This past Wednesday and Thursday, CS4 students took part in one of the highlights of the Conserve School semester experience, the solo camp-out. All Conserve School students have the opportunity to spend one or two nights alone on their own individual campsite on Conserve’s 1200-acre forested campus. Even though students know that this experience is carefully planned by Conserve School staff members (who camp out nearby) and doesn’t pose any unusual safety risks, it’s a definite challenge for them to spend one or two nights camping alone, listening to the sounds of the Northwoods.
I always enjoy the opportunity to be one of the solo supervisors, primarily because it’s an opportunity for me to get to know a small group of students especially well. Every solo experience is different. The CS3 solos, for example, stand out in my mind because of how noisy the coyotes were all night. What will stick in my mind about the CS4 solos, I’m sure, is what an outgoing and funny group of students I happened to be assigned to. I had the most congenial evening campfire with them on the second night of the solo experience! One other memorable aspect about the CS4 solos was just how cold it got at night: 23 degrees. At 5:45 a.m. on Friday morning, it took a while for my bleary brain to figure out just why I couldn’t get any water to come out of the nozzle of our big group water container. Finally, I caught on that the water in the nozzle was frozen solid, and I stomped on a few of the smaller water containers to shatter the ice and get things moving.
For solos, students are broken up into groups of six to eight students, each of which is assigned one or two staff members and an area of campus with several individual campsites spread out within it as well as one larger “base camp” campsite. The adults stay at the base camp and check on the solo-ists periodically, using a messaging system to make sure that students are okay without interrupting their solos. If a student doesn’t leave the designated message at the appointed time and place, the staff member investigates further. (The usual reason for a student failing to leave an “all is well” signal is that they have fallen asleep.)
The first night all CS4 students chose to camp out on their own. (We encourage all students to do so, but solos are challenge by choice, so occasionally students will choose to stay at the “base camp” with a staff member, and everyone respects that choice.) On the second night, students can choose to have a second overnight on their own or to join others at their base camp for dinner, a campfire with some debriefing activities, and a group camp-out.
Students in my group shared around the campfire Thursday night some of their initial fears: bears, as usual, were on the list, as was coping with bathroom issues while in the woods, also a common fear of students who are relatively new to wilderness camping. Field Instruction classes give them a thorough training in outdoor skills prior to the solos, however, and students in my group reported that their fears turned out to be unfounded. They also shared that camping alone overnight made them realize that they were more self-reliant and independent than they had imagined. We hear this comment over and over from students every semester, which confirms for us the value of the solo experience. It is a definite confidence builder!
Students also had many stories to tell around the lunch table Friday in the Conserve School dining room, once they had returned from their solos. Although the coyotes weren’t as loud as during fall solos, students did hear them yip and howl and saw plenty of scat. They also heard wolves howl and loons call repeatedly, and I heard one story of an owl dive-bombing a tent.
So, once again, the solos were a great success. Thank you to Cathy Palmer, our Director of Outdoor Programs, for another excellent job of organizing all the associated logistics, and thanks, too, to all the staff members who roamed Lowenwood for two days and nights checking on our solo campers.
We have great photos that we’ll be continuing to post over the next few days. Enjoy them!
– Mary Anna