Most folks would agree that 15 year olds are their own special class of individuals. While working with Outward Bound California (OBCA) these past few years, I’ve found that it takes a special approach to deliver the Outward Bound experience on our Youth Venture Courses (14-16 year olds). There is a whole lot of energy to be harnessed in a group that age, and it takes an Aikido-like approach to skillfully direct that energy to good. To successfully wield this awesome teenage power, I used a little mind trick on my last Youth Course in the Sierra Nevada, framing it as “Jedi Training Camp.” This potent introduction set a tone of epic proportions, and got the whole crew amped as we staged for the first expedition.
Each OB course generates its own special energy, which like “The Force” in Star Wars, empowers participants towards achieving things that they had previously thought impossible. The accomplishments of our crew on this particular course was a case in point.
It all began before the students even arrived, while sifting through paperwork back in Midpines, when my co-instructor and I noticed an unusually high “stoke factor” among our group. To clarify, “stoke factor” is simply a rating that students self-ascribe about their level of enthusiasm and mental readiness for course. Our group weighed in at an average of 9.5! This, along with what appeared to be an exceptionally active and fit group of young folk, emboldened us to design an itinerary that would blow everyone’s minds.
The Youth Venture format includes a 5-day rock climbing base camp, with one of those days slated for a big rappel, and another day of hiking to a lake or something similarly chill, just for kicks. Day 6 is resupply, and by early afternoon the group is off into the backcountry for their second expedition. This usually involves a peak attempt and a solo. For our itinerary, we opted for an extra day of rock climbing instead of the splish-splash at the lake, and set out to climb not one, but three mountain peaks in the backcountry, culminating in an 11 mile hike out on day 12. We figured we’d aim high, and we could always scale back. But “The Stoke” was with us.
The whole theme of “The Force” (or “The Stoke!”) being with us was a bit of a gamble, as I have the sense that Star Wars isn’t as culturally significant to the current generation as it was to this 80’s child, but we got lucky, and the students bought in big time. I mean, who doesn’t want to move objects with their mind, or do incredible feats of athleticism, effortlessly? The emphasis was on keeping a positive mental attitude throughout the course, encouraging individuals to stay on the “Stoke Train” so as not to cause any disturbances in “The Force.” An Outward Bound group, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link, and therefore all of the students needed to feel “The Stoke,” the power of the group was more than the sum of our individual strengths. Together, everyone achieves more. That’s what it means to be a TEAM.
And we did it. “The Force” WAS with us. We gave the students the option of a swim day, but they wanted to climb. We pushed hard on day six and made it to a sweet sub-alpine lake chain, and day seven found us hiking a 2nd-3rd class peak for our first summit experience. This was followed by “mountain time,” which is like Jedi meditation, to tune in and feel “The Force” all around us, clear the mind. The next day we hiked a solid seven miles to reach our day’s destination, and day nine found us atop another incredible Sierra summit.
Following the 24-hour solo, we hiked cross country to a gorgeous lake, with views of the entire course area, bagging our third peak en route. The students got their splish-splash in that high alpine lake, their energy pumping as they took repeated jumps in and out, laughing and playing despite the setting sun, their spirits inexhaustible.