On a bright summer solstice afternoon in 1992, Josiah Clark spent his 18th birthday climbing Mount Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park. For the past 20 something days, Josiah and his crew had worked through almost all of the iconic elements of an Outward Bound course, now moving into the ‘Final’ expedition phase of their course where they would navigate their own way. The original crew was broken into two travel groups and Josiah’s group had their sights set on an ascent of Lyell. Eighteen years later, he doesn’t remember everyone’s names, but he does recall that his group was energized with the challenge that lay ahead of them, the peak casting long shadows on the trail. He says he felt lucky to have been part of that solid crew, explaining that “this new group meant new interactions and new challenges”. Once originally strangers, now a they were a team with a goal to complete together.
After summiting, the group started to make their descent down the trail. At one point, a large rock slide began to gain momentum not far from where they were traveling. Josiah remembers the fear, camaraderie and reward of the moment: “I really wanted to try extra hard to work with my Final group. I was so glad to be with them when the rock slide happened. We were all scared and although no one was hurt, tears were shed. We were making our way down from the peak, and I was looking forward to the apple cobbler that was waiting for me when we arrived at the camp. I could taste the dust in the air afterwards.”
Once the two Final groups gathered around the camp that night, they talked at length about what they had seen and experienced. “We all were shaken, but still felt safe with our instructors. We were all just happy no one was hurt”, Josiah recounted. “Then we all had the best apple cobbler we’d ever tasted.”
When Josiah applied for a scholarship to go on an Outward Bound course through his school, the Urban School in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, he was going through a very difficult time in his life. His father, who Josiah had spent countless hours fly fishing and learning about birds with, passed away the year before. He stayed away from home, trying to avoid being around his depressed mother and spending as much time as he could outside. He would bring his binoculars to school with him, and tried to keep his friends close. “I still remember the day someone came up to me during class to tell me that I had won the scholarship. I was overjoyed, because I had put so much time into the application and I really wanted it. I was imagining myself fishing and watching birds all day.”
Already an Eagle Scout with hundreds of hours of wilderness experience logged before his Outward Bound course, Josiah felt confident in his ability to navigate, cook in the backcountry, and to hike for many miles a day. “The most valuable thing I learned,” says Josiah, “more than how to tie double figure eight knots and use Wilderness First Aid skills is how to dig really deep within myself. Since completing that Outward Bound course, I’ve been able to compare my other adventures from mountains to rainforests and know that I can trust in myself and in the process of the experience. Being in the wilderness has ever since been a new outlet for energy and special place for me.”
Months after his Outward Bound course, Josiah went to University of California Santa Cruz to study Environmental Studies and immediately started volunteering as a Wilderness Orienteering Student Instructor in Freshman year. Felt confident in himself and it was apparent that he had real experiences and skills out in the field.
Now, Josiah is one busy person. He is an independent consulting Ecologist. He has an ongoing contract with San Francisco’s Rec and Park and a bevy of private clients he works for in forestry, landscaping, bird surveying. On top of all that, he co-owns a California native nursery in Penngrove, California called Nature’s Acres Nursery, which he runs with another Outward Bound alum named Andrew Scavullo. For the past 16 summers, Josiah has been working with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area coordinating habitat restoration projects with Aim High, a summer learning program for middle and high school students. Because of his experience with Outward Bound, he now knows to make sure the students are physically and emotionally safe, communicating his needs and theirs, and listening to their stories.
“The wilderness an amazing element for the psyche, because it makes the people vulnerable. I get to take these kids from the city into nature, seeing how they interact with this new environment. For the kids who are having a hard time, or maybe their personality requires lots of attention, these hands on projects give them a chance to try and to shine. They will, almost always, rise to the occasion so they can be a part of the group. Being in the wilderness strips people’s external selves, their ego, down to their basic parts. It makes people flexible and exposed. Maybe it is a small girl who has lots of will and determination. Maybe it is a loud and energetic person who ends up having a hard time with the task. Putting young people in nature levels the playing field.
Everyone used to have these outdoor experiences every day, and now it is more of a privilege. it is odd to think that knowing what it is to sleep under nothing but the sky, what it is to get your water from a stream, or to cook the food you have on actual flames for days on end is a privilege. But it is. Either because people don’t know it is available to them, or they can’t afford to take part.”
As an ecologist, an involved community member and a continued lover of birds and fish, Josiah Clark credits his 27 day course with Outward Bound California as being the pinnacle of his outdoor experiences. Without the generosity of donors, Josiah would not have been able to climb Mount Lyell that summer in 1992, and could have been put on a whole new life trajectory. You too could mean the world to a young person like Josiah in helping them find solace and energy in the wilderness of California. By donating today, you are giving the gift of vulnerability, flexibility, and the chance to be one’s true self.
Josiah’s course was run by the Pacific Crest Outward Bound School, now called Outward Bound California and Northwest Outward Bound School. NWOBS celebrates their 50th anniversary this year (http://nwobs50.org/).