After a day of Dog Sled and Ski in the Minnesota north country, the night sky might not seem so note worthy when you consider the temperature can drop to 30 below. "People look up and are amazed by the beauty of the stars, I don't even know how to describe it," says Outward Bound instructor Suellen Sack. It helps that specially designed sleeping bags can move the temperature much further along the other side of scale but beyond that the conveniences pale in comparison to the challenge.
Preparing sleds, hauling gear, breaking the trail on skis and cutting firewood,she says, "People struggle emotionally with being in the wilderness in colder temperatures working much harder than they ever have before."
Rugged, but "I" only fits snugly into individual and each sleeping bag as teamwork takes precedence in order to overcome the elements. Instructors move students to a state of independence and the teamwork kicks in as a group of strangers devise the most efficient manner to get them to where they need to be next.
"You need to work together to get to the other side," she says, and it never ceases to amaze her how seven strangers grasp this concept on a consistent basis. Although not all the bonding comes walking or skiing in on two feet and the feeling among the mammals on the trip is definitely mutual, according to Ms. Sachs.
Students must take care of the paw power that eats up most of the tundra from one place to the next and "they give you love in return," she says of the dog pack. In fact, what they find when Outward Bound follows up with fundraising efforts people remember the dogs' names before the instructors.
Trading the blades and the barking for a 21 day canoe expedition in Maine's Penobscot River or the Florida Everglades really defines teamwork. Once you're out there, that's it. So she says, "There is no choice but to become a team and it really forces groups to look at themselves in order to succeed." The uninterrupted journey also gives airing to all frustrations and feelings that the group has toward each other and the effort being put forth.
For teenagers on a canoe trip or rock climbing ascent, the challenges are a little more manageable and the instructor input more noticeable but wilderness travel - regardless of age or ability - generally moves along the same lines of conflict and resolution. Who's not living up to their abilities, how long do we travel today and how are issues aired most effectively among the group.
Nonetheless, failure happens and that is both inherent to the natural surroundings and the curriculum of outward bound. The wilderness provides a unique opportunity to learn from failure, but she says, sometimes instructors pushthe group towards an unsuccessful outcome in order to move students along as individuals and as a team.
Traversing one's way up a 100 foot vertical incline sounds like an individual effort at Frost Valley's Rock's 'N Ropes. Discounting the belayed rope from above that is kept tight and secure to the child, it is individual, as they ascend the path that has been chinked out by the instructor at the Shawangunk Ridge in New Paultz.
It becomes teamwork if fear gives them pause to set upon the face of the incline, according Frost Valley Instructor, Kevin Terrell. "They've got the support of their trip mates," he says of the relationship that has grown on the controlled scaling of the rock climbing tower on base.
Still, the best laid path can have tears falling from the sky - even if there's little chance of anything else falling. "Sometimes that crying, it's just a release for them and they push past it on the way to the top," he says.
On the other hand, it may mean, "I'm coming down right now," but taking a step back is talked about before hand as a possibility that ultimately moves them forward. At the top, the kids are ecstatic with their accomplishment and are rewarded with a view across the Berkshires.
The National Outdoor Leadership School takes teamwork up a notch and does so in locations that go up by the rung. In addition to courses in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, you can find high-powered executives and highly motivated individuals (such as NASA astronauts) on courses in Australia, New Zealand, India and the Yukon.
The most common challenge they face on a 30 day expedition is a river crossing. With instructors leading them to an independent climax, NOLS instructor Bruce Palmer, says, "You need to figure out what the plan is, then execute it and if everyone is not fully engaged there's potentially very serious consequences."
In other words, he says, "when you're not in control of every situation, there's great lessons to be learned," and even if the outcomes are not quite so much in doubt at Outward Bound, Ms. Sachs draws a similar conclusion. "Our society does not challenge people to work with others," she says, and wilderness training offers the opportunity to move people along a path that builds character.