A group of new freshmen from last year's Peak Experience program take in a mountaintop view from the summit of Jura Knob.
Before heading to class for the Fall semester, several dozen freshmen students will explore and camp in the San Juan Mountains -- the ragged range of peaks visible to the north from campus. While they're out there, they'll also be get to know some of their new classmates and learn about the FLC culture.
Given the friendly and adventurous -- both athletically and intellectually -- culture here, a wilderness trip is the perfect way to get a first taste of life at Fort Lewis College. In the Peak Experiences program, new freshmen in groups of 10 challenge and enjoy themselves while on four day-backpacking trip before Freshman Orientation in August.
"Every college freshman faces the same fear arriving their first day -- the fear of meeting new people and finding a comfortable niche to fit in," says Tony Martin, a freshman Spanish major from Ketchum, Idaho, who attended last year's Peak Experiences trip. "Initially everyone was quiet and reserved, not sure what to make of the situation. However, as soon as we began to discuss our different yet similar lives, people became more open and friendships began to form."
Each group is led by two upperclassmen trip leaders, who share both their knowledge of the area and their insights about the culture and community at FLC. They also instruct participants on the basics of wilderness travel and skills as they navigate the San Juans' alpine meadows, forests, lakes, and peaks.
Peak Experiences' student trip leaders are graduates of the Student Outdoor Leadership training, a demanding three-week outdoor leadership course hosted by FLC's Outdoor Pursuits program. SOL participants receive professional training in group dynamics, teaching techniques, decision making, backcountry travel, risk management, wilderness medicine, technical mountain skills, and leave-no-trace practices. SOL graduates lead Peak Experiences trips in August, then also lead trips for Outdoor Pursuits throughout the school year.
Madison Beamer remembers camping near the 12,900-foot Engineer Mountain, a prominent local landmark, with her Peak Experiences group last summer, then summitting the peak the next day. "As the trip progressed, epicness was never in short supply," says Beamer, from Carlsbad, California. "As a group, we experienced unforgettable moments after only being acquainted for a matter of hours that people who have known each other for years have never shared. It was a huge challenge. But as we became better and better friends, we all supported each other to accomplish each and every endeavor."
The Peak Experiences program is open to all levels and abilities, and no prior outdoor experience is required, although participants must be able to hike over sometimes-rugged terrain while carrying a 40- backpack. The trip costs $300, which includes food, transportation, backcountry equipment, lodging when on campus, and a one year membership to Outdoor Pursuits. Need-based financial assistance is also available.
"For each of us, Peak Experiences was the best way to start college at Fort Lewis," adds Ashley Fife, a freshman from Littleton, Colorado, also a 2011 participant. "The people we lived with for four days are now among those who we hang out with every day and count among our friends. All this was achieved while hiking through some of the most stunning terrain in Colorado."
Peak Experiences for 2012 runs from August 19 - 23.
Learn more about Peak Experiences.
Check out a photo slideshow of last year's Peak Experiences.