For four days in May, Professor John Scott’s classroom was 177,000 acres of sheer-walled canyons, thick forests and picturesque mesas.
Scott and nine Corban students backpacked into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, which is situated in the northern Blue Mountains along the Washington-Oregon border. The students’ natural science lessons came during sightings of elk, mule deer, golden eagles and other plants and animals. Stories about the land’s original inhabitants came during hikes and around the camp fire.
“It’s a lot more fun to talk about the Nez Perce Indians when you’re on a mountain top than when you’re in a 20-by-30-foot classroom,” Scott says.
The Wenaha adventure was the sixth backpacking trip Scott has led since founding Westrek, an outdoor club for students, in 2001. This social science professor has taken student groups to Mount Jefferson Wilderness, Lower Rogue River Area and Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon; Olympic National Park in Washington; and Zion and Capitol Reef national parks in Utah.
This year, all nine students took the trip strictly for fun, but, in past years, students have earned college credit. For example, students traveling to Eagle Cap Wilderness packed in assigned reading. Those earning history credits read and discussed “The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest,” by Alvin M. Joseph Jr., while those earning natural science credits were assigned “The Wallowa Mountains Natural History Guide” by Keith Pohs.
“[This year], I did not take Professor Scott’s trip for credit, but I could not believe how knowledgeable he is,” says student Caitlin O’Connor. “As we walked down the trail, he called out to every bird we heard with the species’ own whistle.”
The reading’s a bit lighter for students wanting to earn human performance credits. They read “Everyday Wisdom: 1001 Expert Tips for Hikers” by Karen Berger. Their hands-on training comes on the trip, as they pack their own supplies, purify their water and cook their own food.
“The outdoor living experience feels so much more authentic than the normal day-to-day experience,” says student Brent Fahsholz. “It only takes a day or two to forget that you ever had to shower or in any way bathe on a day-to-day basis.”
This year, Fahsholz and Luke Streckfuss clocked the most miles hiked with more than 40 miles.
“I learned how magnificent God’s creation truly is,” Streckfuss said. “Another thing I learned was that, out in the wild, all you want to do, just about all the time, is pray … I don’t think I have ever prayed so much before without actually setting aside time for it.”
Scott developed Corban’s backpacking tradition after coming up with the idea earlier in his career as a high school teacher. An avid outdoorsman, he’s hiked, camped and traveled extensively. Among other things, he’s backpacked in the Wallowa Mountains 30 times. A passion for stewardship is something he tries to pass on to every Corban trip member.
“It’s supposed to be fun and learning mixed,” he says. “I’m really pleased it’s become a reality.”
In addition to O’Connor, Fahsholz and Streckfuss, this year’s backpackers were Katy Rogers, JenniLynn Costalez, Ashley Bernard, Kendra Crosby, Jon Goertz and Craig Rice.