“Layer of remoteness and serenity” – Explore Big Sky
LPHS shipping returns for 11e year
By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The strength of the Alpine sun is diluted today by the onset of autumn, but we still sweat on the way up. I’m the first in a line of floating heads and backpack tops, leading 10 Lone Peak high school students and two teachers through a meadow on the north side of Spanish Peaks.
These students are participating in their last year of expedition, an outing that takes place every fall at the start of the school year. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors are sent on multi-day camping, a cumulative experience that culminates in their senior year: the backpacking trip.
This year I joined the class of 2022 in the basin that cradles the Spanish lakes, the very place where I stayed with my own class six years ago. I’m older than these students – I don’t recognize the music they listen to or even a lot of the social media celebrities they talk about – but no matter the distance, we’ll always share this expedition adventure. We, along with all the other students at LPHS, have laid the groundwork for this experiential learning platform since its launch in 2010.
On this Wednesday in early September, we spent our first morning in the backcountry and are now on a day hike to Beehive Lake, not to be confused with the pond that ends the Beehive Basin trail at Big Sky . We are on the other side of Beehive Peak, which looks alien from this angle, heading towards a vast blue alpine lake surrounded by ridges and scree.
The sound of falling rocks echoes around us, and English teacher Patty Hamblin points to the slope on our left. “See!”
Crossing the nearly 40 degree slope are nine bighorn sheep. The conversation ends and we watch in awe as the ungulates move skillfully over sheer cliffs and balance their 150 pounds of body weight on their hooves along steep ledges.
“They’re like you guys,” I tell the students, referring to their high school mascot.
The first LPHS expedition took place at the end of April 2010, the first spring when the school opened. Paul Swenson, a teacher at the school since its inception who helped design the school’s curriculum even before it opened, said that in the first year all of the high school students went to the Flathead area in northwest Montana, where they stayed on a ranch and learned about spring. planting.
“The goals of the expeditions were multifaceted,” Swenson wrote to EBS. “We wanted to combine the emphasis on outdoor education with the interdisciplinary philosophy that the high school program had when it started.”
Today, the school has more students in each class than the school as a whole at the time, and expeditions have adapted to meet the growth. Now, in the fall rather than the spring, the expedition is used as a bonding experience for peers and teachers as they head into a new school year.
Hamblin, who led six backpacking expeditions, told students of the
campfire one evening that she was grateful to have the chance to get to know them outside of the classroom.
“I feel like even though I’ve known these kids for years, it’s only when you go out to a place like this where you can really let your guard down and be who you really are,” he said. she declared. in a conversation after the trip.
Brad Packer, the other teacher leading the expedition, agreed that the relationships forged with backcountry students are totally different from those for the classroom.
“These relationships will help you when you have to work with a student in the classroom to do something,” he said. “Having that underlying relationship makes academics better and easier later on. “
This year’s senior class has 16 students, one less than the one I graduated from in 2017. This is the last class under 30 in high school.
“So many people change their attitudes when they’re in or out of school,” said Campbell Johnson, who is new to LPHS this year. “It was nice to see people being themselves and their personalities and relationships with other children that I hadn’t seen.”
The personalities, in fact, were so present that we decided to give ourselves unique trail names, like those adopted by hikers. Names ranged from Drench – after senior Carly Wilson accidentally poured her water on a fragile fire – to Rocky, given to Robert Pruiett, who was constantly throwing stones at something. When the students returned to class the following week, Hamblin gave them a quiz on the names of their trails.
On the second of our three-night trip, a summer-long burning ban was lifted and we spent evenings under the stars and in the comforting presence of crackling flames, drinking hot chocolate and tea together and to share stories. When Hamblin, Packer, and I got into our sleeping bags, the students stayed, huddled around the fire, laughter echoing throughout the pool and shadows dancing against the fire-lit rocks.
“I’m grateful that our school gives us the opportunity to do this,” Wilson said one night around the fire, “because most people can’t tell they went hiking with 10 people from their final year. ” Wilson added that she was glad it was a small group and said she was able to have conversations with each person.
A lot of those conversations took place on the trail. Our hike from the Spanish Creek Trail on Aug 31 was slow and strenuous at times, especially the last steep 3 mile climb into the basin. The dialogue dealt with what is generally expected of 17 and 18 year olds: talking about the drama of the football team and reliving the summer shenanigans; expressed his fear of the major reviews to come.
But from time to time I saw a glimmer of promise for the people that they will one day be, the people that they are already in the process of becoming; sophisticated and witty humor, tenacious courage and encouragement for one another on a difficult hill, discussions of their favorite (and least favorite) literature that Hamblin has presented to them over the years.
It is often true that the time spent in the hinterland is different from the actual hours and minutes. Cooking meals together, sleeping in a tent side-by-side, and spending the night talking by the fireside forges bonds that match those made over four years just sitting next to someone in a math class. I have known many elderly people since birth, but it was such a privilege to meet them again in this way, to experience wonder and wonder together.
Swenson later wrote to me that one of the values of the expedition is how it offers students a chance to find humility in the face of nature. I can think of many examples from this year’s expedition, but I remember the bighorn sheep sighting in particular.
I will keep in my memory that moment when we all stood still together and looked at them. The trivial conversation took a back seat to amaze and respect. Even the boys, too cool for anything these days, let their jaws drop.
Right above the ridge were our four-walled houses and phone chargers, as well as the gym floor where students would return later this weekend for the games – the gym floor sporting the LPHS Big Horn logo. .
As we watched, I remembered Ellen Meloy’s essay “Bighorn Sheep” that I had read the day before in my tent. The last line in particular struck me as Meloy describes his own moment watching bighorn sheep tactfully with reverence:
“I am simply falling into their vein of estrangement and serenity.”