I heard about Outward Bound and the Pinnacle Scholarship through my internship at NatureBridge (an environmental education non-profit). I went on a 10-Day Backpacking and Rock Climbing course in the Sierra Nevadas on a Pinnacle Scholarship. I applied for the program because I wanted to challenge myself in a new way. I was used to challenging myself in school and in my extracurricular activities, but Outward Bound gave this city girl the opportunity to explore and grow outside of the concrete jungle and establish a deeper, more personal, connection to nature. It gave me the chance to develop my leadership skills, and find my strength in a place where I was completely out of my element.
I was excited for a challenge, but was worried about whether I could handle it. I was short, small, and weak. I was afraid I would fall behind while hiking and hold the group back. I’d never rock climbed outdoors and I was afraid that my lack of upper body strength and fear of heights would cause me to fail. There were times when I was so afraid, I almost emailed Outward Bound and told them to give the scholarship to somebody else. But something stopped me, and I’m so glad it did because the course was truly life-changing.
For 10 days, I lived in the wilderness with six other youth, carried all my necessities on my back, climbed to heights I never thought I’d reach, hiked farther than my feet had ever carried me, and enjoyed mountaintop views I had only ever dreamed about. I overcame my fear of heights while repelling down the side of Dogtooth peak at 10,400 feet above sea level. I overcame my fear of being alone in the dark while on my solo experience. I found that I was much more capable than I previously thought. I excelled at rock climbing and never lagged behind while hiking. I learned to trust my gear, my team, and most importantly myself.
One particular challenge that stood out to me was climbing Voyager Dome. It was close to sunset when our group got to the base of the big round dome. We took a vote to decide whether we would sleep on the top. The new, adventurous side of me told me to vote yes. When we began the ascent, the sky was already dark. I looked up at the dome and suddenly it didn’t seem so smooth and round anymore. There were lots of sharp, steep, perilously stacked rocks. When I was young, I had a recurring nightmare about big rocks and deep cracks. I had an explainable fear of getting stuck between those big rocks. Voyager Dome looked exactly like the scene in my nightmare. I was shaking all over, my palms were sweaty and my pack felt extra heavy and bulky. It was dark, making it even harder to see the cracks and loose rocks. We were halfway up and I was on the verge of tears and ready to give up.
In the midst of the fear and exhaustion I remembered why I was here. I was here to overcome my fears and push myself farther than I’d ever pushed myself. I was here to learn, to grow, to explore. I was not here to give up, so I continued. Each maneuver was exhausting and terrifying, but every time I thought I’d exhausted every ounce of strength and courage within me, I’d climb another foot and proved myself wrong. Voyager Dome gave me the challenge I sought, and more. After what seemed like a lifetime, I finally pulled myself up onto the peak of the dome. I felt, quite literally, like I was on top of the world. That night, as I lay atop that magnificent mountain, I realized that for the past 17 years, I’d been selling myself short. I am much stronger, physically, emotionally, and mentally, than I ever gave myself credit for. That night, I realized that the more I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, the more I grew as a person. And that the more I trusted in my abilities, the more I accomplished. Now, I view the world as an open gate. Nothing can limit me as long as I don’t limit myself.
After completing the course, I am re-entering civilization with new found confidence and strength. On the other hand, I am humbled by the immense power and incredible beauty of nature. This 10-day course has instilled in me integrity and awareness that will make me a more involved and compassionate member of my community. This experience will be invaluable to me as I continue my work in my internship at NatureBridge. In college, I plan on majoring in environmental science or environmental engineering (or some other biological/chemical science) and I plan to have a career that will help the environment. The deeper, more personal connection with nature that I’ve developed will enhance my passion and drive to understand and protect it.