Every year I decide what kind of professional development I need before I lead my study abroad program. in previous years I have gone to Harvard University to take a course on the teaching case method and Colorado to learn how to do digital storytelling. This year I decided to save and sign up for a mountaineering course offered by the Colorado Mountain School. It has been a tough year in one way or another and I have been writing, teaching and doing the scholarly and service things I think professors in my role are supposed to do. But I have felt for a while that it has been me projecting energy out and not getting much back in return at work.
I felt it is vital for me to get fresh that I learn something new, get some energy, feel vital and energized; do things I have not done before and allow myself to be taught. Being a lifelong learner is important to me. The course was five days long. We did a skills course to be able to move with crampons, ice axe and handle ourselves if we slipped or fell. The second day was spent ascending the east couloir of Hallet Peak (a very steep and strenuous approach). I experienced mountain sickness. Symptoms like a banging headache, shortness of breath, bleeding nose and a touch of dizziness. Finding out how to do things for the first time, allowing myself to learn, not getting upset when I did things wrong and feeling the support of a motivated team. Quite unlike academics in many ways. In the suffering and string I enjoyed it all. Our descent climbing backwards (literally) down the west side felt epic as did our return to the trail head. It was just the three of us, the terrain and the sky. Fantastic!
Day three involved two 80 foot training climbs. I had never climbed before. I watched by team mate Julia (18 years) and new high school graduate from New Jersey get up the face of the cliff. I watched and learned form her moves. It was not easy for me. I am on the larger side these days. Perhaps in my teens I imagine I might have found this easier but at 46 years of age and an extra-large in most clothes this was a challenge to take on. I was successful and feeling good before we took on a 300 foot multi pitch climb that ended with a break and repelling off the cliff. Amazing! Was I nervous? Yes. But after the last two days and the the morning;s success I felt confident in the gear, my team and myself. Repelling was fun and tense. Hanging and looking around took some effort for me but the feeling of accomplishment was very strong.
Day four focused on navigation and expedition planning for our final day of mountaineering activity. We planned and executed a climb on the Dragons Tail Couloir. The conditions caused us to use the main skills we learned during the course including climbing. The ice meant we needed ropes and we climbed the left fork over the rock steps. Epic. After climbing the 55-60 degree face, getting to the top felt so good. our guide Jake and Julia were awesome to work with and helped me get to the top. Once there, the view was spectacular and I imaged I could do this every week. I felt terrific, tired and accomplished. I started thinking about the next climb at the top of this one.
I learned so much from this experience. I drove to Colorado and back, planned the experience, worked with new people, made many mistakes and learned from them. I confronted my anxieties and fears, I showed myself I was in good physical shape, I solved problems, I learned new skills and learned that nature has a way of teaching me things day to day activities do not in the same way. I can’t recall the last time I felt so accomplished from writing a paper of giving a presentation. There in Colorado I found accomplishment, energy and perspective and a new respect for the future with my students in Barcelona. I feel this experience helped me become refreshed, a better person and a better college educator. Certainly after all the challenges in a short time to overcome I have not felt as relaxed and happy in years.