I’d like to share more about the adults who are leading the hikers. Each hiking group has two adult instructors who have experience leading groups of teenagers in the backcountry and an 80-hour Wilderness First Responder medical certification. Many are teachers at Stevenson and/or alumni of Stevenson and the Wilderness Expedition, the rest are professional outdoor education leaders. Pictures and biographies of the instructors are available in my first post, from March 15. A list of which instructors are with each group is in my Day 1 post.

The adult instructors are ably assisted by coleaders, who are current juniors and seniors. Most of them went on the Expedition as sophomores. The instructors and coleaders have trained extensively together this school year to prepare to give the sophomore hikers a wonderful experience.  

map reading lesson

The sophomore crews are nearing the end or the teaching phase of the Expedition. The instructors and coleaders are beginning to give them more independence. At the beginning of the Expedition, sophomores were always in the company of the instructors and coleaders, and constantly being taught or watched over. They needed to learn everything, from how to tie their boots for uphill hiking vs. downhill hiking, to how to brush their teeth without polluting. As they learn, that dynamic changes. The sophomores are likely to be left alone as they set up camp and cook, with the instructor and coleaders nearby but not interfering or teaching or offering advice. Of course, the whole group is in the same camp, so the instructors are actually very nearby, usually within 25 yards. The sophomores are also more likely to be allowed “independent travel” if they have shown themselves to be careful and responsible as a group. This means that the instructors and coleaders might sit down with them as they are eating breakfast to look at maps, and talk to them about where they need to hike that day. The instructor and coleaders then might leave camp before the sophomores are finished eating, with a wave and a promise to “see you at lunch.” The instructors and coleaders want the sophomores to feel as if they are on their own, but they rarely are more than about a 20-minute walk from them, and are often much closer. Instructors and coleaders like to hide and spy on the crew, to make sure that they are making good decisions, without letting them know that they are not on their own. They will especially observe the sophomores at river crossings and trail junctions. We call this benign deception the “illusion of risk.” We want the sophomores to learn the lessons that being on their own in a strange situation can teach, but without actually leaving them alone.

river crossing in the rain

river crossing in shallow water






water filtering at a river

I had one parent ask me how the crews purify their water. In case any others are wondering the same thing, I will answer that question here. Having clean water to drink is important for the health of our hikers. If they don’t purify their water, they risk getting one of a variety of intestinal bugs that, while not truly dangerous, could give them uncomfortable days. For this reason we send each crew out with several means of purifying water. They can choose from boiling water, using chlorine drops or ultraviolet light to kill bacteria, or using water filters to remove impurities including bacteria. Any one of these methods is sufficient to make river water potable. Boiling is time-intensive and usually only done as part of cooking a meal. The other methods can be used on the fly. Ultraviolet light and pumping water through a filter take a few minutes but result in the best-tasting water, while chlorine drops are fast but leave a slightly chemical flavor in the water. Most hikers use different methods at different times of day.

If you have questions about the Expedition, feel free to email them to me and I’ll do my best to answer. I’m Liz O’Hara, at lohara@stevensonschool.org.

Yesterday in my post about meals I shared a ton of pictures because the hikers just love taking pictures of their food. I have fewer of water purification and independent travel, but I’ll share what I have. You may recognize a few people in the featured picture at the top of the post, as it is of this year’s Elephants, and was snapped at the trailhead by our photographer on the first day of this year’s Expedition. The other photos are from previous years.

Map Work