Tag Archives: orienteering

Find Your Way Back to Campus (or not) (S’15)

Each semester, students in Outdoor Program learn how to use a map and compass to orienteer. The final project is to be dropped off in a random spot a couple of miles from campus and to…Find Your Way Back to Campus. It’s an epic journey. There are even two different songs written about it. As always, the Spring 2015 students experienced to success to varying degrees… but everyone made it back eventually. Here are five different accounts of this semester’s FYWBTC extravaganza.

“Honestly, I was dreading it a little. I don’t have much faith in my orienteering skills… but I ended up having fun! We were the first group back. We got dropped off, and we immediately found where we were because we were on a road next to a field. Well, to be fair, I didn’t figure out where we were. I was distracted looking at the field. We aren’t allowed to walk on the roads, so we set off over some hills. I fell multiple times. J.C. and I nobly brought up the rear to watch for danger (that’s why we were in the back, not other reasons). We wandered in the woods and maybe on someone else’s property, but we didn’t really have a choice. And there was an American flag… that was weird. Then we made our way up several hills. We took a water break on top of a hill. We stumbled around for awhile, took a bearing, and then we realized we could see Liana’s sauna from the top of the hill. We got really excited. We sat down to eat some cookies. I was excited for chocolate chip cookies, but they were raisins. J.C. was excited – raisins are one of the few things he’ll eat, apparently. Everyone else was just quietly sad about it… I took out the raisins and buried them in the snow. Then we realized we had lost Robby and Lindsay because Robby’s snowshoe broke and we forgot to look back, so we kindly went back from them. Robby was kind of limping through the snow without snowshoes and got stuck. I stayed behind with him because I was loyal. We were not going to take the road, but then there were like 50 signs saying, “No trespassing,” and we were scared that someone would run out and yell at us. So we took the road for the last part of the walk. We saw the silo in the distance; it was like a lighthouse, except it was a silo. It was so exciting. We ran up the hill, so muddy and so happy. We were the first group back. Then we all went and had Sloppy Joe’s for lunch.”

5 word summary: Big damn hill. Raisins. Victory!


“My group brought back a dog by accident… The dog found us at the road. We thought throwing snowballs at it would make it go away, which did not work out, at all. It was funny because we were told explicitly not to bring back a dog. In his intro speech, Bruce was like, be safe, don’t walk on the roads, and DON’T BRING BACK A DOG. But it just followed us, and at first we were like, ‘Ha ha, we’re bringing a dog!’ When we found our way onto the Hemenway Tract and the dog was still there, we were like, ‘Oh…’ It followed us into Bruce’s office. We walked in and said, “Hey! We’re back!” and this little brown dog came in with us and we said, ‘We brought you a dog!’ Bruce was not that happy but not that mad either. It kind of led us home, though. Can’t really tell. Who rescued whom, man? That’s the question. The other highlight was that we stopped to eat cookies on a hill looking out over a field, and then we slid down the hill on our butts in the snow. There was a fence at the bottom and we all fell, but it was so fun.”


“My group thought we were in three different places, so we decided to walk down the road. If we hit a field, we’d know where we were. We walked down the road, and we hit a field, but we were still skeptical, so we kept walking until we saw a farm. It was Liana’s farm! Then we knew where we were. We took a bearing, but we didn’t really trust it, so we were walking through the woods like, ‘Let’s go a little to the right, now a little to the left.’ Then we found a path and followed it for awhile. We kind of followed our intuition, which sounds dumb, but it worked. We made it back by noon. Our motto was, ‘A little to the right!’ We got onto the Inner Loop across Brown Road, and we were so excited, we all kissed the ground. We almost thought we were in a totally different place and walked totally the wrong distance. That would have taken a lot longer…”


“It started out well. We cut through someone’s property – this cow field – and got to a point where we saw we would have to climb a mountain. Christina’s foot got stuck under a fallen log under the snow. Carmen had to dig her out. And this was when we had JUST started. On flat ground. So we were sitting there trying to figure out how to go over the mountain. There was this other group behind us, and then trudged pas and went straight up it. But we were thinking, there’s NO way we can do that. There were these two huge mountains. We were supposed to go up the one on the right, but we decided to go in the space between them instead, which was still steep but we could do it. We start climbing, we stop for a cookie break. Everything is going well, we’re following our bearing – until we hit Back Brook. When we hit Back Brook, we abandoned our bearing and ran to the stream. Then we realized we had no idea which way to go, so we followed it in one direction for awhile, then realized we were totally lost. We had absolutely no idea where we were. One person got really giddy, another really stressed, another angry. I started hyper-ventilating. It was kind of interesting to see all our different coping mechanisms.

I led everyone in a breathing exercise to calm us down – breathe in for four, hold for four, out for four. Then we started blowing our whistles. We thought maybe if we stayed in one place, they’d find us. We thought that for like ten seconds, then realized that was a terrible idea. We decided the best thing we could do was get to a road, so we decided to follow our tracks BACK over the mountain to the road. As we were doing that, we saw dog pee, and started screaming because dog pee means a dog which means a house which means civilization! So we followed the dog pee and dog prints along the river, and then we saw the abandoned trailer on the edge of the Mountain School property. In any other situation, that would have been SO creepy, but we recognized it, so we were really excited because at that point we knew where we were.

We followed Back Brook all the way to Hemlock Point, and then we had to walk up the slide below Hemlock Point, which was a big struggle. I mean, it’s basically vertical, so that was really difficult. But we had to do it. My asthma pump was not really working, and I thought I was going to faint. We got up to the top of the slide finally and all paused to collapse for awhile and breathe. By then, we knew exactly where we were on the Inner Loop, so we ate more cookies and then walked back. We were out for FOUR hours. When we got back, Pat made me drink three cups of orange juice in a row because I needed sugar. I wanted to vomit…”

Advice: NEVER leave your bearing ever, even if you see something. And breathe.


“I put my head down so I wouldn’t see where we were going. When we got to our spot, we were on a road going East to West with a pond and a turn, so we looked at the map, and I spotted it! I thought, ‘Wait, this can’t be right. I can’t have figured it out.’ But I showed it to the rest of the group, and everyone else agreed. I was really happy that I figured it out! Half the group wanted to go through the woods, on someone’s property, and the other half wanted to go on the roads until we reached woods that didn’t have no trespassing sign, but we decided to go through the woods. It was hard! We went up this hill to a clearing at the top. It was so nice. We stopped to take a break and take a new bearing. I was leading. The snow was up to my KNEES. I fell like ten times. Esme fell and said, ‘I need your help!’ and I said, ‘If I help you, I’m coming down with you!’ We reached an area that was posted, but we decided to go through it, and we ended up on Liana’s farm. Then we knew where we were. Everywhere we looked we saw no trespassing signs. We had never encountered that before on our practice rounds, and it made us nervous. We took a vote and decided to walk on the road. It was really nice because I got close to some people I hadn’t really talked to before. We all told stories and talked about spring break. We got back at 11:40. Bruce said, ‘Congratulations, you’re the first group back!’ I felt so accomplished.

Advice: I really enjoyed the group. Communication is key. Talk with your group and open up conversations. It makes the atmosphere more comfortable.


Thanks ZG, RM, EZM, JCP and SS for interviewing!

Find Your Way Back to Campus (F’13)

Overview: Find your Way Back is one of the key experiences in the Mountain School outdoor program. In small groups, students get into a van, blindfold themselves, and are driven somewhere about 30 minutes away from campus. They are dropped off with a map, compass, backpack and water. Their task is to figure out where they are based on their surroundings, and find their way back to campus by orienteering.

The project: I asked some students to share with me about their experiences during FYWB. These are their adventures, in their own words…

We had a really far place. It was a lot of walking through really muddy mud – a good half mile probably. Liz’s foot went full into the mud at one point. We walked about two and a half miles, and then we had to hike Patterson Mountain. We didn’t see any land marks to show we were really on track once we past the bog. We were wondering, are we going the right direction? Then we got a little way down Patterson Mountain, we saw Garden Hill. We started SCREAMING and ran a good half mile to school. We saw the neighbors with llamas. They came out and said hi to us. We got back half way through lunch. OK – so we cheated a little – we looked at the map on the way to our drop off spot, but we were happy we did. We had a bunch of candy – sour patch kids and Swedish fish. We ate and walked and talked and looked at the compass. Every now and then someone would say, are we off course? But it ended up working out. Ohh – and we had one bar of cell phone service on Patterson! I tried to call my mom, but the signal was too weak. (Sigh). My advice? Wear good shoes and bring a lot of water. And trust the compass.

– Jacob R. from VA, F’13