A few days ago, we featured Outward Bound alum Ben Gager, who had just completed an 81-day Outward Bound semester course that took him from the Colorado Rockies, through the canyons of Utah, through the deserts of California, all the way to the active volcanic peaks of Ecuador. According to Ben, the 81-day leadership expedition was just the right thing to prepare him for the rigors of coursework at the University of Montana, where Ben is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Resource Conservation.
Our last post focused on the key learning takeaways enacted by Outward Bound’s powerful expeditionary learning framework. Today’s post gives you an idea of how varied, extreme, awe-inspiring and rewarding the 81-day course can be. Here, we’ve sketched out the course, from start to finish, as narrated by Ben himself. One glance at the Rockies to Ecuador Semester itinerary, and it’s not hard to see why Ben signed up.
The 81-day Rockies to Ecuador course is broken into approximately four 20-day sections. Each phase is designed to help students master a set of technical skills – so they are prepared for the next section.
1. Skill Building in Leadville, Colorado
Ben’s course began in the middle of January, high in the Colorado Rockies. The group began in Leadville, Colorado where they established a baseline of solid backpacking and winter snow skills.
2. Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park
Next, the group ventured into Joshua Tree National Park in California – a course area Ben had been wanting to rock climb for many years.
“It’s hot as an oven,” Ben exclaims, “but it’s totally worth it. The rock climbing is one-of-a-kind, which means lots of crack climbing and really gorgeous scenery.”
3. Service and Canyoneering in Moab, Utah
The canyoneering section of the expedition occurred in the stunning red rocks just outside of Moab, Utah. But before shoving off into the canyons, Ben’s group had the unique opportunity to help out the local Moab community – an experience that left a deep impression on Ben. Although every Outward Bound course incorporates significant service components, on an 81-day course, the crew had the opportunity to take part in larger, more involved projects and, quite simply, do more.
“Since Moab is a huge tourist destination, the housing is becoming so expensive that Moab residents can’t live there anymore,” Ben explains. “We worked with a housing group that supports those folks, and built a big retaining wall for the foundation of a house. It was a wet, muddy job, since it was snowing in Moab – but meaningful, nonetheless.”
When it came time to explore Utah’s spectacular canyons, the crew had a special chance to go further than many crews before them. “Our crew was really strong,” Ben says. “We were lucky enough to do some things that are not usually on the itinerary – things that our Instructors said hadn’t been done for years. We tackled places like Dark Canyon and Black Steer Canyon. And even though there were some 16-hour days, we all pushed through.”
4. Ice Climbing and Ecuador Preparation in Leadville, Colorado
Next, the group returned to Leadville for one week of ice climbing and prepping for their time in the Andes Mountains within Ecuador. The excitement for the final Ecuador section began to mount.
5. Service and Mountaineering in Ecuador
When Ben’s crew did finally arrive in Ecuador, they used a local cattle farm as a base camp. To earn their keep, the crew did chores for the farm like feeding cattle, milking and prepping firewood. These community-based service activities provided crew members with the opportunity to connect with local people, and also to contribute to the community of which they had become a part.
“It was a cool way to have an impact where you’re staying,” Ben notes.
For the final phase of their 81-day journey, the crew ventured onto Antisana – Ecuador’s 4th-highest, least-climbed volcano. Ben’s crew spent a week on Antisana, hiking in and doing glacier practice and ropes work. Once they had proved their technical glacier skills to themselves and their Instructors, the crew trekked from Antisana to Cotopaxi – one of the highest active volcanoes in the world and the second highest mountain in Ecuador at 19,347 ft.
After an adrenaline-pumping summit attempt, the crew had the chance to unwind in volcanic hot springs, de-issue all of their gear, and then fly home to an entirely different reality – returning with knowledge, experience, real-world skills and unforgettable memories to last a lifetime.
Ready to get started developing world-class technical skills and honing invaluable leadership skills? Learn more about the Rockies to Ecuador Leadership Semester here http://www.outwardbound.org/course/rockies-to-ecuador-leadership-semester/394/. Our next course starts September 9th – and we still have a few slots available.
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