Students make the Rocky Mountains their classroom on backpack excursion

By Mackenzie Miller – Horizon Editor-in-Chief

Students and faculty at the top of Sentinel Point.

With the flashlights, hiking shoes, and sleeping bags packed and preparation classes completed, 12 Hesston College students departed Wednesday for the annual backpack and camping trip to Divide, Colorado.

Students took the classroom outside for four days of experiential learning in the Rocky Mountains.

Under the direction of Hesston College physical education professor Clay Stauffer, students set out to learn topography skills, study maps, and complete four hikes: Raspberry Mountain, Monkey Rock, Pinnacle, and Sentinel Point. The hikes ranged from 10,000 to 12,000 feet and increased in difficulty each day.

Chloe McNiel and Leah Huyard repel at Monkey Rock.

“One of the biggest benefits is giving students a chance to experience nature, be outdoors, and try something they have never tried before,” said Stauffer.

Stauffer has been leading this trip as long as he can remember, and still has nothing but good things to say about it.

“I get to connect with the college kids on a level that I am not able to in the classroom,” he said. “Out there, we talk about what our dreams are, what our fears are, and just try to really connect with each other on a much deeper level. There is something about being out in the wilderness and being closer to God.”

Chloe McNiel, sophomore at Hesston College, could not agree more.

As a freshman in a new place with unfamiliar faces, McNiel was desperate to make friends at the start of last year and had yet to ever go tent camping. So, she signed up for the trip and let herself fully embrace a weekend in the mountains. Her thoughts?

“It was the best thing I could have done last year to kick off my year,” McNiel says. “It gave me a sense of belonging.”

Students prepare their meals around the campfire.

In addition to the backpack and camping trip, the physical education department at Hesston College offers two other experiential learning courses each year: Skiing and canoeing. All fulfill numerous Hesston College outcomes such as gaining practical skills and implementing self-reflection, self-awareness and self-care.

But for now, the focus is on the 12 students who hiked through the mountains of Colorado, learned more about their classmates, and returned to campus more prepared than when they left.

And this is why Hesston college is unique, says Stauffer. “We have all kinds of students with all kinds of majors” who come together to learn for a few days in the Rocky Mountains.


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