Perched on the edge of a mountain, Cody and his classmates looked out over the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. A few moments ago, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to climb over the ridge. The scree and the slope looked intimidating, but Cody and the other backpackers in his group continued to ascend. One-by-one they crested the summit, accomplishing what he considered to be the hardest part of the 8-day Mountain Orientation course.
“Being able to do that with a bunch of new friends was a very special moment,” says Cody Darling, an 18-year-old Outdoor Recreation Leadership student at Colorado Mountain College Leadville, “I’ve never done anything like this and it allowed me to step outside my comfort zone.”
The Trail was their Textbook
The 2019 Mountain Orientation course was led by Kent Clement and Cooper Mallozzi, Professors of Outdoor Education, as well as Dalton Reed, and Amanda Rose, outdoor instructors at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. From September 18 – 26, two groups of fifteen students—thirty in total—traveled roughly 22 miles through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.
The two-credit class is part of the Outdoor Studies curriculum at CMC, and students enrolled are in the Outdoor Education and Outdoor Recreation Leadership programs. Students learned about ecology, geology and geography while practicing backpacking skills, safety procedures, backcountry travel, Leave No Trace principles, and group dynamics.
“It was amazing to be outside, learning about different plants and trees,” says Cody who is originally from Columbus, OH, “It didn’t feel like class but you were constantly learning the whole trip.”
The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness was their classroom and the trail was their textbook. Required materials for Mountain O resembled a packing list for an off-grid adventure more than a back-to-school supply shopping list. Students become very familiar with their gear carrying it over 20 miles of mountainous terrain.
“Having a good pair of hiking boots was critical,” says Cody, “Fall temperatures were hard to predict, so correct clothing for layering also came in handy—and of course you can’t go backpacking without a big enough backpack to carry everything!”
Testing the Gear
Outdoor students put their gear to the test. Cody Darling and Kreyton Lane recently shared a video reviewing their gear and how it was used in this outdoor college course. From cooking meals, to sleeping under the stars, and having the right layers for any weather – these students were prepared to make the most of their 8-day class.
“We used the MSR Whisperlite stoves,” says Kreyton Lane, 18-year-old outdoor student at CMC, “They’re very easy to count out the days you need for fuel. For example, we only cooked breakfast and dinner each day, and that uses about a third of a tank. We’re able to calculate it down to how much fuel we need and decrease the weight in our bag.”
Every pound counts when you’re trekking through the mountains for multiple days. Priority is given to lightweight gear with a small footprint. Backpacking gear is designed to take up minimal space or in some cases, items can be fastened to the outside of the pack.
“Instead of having an actual tent with a bottom we had a Black Diamond Megamid,” says Kreyton, who is originally from Denver, “It’s basically a pyramid-like structure and it doesn’t have a floor. Some groups brought tarps for underneath and some didn’t. They’re light and versatile. You can even hang them off your pack and they’re easy to set-up.”
Though students lucked out on conditions during this trip, fall weather in the mountains can be unpredictable and unpleasant without the right gear.
“Thermal regulation on Mountain O is super important,” says Kreyton, “It could be sunny and 10 minutes later you’re caught in a hail or snow storm. This year we didn’t encounter snow on the trip, but having the right clothing layers to be out in the weather is a very important part of what we were doing.”
Mountain Orientation is just one of the field based courses in the outdoor curriculum at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. Students may also take Desert Orientation, Canyon Orientation, Snow Orientation, and River Orientation to diversify their outdoor experiences. Additionally, the program offers various technical skills courses, like Wilderness First Responder, Swift Water Rescue, Technical Canyoneering, Avalanche Training, Kayak Touring Leadership, Trail Design and more. For students who want to make a career based around their outdoor passions, there’s many options to explore.
“I’m in Land and Water Navigation right now and the class is pretty awesome,” says Cody Darling, “We’re learning about navigation on maps to stars and mountains. I’m also really looking forward to taking the Fly Fishing Guide certification in the spring.”