Dunn School’s junior class headed off last week into the wilds of the Ventana Wilderness, a rugged range full of rocky peaks, clear flowing streams and groves of old growth redwood trees. Bounded to the east by the Pacific Ocean and Highway 1, and to the west by the Salinas Valley and Highway 101, this was the first time in many years that Dunn students have ventured to this remarkable area. By all accounts it was a resounding success.

In addition to four days of backpacking in the mild spring weather, the students spent a day rock climbing and enjoyed the traditional final night celebration known as the Burrito Blowout.

“I had an awesome time,” Carolyn Dorwin said. “I was with a group of kids that I don’t usually hang out with so it was interesting getting to know them and working with them. I really enjoyed that part of it.”

For Michelle Thibodeaux, it was nice just getting away into the wilderness. Like Carolyn, she enjoyed the climbing as well as swimming in the Big Sur River.

Highlights for other students and faculty included amazing views of the ocean and tall trees, seeing native American history near the climbing site, taking time for solos and reflection at daybreak, completing challenging uphill climbs, visiting natural hot springs, spending time with friends, cooking their own meals on a camp stove, and learning just how fast business manager Chad Stacy can run when chasing a flying tent!

“It was the best outdoor trip I’ve been on,” Jake Eisaguirre said. “It was something completely different than I was expecting. The trail we took had us walking toward the ocean from the top of the mountains. We would drop down, see the ocean, then drop down and be a little closer. And walking through the redwoods was really cool, too.”

More than just a fun camping experience, the junior trip is just one piece of the entire Outdoor Education program that builds from sixth grade through to senior year at Dunn School. Each trip teaches students important practical lessons on expedition planning, goal setting and how to be safe in the outdoors.

Throughout the week, juniors were encouraged to further develop the characteristics and attitudes necessary for success in a leadership role in the 12th grade. They were also prompted to consider the kind of leaders they will be in their senior year and what sort of legacy they might leave behind once they graduate. Under the careful facilitation of their group leaders, they carried a heavy share of the group decisions and expedition leadership.

In addition to four days of backpacking, the students spent a day rock climbing. (Dunn School photo)

In addition to four days of backpacking, the students spent a day rock climbing. (Dunn School photo)

“It was a good, challenging trip in a really beautiful area,” Hunter Hartmann said. “We got to go to a hot springs, too, which is kind of unique for California. This has definitely been my favorite trip so far.”

On Monday, the sophomore class departed for five days in the San Rafael Wilderness. Lying in the northeast portion of Santa Barbara County, the San Rafael was one of the first places in the country set aside with the special wilderness designation.

For many sophomores, this will be their first introduction to backpacking and wilderness camping. The curriculum starts at a basic level on this trip with students divided into small groups to focus on camp skills and self-care. As the trip progresses and confidence increases, the days become more challenging and students undertake a greater share of the group leadership and camp tasks. Some groups will have the chance to climb to the top of McKinley Peak, one of the highest points in Santa Barbara County and clearly visible from the top of San Marcos Pass. On the final night, the whole class will come together for a final circle and a great meal of burritos before returning to school around noon Friday.

“Dunn School’s Outdoor Education program is about more than providing an opportunity for students to learn about the environment and practice their leadership skills,” said Barbara Haig, director of leadership. “It’s a time for community building as well as a means for accelerating the growth and development of positive character traits.”

It’s also one of the programs that makes Dunn different from other area schools, a difference that’s important to Hunter.

“I like being outdoors,” he said. “That’s where I like to spend my time, away from everything else.”

Dunn’s Outdoor Education program makes it possible.

— Sherrie Petersen is the communications coordinator for Dunn School.