Summit High School class trip to Buffalo Mountain teaches students backpacking skills

Summit High School student Oscar Lindskog cooks dinner during a class backpacking trip on Buffalo Mountain.
Joe Kassay/Courtesy photo

A group of students in Summit High School’s outdoor education class went on an overnight, 12-mile backpacking trip around Buffalo Mountain last month, putting the skills they’ve learned in the program to the test.

Joe Kassay has taught classes in the outdoor education program at the high school for around four years, but this is the first time he was able to take students on an overnight trip like this. He said he hopes to make similar trips for students in upcoming school years and continue to grow the program along the way.

In these outdoor education classes, Kassay said students learn about teamwork, communication and being good backcountry stewards along with practical skills like building shelters, cooking and map reading.

“What we wanted to do was give the students hands-on field experience where they could take what they’re learning in the class and actually apply it,” Kassay said.

Kassay said the students all created time management plans and navigated themselves around Buffalo Mountain on the trip. He said they picked the campsite based on criteria they learned about in class, all while following Leave No Trace principles.

“Nothing is a better teacher than the backcountry, and that’s kind of what we’ve been lacking in this course,” Kassay said. “So it’s been nice to have this real world experience influence them a little.”

Kassay said his students did a great job practicing their skills on the trip: It rained and was windy throughout the night, but he said everyone woke up warm, comfy and dry in the morning.

Summit High School sophomore Lucia Hoffman said her family wanted to go backpacking all summer and never got the chance, so she couldn’t say no to the chance to go on a free school trip. This year is her first time taking an outdoor education class.

Hoffman said the most valuable skills she learned for the trip were how to build a shelter with tarps and how to use the camping stove.

“It definitely helped a lot that we were able to do them in a very controlled setting at the high school before doing them backpacking,” Hoffman said.

When the group was hiking in, they ran into a family of mountain goats with two babies, and Hoffman said they were very curious about the group. Kassay said the students all brought cameras to document the trip, and everyone was super excited to spot some wildlife.

“It was definitely something to remember,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the trip was one of the most fun things she’s done this year, and she would definitely do it again. She noted that she only wishes more students got to come along. Four students went on the trip along with Kassay and his wife Cheryl.

“We’re trying to connect local students to our local playgrounds,” Kassay said. “We live in such a beautiful place, and we have such wonderful outdoor classrooms to utilize. The goal of this class is to try and connect kids to that with the hopes that they can learn some outdoor education skills that might translate to working for places like the Keystone Science School or Outward Bound.”

From left to right: Summit High School teacher Joe Kassay, Summit High School students Matt Watson, Jack Watson, Oscar Lindskog, teacher Cheryl Kassay and student Lucia Hoffman pose for a photo while hiking on Eccles Pass.
Joe Kassay/Courtesy photo
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