Wilderness Week

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Wilderness Week is a key part of the Bitney experience. During the trips, bonds are established that carry into classrooms and the entire school. Wilderness Week trips alternate annually between whole-school programs and smaller-group experiences such as kayaking, backpacking, beach camping, and hiking around Tahoe.

Wilderness Week is a unique Bitney program that takes place each fall, usually during September.  By that time we are just settling into the routine of classes, homework, assemblies, ultimate, and wham, we suddenly transport everyone into a completely different environment.  Each year the particulars of Wilderness Week are different, but the overarching goals and themes remain the same.

The goals are simple enough and basically two fold:

  1. To get young people out into the mountains, the deserts, the rivers, the beaches – away from the creature comforts of home and the ever present 24-7 fascination with all things digital and technological. To pay attention, even for a few days; to the sun, the moon, the sky, the basic topography of where they happen to be, and the people with them.  To have fun doing so, and to actually learn something about being prepared for the wilderness and the issues confronting the ecosystems they are visiting.
  2. To strive for some solid community building; get the students to know each other a bit better, and get the students and staff (and parents) to interact on a level that is simply not achievable in the classroom.  During Wilderness Week, students and staff may literally find themselves crossing the same stream, climbing the same rock, sitting around the same campfire, or laughing at the same jokes.  In other words students and staff are literally and figuratively “in the same boat.”  This fits in quite well with Bitney’s strategic goal of aiming high academically while building a strong community.

The atmosphere around the school is usually pretty good at the beginning of school. After Wilderness Week it is even better. In addition, almost everyone learns everyone else’s name. We usually try to alternate the program where one year the entire school is together in a tent camping or lodge situation, and the next year we divide into six or seven different groups and head in different directions for a more personal experience. The past two years offer good examples of that. Last year the whole school visited Ashland, Oregon, saw several plays and stayed at S.O.U. In previous years, students participated in an outdoor education program put on by the Gateway Mountain Center in the Donner Summit area.  We all stayed and shared meals together at the Clair Tapaan Lodge. During the day we were in separate hiking groups to explore the many natural and historical offerings of the area, culminating with the entire school climbing Donner Peak on the last day.

We strive to balance the groups of students by gender and grade level.  Here’s an overview of our various activities.

  • Tent Camping at Sugar Pine Point State Park at Lake Tahoe – Day trips to Emerald Bay, Eagle Falls, and some beach time.
  • Urban wilderness/walking trip to San Francisco – Students will walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, through various parts of the city, and to the zoo.
  • Tent Camping at Sand Pond near the Sierra Buttes – A hike to the summit and other nearby lakes, and an inquiry into the natural history of the area.
  • Three day raft trip on the Rogue River in SW Oregon – Class three whitewater, sandy beaches, spawning salmon, eagles, and black bears.
  • Mendocino Beach tent camping, etc. – Tide pooling, hiking the nature trail at Jug Handle, beach combing, and other adventures in the Mendocino area.
  • Second Mendocino Beach trip – A second group will camp at a separate state park nearby and will join the first group for one or more dinners/activities.
  • Mt. Goode Mountaineering Trip – Entering the Eastern Sierra from South Lake and camping near Bishop Lake, the group will attempt to summit Mt. Goode.

Prior Wilderness Weeks have taken place at such varied places as Sterling Lake Camp outside Cisco Grove, Camp Augusta outside Nevada City, an old CCC camp near Mendocino, Sugar Pine Point State Park, Fallen Leaf Lake, the Rogue Rive, and most recently at the Clair Tappan Lodge near Donner Summit.

This challenging, bonding experience for students and teachers, is just one of the many things that makes Bitney Prep a unique learning environment for students who are looking for a different kind of high school.