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Mountain Classroom: Advice from Students

Scott Allenby

After nearly two weeks in the backcountry with little to no service, Mountain Classroom checks in from Santa Fe, New Mexico where adjunct weekend allowed for a bit of down time and a check-in from Mountain Classroom Director Patty Pond and Academic Dean Derek Nussbaum Wagler. Maya ‘23 and Charlie ‘25 share a window into Mountain Classroom Winter 2023 in this week’s blog post. 

Mountain Classroom White Sands 2023

Snapshot into the New Mexico Life | Maya ‘23

Picture this, you are suspended thirty feet in the air. The only thing keeping you from sudden death is someone who you just met maybe a month ago and a chevron climbing rope. It sounds terrifying, I know, but this is the most exhilarating part of Mountain Classroom. At this moment, as you reach the summit of a class 9 climb, your toes find their position in the ridged volcanic rock. With this last bit of energy, you hoist your body up, reaching completion. Hands numb from untouched shards of rock, you finally touch the auburn carabiner. “Finished!” Your shout cascades against the hundreds of other climbs lining the Luna Park canyon. Sudden relief and accomplishment pour through your body like a shower of hot sun, much earlier than her rays peek over the peaks. 

There are moments when ice crystals cover your temporary home, and shimmying out of your cocoon feels impossible. But once you conquer the cold and unzip your door, life awaits, remembering why you stepped away from familiarity. Each site is equally as remarkable, holding originality through its ecology and permanent inhibitors. Forget an alarm clock, the croak and coos of the ravens keep you from sleeping the day away. The road runner keeps you on your toes, good luck keeping up with their square dance. The morning workout will consist of laps with your new mohawked friend, I bet you can’t keep up! Watch your step, the prickly pear’s inviting magentas will get you before your morning coffee has hit. These momentary friends will pose for a quick picture and soon nestle their way into your snack bin to help themselves to the endless buffet.

Here in our mountain life, repetitive days are rare, unlike the same few songs that radiate through our dear Deb. Flat horizons fade and with many miles under her belt, the southernmost Rocky Mountains followed our windows. Darting across the sky as the stars danced in Big Bend.

Mentally unprepared and physically exhausted, we ascended into the monster of clouds and entered a tundra of snow. This cold fluff was called “nos casa” temporarily, becoming familiar with frozen olive oil, damp beds, and wind burnt cheeks. Sadly in Northern New Mexico, we wouldn’t embody sun chasers as we had hoped. Adjusting to the white land and constant game of sun hide and seek, we admired the Pueblo lifestyle more and more. In awe of the permanent wall art (petroglyphs), we imagined what life would have looked like through crumbling ruins. One thing stayed constant though, our road seemed irresistibly magnetized to the Rio Grande. This familiar river settled our nerves, knowing we would meet the rapids again in time.

Differential ecology and zoology pulled a new perspective over our wide-eyed curious minds. This beautiful river was a road map to the soon to be adventures in New Mexico. For us, this is Mountain Classroom.

Mountain Classroom Winter 2023 Proctor Academy

How to Survive MTN Classroom | Charlie ‘24 

Hey. So you wanna go on Winter Mountain Classroom? Alrighty then, but there are some things you should know in order to make it through your winter Mountain journey. Consider this your official guide to surviving Mountain Classroom (winter edition). 

Rule 1: Sleeping

Do not buy your sleeping bag for cheap online and expect to sleep warmly. When you sleep in tents, essentially outside for upwards of a month during dead winter, you’ll realize pretty quickly that you can’t mess around when it comes to staying warm at night. Be ready to sleep with layers, maybe a hat, a fleece and sweatpants, whatever it takes to stay warm. Waking up at 2:00 am shivering in your sleeping bag is not a highlight of Mountain. A travel pillow is a necessity, don’t buy an inflatable one, they’re A. inconvenient B. loud C. liable to leak/pop. 

Rule 2: Music

On Mountain Classroom you’ll spend great lengths of time on the bus, which means you’ll be able to listen to music. Make sure to create a ton of playlists beforehand or else you’ll have to hear the same 30 songs over and over, which gets old. Quick. You’ll need playlists for every vibe: Sing-along, Chill, Sleepy (for the 6-hour road trips), Oldies, Sea Shanties or whatever, you name it. Music can make or break a bus ride. 

Rule 3: Food

Here’s a surprise for ya, eating is important, and there are a ton of things to consider when food planning on Mountain. You’ll need to think about budget, taste, time, nutrition, dishes, portion sizes and a bunch of other things. If you’re a cook, my best advice would be to pick simple, hearty meals that are relatively easy to cook and clean. Try to be creative to avoid repeating meals. It doesn’t need to be Michelin Starred food, because after all, hunger is the best spice. 

Rule 4: Taking Care of Your Gear

If you’re on Mountain, it is crucial that you take the utmost amount of care with your things. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I've lost my spoon or bowl come meal time, only to find them later, after a solid 10-15 minutes of looking. You’ll also have to pack things for expeditions, where you’ll have limited space. If you forget to pack, say an extra pair of shoes and your main ones get wet, you’ll be miserable around camp. organization will pay off hugely on Mountain Classroom, while forgetfulness can have a cascading impact. While I haven’t had to tie my spoon to my body yet, Mountain Classroom has forced me to be a lot more careful with my stuff. If you can manage all your stuff efficiently, this whole program will be a lot smoother for you. 

Rule 5: Journaling

Make sure to bring a journal on Mountain. I’m not saying that because it’s a requirement, but also because it will be so fun to look back on in the future. This is also why you should bring a camera. There have been so many views I wish I could have captured, funny moments I wish I could have filmed, like the time we all sang Taylor Swift Songs on the bus, or the time I was outside journaling one night when I looked to my left and a skunk was just casually walking around. You’re bound to experience something crazy on Mountain Classroom, so make sure you have means of documenting it. 

Rule 6: Make the Most of It

On Mountain Classroom, you’ll have very little contact with the outside world. This is intentional. So don’t constantly ask about what’s going on at Proctor, don’t worry about the crazy stuff going on in the world, just be in the moment. Mountain Classroom is what you make it. Talk to whatever people you can, everyone’s got a story to tell. But more importantly, stop and look around. If you can do all that, then you will not only survive Mountain Classroom, you will thrive. 

Click here to check out more photos from Winter 2023 Mountain Classroom!

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