In late August, a group of ninth grade students and faculty from the Nueva School attended an Outward Bound California (OBCA) course at Lassen Volcanic National Park. OBCA designed a course to facilitate teamwork, trust, and self-reliance for this inaugural class before they start their high school careers.
Separated into eight crews, they spent three days hiking up and down steep trail. They ate breakfast and dinner with food cooked on backpacking stoves, and they learned the seven D’s of defecation. At night, warm inside their sleeping bags, they gazed upon the starry sky, a reminder of the world that exists outside the “Bay Area Bubble.”
As a logistics coordinator, I help support crews like these with food and gear from our base camp. Unlike my instructing co-workers, no lesson plans or diets of dried food here; my sustenance consists of berry blasted Oreos, my “lesson plan” a discussion with our Course Director on the vision for the day. My opportunities for student interaction are limited to course functions and the occasional evacuation (0 at Lassen) I’ve gotten good at loading and unloading trucks full of gear, lifting heavy objects, and re-filling iodine bottles. It is the unglamorous and yet crucial role to the function and success of our courses.
But my work in Lassen allowed me an amazing opportunity – a day hike! On day three, I scooted out of Butte Lake and headed cross-country through a lush forest of Ponderosa Pines, White Firs, and wild Manzanita. We headed down a barren field of burned trees and up the loose rock and ash of Mount Hoffman, where we were treated to an aerial view of Lassen Peak. Snag Lake lay below us but in our attempt to get to the other side, we were “snagged” knee deep in sludge. A good laugh and a strong desire to eat dinner at base camp willed us out of the mud pit, and we headed north to otherworldly terrain.
As we rounded a turn past the Fantastic Lava Beds, Cinder Cone came into view, a giant mound of small black lava particles rising up from an ocean of black igneous. I’ve never seen anything like it. As it turns out, it’s a volcano, a type called – get this – a Cinder Cone. I crushed a Luna Bar at its base, now in mile 12 on the day, then crushed up to the top only to find a giant crater at the summit! Trails led around the circumference and down inside the Cone, and we were treated to a vista of the Painted Dunes and its Mars-like landscape as the sun made its last stand for the day.
The hike was soon over, and a day later the crews were back on the bus, and I loaded up the truck and drove back to San Francisco.
This course was OBCA’s first foray into Lassen, but surely not is last. Lassen doesn’t receive notoriety like Yosemite or Sequoia Kings Canyon. What it lacks in a typical Sierra landscape – no granite kingdoms, waterfalls, giant sequoias or bears – it’s rich in a geologic history of tectonic plate activity and lava flow. Three cheers for a new course area. But the students are the real benefactors here, gaining exposure to a landscape and lifestyle unavailable to them in their own front country.