Basics, an introductory course for students interested in doing backpacking and camping on their own. The course will have its challenges: one of the areas we'll cover is orienteering (map and compass work), one of the most difficult subjects to teach. We also get to cover exciting topics such as how to keep bears and other wildlife from becoming unwanted tent mates.

Training has been full of personal challenges, successes, and growth. It's an incredible commitment that I've never questioned for a second. But most importantly, I've had a lot of fun.

Top of page
Table of contents
<< Previous: Adventures... Next: Evolving traditions >>