Middle School Students Learn the Most Valuable Backcountry Lesson of Them All

impact blog ludlow practice skinning
Students practiced backcountry skiing, with full packs, on the new campus land in Martis Valley.

Knowing when to back down in the backcountry is essential. This winter, we’ve seen some extreme weather in Lake Tahoe, and as a result backcountry travel has been extremely variable. Our 7th/8th Grade Crew had plans for an overnight hut trip on the west side of Lake Tahoe. But as the season has gone, some upcoming weather events were likely to impact travel plans.

In preparation for the the 5.5 mile skin into the Ludlow Hut the 7th/8th Grade Crew had done thorough pack checks, distributed the group gear, properly fitted their boots and practiced with the skis on campus. They learned how to identify and avoid avalanche terrain and terrain traps as well as how to keep each other safe, found, warm, and dry. To this end, the Crew was fortunate to speak to Don Triplet of the Sierra Avalanche Center about snow safety just prior to departure. The goal was to apply his wisdom throughout the tour and time at the hut, and to explore what it means to be Crew, to contribute to our Crew, and to ask for support from our Crew.

“Stay found, stay safe, stay warm and dry was the motto that Lorenzo kept instilling in them as the Crew got ready for their Ludlow adventure. And while the adventure got cut short, I’m certain the Crew will utilize their training in the future.” – TEA Parent in Attendance of On-Snow Prep

The 7th and 8th grades did a terrific job orienting themselves with the touring gear and assessing their packs in their on-snow prep. But the weather was starting to turn. Weather underground was forecasting 8-12 inches on Thursday and another 8-12 on Friday. NOAA said the snow level was fuzzy but accumulations could still see 2-3″ of water across the Sierra. Open Snow said we could see 8-18 inches of snowfall at lake level by Saturday morning, and 13-42 inches on the mountains.

impact blog ludlow hut topo
Topographic view of the 5.5 mile route to the Ludlow Hut

The Crew pressed on and hit the trail. Going was slow, but the Crew showed great character while skiing in with heavy packs. However, daylight was starting to become a concern. The weather was getting worse by the moment. After weighing in with weather forecasts, talking over the best and worst case scenarios, and taking all perspectives into consideration, the whole Crew came together and decided that it was not the day they would make it to their objective. The empathy and respect shown to Crew members and the understanding that there is no pride lost in making the decision to conquer the challenge another day made this short trip very impactful. It was apparent in the closing circle that the crew felt proud of how they worked together, not only helping each other up after falling but also in listening to each other and making group decisions.

We want to take a moment and share our appreciation for our trip leaders who we trust to keep our students safe on great experiences. We want to applaud the middle school students and faculty who demonstrated grit by attempting a 5.5 mile hut approach and then making a decision to turn around when it appeared that they may not have made it to the hut in the light. We are proud of our team’s decision making and judgment to ensure the safety of one another.

There will be another day on the trail.


Exterior of the Ludlow Hut.
Exterior of the Ludlow Hut.

 

Don Triplet of the Sierra Avalanche Center speaks to the students about snow safety.
Don Triplet of the Sierra Avalanche Center speaks to the students about snow safety.

 

For many students, this was their first time using backcountry skis.
For many students, this was their first time using backcountry skis.

 

Jack Benter, Tahoe Expedition Academy's Adventure Coordinator, teaches students about backcountry travel.
Jack Benter, Tahoe Expedition Academy’s Adventure Coordinator, teaches students about backcountry travel.

 

impact blog ludlow practice ski race start
Students practice backcountry travel on the new camps in Martis Valley just outside of Truckee, CA.

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