A Semester in the Woods: GMC Fall Block Immersion Semester for Adventure Education Students

By Katie Bode

What is “Fall Block?”

A semester long course that includes learning and honing new skills as an adventure educator, to practice and develop both in field and classroom settings. This is a semester where students can advance their group management skills, work on expedition planning, and enhance their human, outdoor, and education skills a future outdoor professional.

But really, this is a chance for Adventure Education students to not only gain valuable field experience in new or familiar fields such as rock climbing, backpacking, canoeing, sea kayaking and mountain biking – but also study and learn important outdoor topics such as group dynamics, leadership, site management, and much more.

The Activities!

Adirondack Canoeing, Sea Kayaking and Rock Climbing – Vermont and New York!

 

Our first field courses were either Canoeing in the Adirondacks or Sea Kayaking on Lake Champlain – the decision was up to you! Although September is a bit chilly in upstate NY and Vermont I considered this to be the introduction to what the rest of the semester would be like – we had a chance to practice and develop canoeing and sea kayaking skills, but also learned about how outdoor leaders schedule the day, how the schedule can change, what good expedition behavior is, and the emergency plan for the day – it’s more planning than you might think! We had a blast canoeing and kayaking throughout the week – we really “shredded the gnar” as many might say…

During our next field portion – about two days later we drove to Keene Valley, NY for a week of all things Rock Climbing in the adorable town of Keene. This town offers some of the best-known rock climbing spots in the New England area. This was a bit different from canoeing and kayaking because we were base camping – so we stayed in the same place every night. This gave us a chance to really polish our rock climbing skills because we were truly able to focus on everything rock climbing. We had some guest instructors who took us to different places all over Keene to learn top roping, how to tie a figure-eight knot, lead climbing, natural and artificial anchors, and basic climbing skills. Rock Camp was relaxing, enjoyable and full of intense climbing and learning for everyone – regardless of his or her skill level. It was overall super AWESOME!

 ~TRANSITION PERIOD~

After Rock Camp there was a two-week, real classes (in the classroom), transition and preparation period before we finally headed out to the beautiful Southwest – Moab, Utah! It was this time that we developed a group Full Value Agreement – a statement that would serve as norms of good and appropriate expedition behavior all throughout our Utah experience. We also talked about our personal goals for fall block – essentially the outcomes we wanted to have at the end of this course. The best thing we got to do was find out who our Leader of the Day (LODs) partners would in Utah. These are the people we would be leading the group with during both the field expeditions, backpacking and mountain biking, for a day. We got to interview our partners and predict how we think our leadership skills would mesh together. We also worked on making a micro-plan for our lessons and LOD days as part of our expedition planning class, this is a skill that will be valuable to us in the future.

WOO-TAH!

Finally, the day was here, the day we were all waiting for, the first day of the rest of our lives – the best day of our lives…UTAH! We packed up two school vans and a box trailer – bikes, duffels, packs and snacks and hit the road. Roughly 2,000 miles of road stood between the desert and us. Anticipation, nerves, endless bathroom breaks, gas station burritos and excitement met us when we reached Moab 3 days later – thankful to no longer be sitting in a van all day!

When we first got there we had a couple days to adjust to the altitude because Moab stands at 4,025 ft above sea level. It was here that we hiked to see some Native American Petroglyphs, and practice Mountain Biking on the Bar “M” trails in Moab. We also got a chance to go to Arches National Park and tour the Firey Furnace with Ranger Kate! The group of 19 of us was split up into two groups – the hammers and the buzzsaws to make learning and group management more individualized and easier to maintain.

And then all at once, it began – we were packing up and preparing for biking and hiking! One group went biking first, while the other group went hiking, and then we would flip-flop activities. Our biking portion happened on the Kokopelli Trail – 142 miles of beautiful desert biking! From flat tires and sore legs to astonishing views from hills you didn’t know you could make it up – the Kokopelli trail was one to not forget!

From then we had a few transition days to prepare for our next lessons, call our parents and eat some darn good food! But then it was back into the field where we went backpacking! We hiked from the beautiful and somewhat snowy La Sal Mountain Range down in Negro Bill Canyon. We had a chance to throw some snowballs; scramble through some washes and camp in places that were truly breath taking!

 

AORE

Our time in Utah passed more quickly than we thought it would because soon we were saying goodbye to the beautiful (and warm) desert and heading back East to Maryland for the Association for Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) Conference. As one of my fellow students said we were “riding right out the desert dirty to AORE. Time to get…PROFESSIONAL!” This conference was a chance for us to talk to Outdoor Professionals, work on our resumes, meet other students with similar career goals, and talk to different outdoor companies and vendors. It was a blast overall and Green Mountain was well represented!

 Back in our Dorm Rooms….

So now that we’re back in our dorms, and we have papers to write and notes to take I think it’s fair to say that this semester has been one of, if not truly, the best of my life. Not only was I able to learn new skills, get to know and bond with both my professors and fellow peers, enhance my leadership and site management skills, but I was able to also get a deeper understanding of what Adventure Education is, see where others have been successful in a field like this, and enjoy my higher education every step of the way. Overall the Green Mountain College Fall Block Immersion Semester has taught me more about myself as a leader, what an Adventure Educator looks like, and how to bridge the gap between where I am now and where I want to be. I think the only question I have left would be: When are we going back to Utah?!

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