Orientation Outings – Fall 2020

Alzar School | 09.09.20

This past week at Alzar School, students took off to local lakes and reputable rivers for the purpose of place-based exploration. During these adventures, Alzar School faculty and staff introduced students to tactile skills they will need to be successful during our upcoming expeditions. For instance, students learned how to use WhisperLite stoves, which are a classic style of stove used to cook for groups in the backcountry. Students also learned how to set up mega-mids, which we use for sleep shelters during both the backpacking and river rafting portions of expedition. Additionally, students teamed up with our whitewater instructors to run a whitewater stretch of the North Fork Payette just south of campus; for some students, this was their very first whitewater experience!

Fall 2020 students pose with the Alzar School hand sign at Blue Lake.

On a day-trip to Blue Lake, half of the cohort loaded up for a school bus ride up a winding washboard road into the mountains west of campus. Students unloaded at the trailhead for a quick briefing on blister management and Leave No Trace Principles, then meandered downhill towards a rural mountain lake. They learned how to navigate a kitchen setting, including how to assemble and operate a WhisperLite, as well as the proper footwear (closed-toed) and posture (squatting or kneeling) required for kitchen tasks. Students also learned how to tie the knots necessary for constructing their sleep shelters, plus methods for staking the shelter down in areas where the ground is particularly hard or loose. 

Students ate overlooking the lake; some swam, others gazed, and all were content. 

Students gear up to launch the Cabarton stretch of the North Fork Payette River.

Meanwhile, other students adventured down the Payette River. The whitewater world at Alzar School requires understanding and application of numerous skills; both tactile and social-emotional. Students waited patiently while their shuttle was set. They fit their gear and wrestled into neoprene suits, learned hand signals for on-water communication, in addition to verbal paddle commands and tips from their raft captains, such as to never stand up in swiftly moving water (thereby avoiding food entrapment) and always keep your hand on the paddle grip (thereby avoiding broken noses.) Afterward, they launched! Students cooled off by jumping into the water, then clambered back into their vessels. They splashed their teachers and “rode the bull”. They swam through rapids, screamed at every crest, and paddled their hearts out.

Despite feeling nervous at the start, even our most timid students participated fully and had a splashing good time!

Now that students have been introduced to these fundamental concepts and practicable skills for enjoyable outdoor experiences, they get to give it a go for the next two weeks. The countdown has begun … onward to expedition!

About the author: Rachel Ackerman is a Science Teacher and a Blog Coordinator at Alzar School. Feel free to contact her at rackerman@alzar.org with comments, concerns, and interesting topics for future blog posts!