Special to Feather Publishing/Plumas News
To celebrate eighth-graders’ completion of middle school, Plumas Charter School hosted a three-day backpacking trip the first week of June. Students and staff from both the Quincy Learning Center and Indian Valley Academy hiked 14 miles along the Antelope-Taylor Lake Trail.
“Seventh and eighth grade is a time when students grow a lot as individuals, and begin to experience new challenges they might not have dealt with before,” said PCS Outdoor Education Coordinator Courtney Gomola, who co-led the trip with IVA Site Director Ryan Schramel. “Going on this big backpacking adventure is a reminder that they can take on something hard and succeed and have fun!”
Gomola is also a career technical education pathway coordinator for PCS, teaching outdoor recreation classes in the Hospitality, Tourism, and Recreation pathway. This trip served as an opportunity for her CTE students in high school to “hone some of their outdoor skills and practice being outdoor leaders” as counselors for the younger participants.
A total of 24 students participated. In general, each group of two or three eighth-graders worked with a high school counselor during the trip. In addition to Gomola and Schramel, PCS teacher Hannah Stewart also served as a guide.
Additional IVA staff helped shuttle students to and from the trailheads, and IVA teacher Tirrell Baum and her husband Rich provided backup support via utility vehicle in case of medical or environmental emergency.
In preparation for the adventure, high school counselors reviewed key outdoor recreation concepts and made presentations to the eighth-graders, covering topics like the planned route, the elevation profile, proper clothing, Leave No Trace principles, and more, said Gomola.
Some students brought backpacking gear from home (upon approval), but “most students borrowed backpacks and other gear (sleeping bags, pads, stuff sacks, etc.) from PCS’s new gear shed that is chock-full of outdoor adventure equipment,” said Gomola.
On the hike, students carried their clothing, sleeping gear, and some food — and, in some cases, group gear as well — on their backs. Students cooked on Pocket Rocket stoves using provided cookware and portioned out backcountry and trail food, said Gomola. They slept out under the stars on sleeping pads or in hammocks hung by counselors.
On the first day, the group hiked about five miles from the Antelope side of the trail to Middle Creek, where they camped. The second day’s hike to Taylor Lake was about six and a half miles long. On the last day, everyone hiked about two and a half miles to meet the vans for pickup.
“This trip coincided right with our first big heat wave of the summer, and with the major drought we were not only worried about heat exhaustion on the trail but also dried up water sources,” said Gomola. The Baums brought water to the first camping site. “When it turned out the water source we were planning on using for the evening was dry, they shuttled some of our high school counselors up to the next drainage to grab water to filter back at camp,” said Gomola.
Gomola pointed out that this backpacking trip included students with a wide range of skills and experience. “We had students who have spent many days at a time in the woods doing things like backpacking or hunting, and other students who didn’t own a pair of hiking shoes. I think this trip provided challenges and rewards for all of them.”
“Swimming in Taylor Lake after we arrived on Day 2 was amazing!” said Gomola. She reported that almost everyone got in the water or went fishing, and spent time together on the rocks on the shoreline.
On the morning of the last day, everyone gathered together and the teachers presented each student — both eighth-graders and counselors — with a special mug and spoke about each individual. “It was really special to get to hear a little bit about all the students that we had just spent the last few days adventuring with,” said Gomola.
Surmounting the challenges of backpacking brings development of skills and self-confidence that will serve students in the future, as eighth-graders move on to high school and high schoolers continue to study outdoor leadership. “Battling the heat or learning how to cook or sleep in the outdoors, or even traveling with a big group while trying to stay together and safe, helped us all recognize strengths within ourselves and each other that made the trip the success it was,” said Gomola.
Plumas Charter School also operates learning centers in Greenville and Chester. Learn more at plumascharterschool.org.
Ingrid Burke is the public relations specialist for Plumas Charter School.