It was October 19, 2014. I was sitting in the noisy Merced Amtrak Station, waiting for the bus to take me back home to Sacramento, California. Fresh from a 50-day High Sierra Instructor Development course with Outward Bound California (OBCA), I was still covered in mountain dust. The immensity of the experience had just begun to settle in.
50 days. I had no idea that 50 days with Outward Bound – living, traveling and learning in the wilderness – would change my life in so many ways.
Months before, I had nearly finished my third season as a raft guide on the American River when uncertainty began to creep in. What would I do with my life after the season ended? What was my next move? I remembered hearing about Outward Bound in a college class, and I began to do my research. The more I learned about the outdoor education program, the more interested I became.
Outward Bound California describes the 50-day Instructor Development course as an “outdoor tour de force” along California’s 400-mile Sierra Nevada Mountain Range – known as the “Range of Light” – filled with granite domes, steep peaks and alpine lakes. On this intense semester course, I would not only acquire technical skills like rock climbing and mountaineering, but I would also get my Wilderness First Responder certification and also get hands-on experience teaching and leading a group in the outdoors. It was the door that I never knew I would open – but once I stepped through the threshold, there was no turning back.
I decided to sign up for the Instructor Course. My only hesitation? The cost. River rafting guides generally don’t have $7,000 in savings, earmarked for a semester course with Outward Bound. But, as luck would have it, the OBCA Instructors and staff had raised funds for an additional scholarship for someone just like me – an individual committed to spending the next 50 days learning and growing, who also demonstrated financial need. I’m grateful to the generous OBCA folks who made it possible.
As we moved through the various phases and geographical areas of the course – from backpacking to rock climbing to mountaineering to practicum and Wilderness First Responder and CPR certification, we faced many challenges, both mentally and physically. We spent hours painstakingly navigating through endless talus fields that threatened to roll our ankles at every step. We persevered through 4 am wake up calls and fourteen-hour days on our feet so that we could make it over a high mountain pass or to the top of a peak before the unpredictable High Sierra weather made it impossible.
My crew pushed ourselves further than many of us had ever pushed before, and the places that trail took us were beyond words. I remember standing on top of Mount Goddard, the highest point in the Sierra and Sequoia Kings National Forests, on the 40th day of my course. Not only was I surrounded by one of the most amazing views of my life, but I was standing among six inspiring human beings who had embarked on this journey with me and had quickly become my family. Six people who challenged me to learn and grow, who inspired me to keep going through the hardest of the challenges, and who taught me what it means to be compassionate.
Nine days later, as I sat at that Amtrak station in Merced, I knew that Outward Bound was going to play an even bigger role in my life.
Today, in the summer of 2015, I am an Assistant Instructor with Outward Bound California. I was surprised by how smooth the transition from student to Instructor was for me. Not only did the course allow me to enter into the Outward Bound community with 50-days of technical experience, but it also instilled in me a strong understanding of the organization’s key values. As a student on the Instructor Development course, I was able to practice facilitating a group; assessing and managing risk; and organizing complex, dynamic situations. All of these things are integral to my career as an Outward Bound Instructor – and they will continue to inform my personal life, as well.
Even more valuable, my participation in the Instructor Development course granted me the ability to approach each new crew I lead with an understanding of what the students actually go through and how profound an effect one Instructor can have on the crew. My firsthand experience as a student helped me truly understand the value and power of Outward Bound design principles.
As I lean forward into a summer of Outward Bound instruction, and a future in the great outdoors, I think back to the first day of that 50-day course, and the promise and potential it held.
You too can transform from an outdoor enthusiast to outdoor educator by taking a 50-day Instructor Development course in the breathtaking High Sierras. To see available courses and dates, go to http://www.outwardbound.org/course/high-sierra-instructor-development/344/. Spots and scholarships are still available – and we’d love to share in your next big adventure.