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Trekking to confidence

SUMMIT COUNTY – When 16-year-old Mo Grumbly of Frisco signed up for one of Keystone Science School’s backpacking trips this summer, she was mostly interested in having fun.

“It just sounded cool,” Grumbly said of the school’s Nomadic Naturalist backpacking trip. “I’d been (backpacking) overnight before, and I wanted to see if I’d like longer trips.”

Grumbly emerged from nine days in the Flat Tops Wilderness not only knowing she wants to do it again, but also having learned backcountry skills and gained a new appreciation for the natural world that surrounds her.



Keystone Science School offered two new backpacking trips this summer, a five day Discovery Adventurers trip and the Nomadic Naturalist trip.

“A big focus of our program is exploration … exploration of the student’s environment as well as exploration of science,” said Eric Bend, trip leader and Keystone Science Adventures director.



The backpacking program is similar to those offered by Outward Bound and National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). It too teaches students backcountry skills, such as how to set up camp in the backcountry, what to do in a lightening storm, how to navigate through the wilderness and how to make a fire without matches.

“We learned what plants you can eat,” said Grumbly, who tasted the wildflower, Indian paintbrush, the first time. “It was kind of like a honeysuckle. It was sweet.”

Unlike Outward Bound and NOLS, however, Keystone Science School incorporates science into its wilderness journeys, said Renee Kruse, trip leader and Keystone Science Adventures director. The students study natural history, field science and environmental issues.

“We learned about the ecology of the Rocky Mountains,” said 14-year-old Sean Kleinschmidt, of Keystone, who went on the Discovery trip into the Eagles Nest Wilderness. “We had to write stuff about an animal or a plant we wanted to study. I picked the yellow-bellied marmot.”

“Each student asked a different research question,” Bend said. “Where is mosquito larva in terms of depth in a pond? Where will you find a flower in relationship to a pond?”

“My study was just to see if smaller ponds were warm and larger lakes were colder,” Grumbly said.

Each individual used the scientific method to test their theories and then shared their results with the group.

“A lot of the questions they asked were probably novel questions that you couldn’t answer in books,” Kruse said.

“Although some people might say they’re not terribly useful, you can also learn a lot about the scientific process through answering them,” Bend said.

In addition to teaching about science and backcountry travel and survival, the backpacking trips help kids gain valuable life skills, such as how to work as part of a team, gain confidence and meet new friends.

“It’s a really cool experience for them to go into the backcountry with a group of kids their age,” Kruse said.

The teens enter the wilderness with the typical peer pressures and stereotypes so common in middle and high school, but within a short time, they shed those stereotypes, their true personalities emerge and they become part a team.

“There’s a real metamorphosis in that sense,” Bend said.

“There aren’t the outcasts on a wildnerness trip that you see when you walk into school,” Kruse said.

“They truly need each other,” Bend added. “They are dependent on one another for everything we do out there.”

Both Kleinschmidt and Grumbly said the trips made them feel confident in the backcountry – an assuredness that likely will spill over into their daily lives.

“I don’t have to rely on other people to give me the answers,” Grumbly said. “I can go by myself and do it.”

The pair plans to enroll in another backpacking trip next summer and will recommend it to any friends that are interested.

“It’s a good experience,” Kleinschmidt said. “You’ll learn a lot about the Rocky Mountains and how to backpack and just have a fun time.”

“The whole experience is wowing,” said Grumbly, who was often stunned by the views and found that the nine-day separation from society gave her a deeper appreciation of the wilderness.

For more information on the Keystone Science School’s programs, call (970) 468-2098.


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