Backpacking with the ERC and ISDB

This September I had the opportunity to help the Environmental Resource Center on their backpacking trip with the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind. I didn’t grow up camping or hiking, so backpacking is something entirely new to me.  I was excited to work with Ashton, the Education Director at the ERC, and soak up all of his wilderness survival knowledge. I was also stoked to be going into the backcountry with 7 middle and high schoolers. Working with this age group can be intimidating, especially when taking them out to the cold outdoors with no access to running water. I think it’s super important for 6th-12th graders to get time outside, away from schedules, social media, and the demanding world of being a teen in the 2020s. 

After spending almost two hours at ISDB campus checking and rechecking the kid’s equipment and backpacks (after which the kids still forgot vital things like hats and jackets… kids will always find a way haha) we drove two hours north to Triumph, ID. We were going to be camping on the remote private land of a retired SNRA wildlife biologist. We “hiked” about two miles to our campsite. Over this short distance, I pointed out different edible plant species, elk scat, and beaver ponds amidst the kids’ “are we there yet”  cries. 

We found an area close (but not within 200ft!) to a stream and set up camp based on the Bear-muda triangle. I learned to place your bear hang, sleeping area, and kitchen area in a triangle formation, each at least 300 ft away from each other. This way, we would have a bear-safe camp. I learned and taught three different knots we would use to set up our tarps.

At the same time as I was learning backcountry camping skills, I was also learning to be more aware of my teaching style. All the kids on the trip were deaf or hard of hearing and I didn’t know any American Sign Language, the kid’s main language. We had an interpreter from the school interpret all the verbal info we were teaching. While I would usually demo and show visuals as I’m speaking, I couldn’t rely on this teaching style. Every time I was talking, the kid’s eyes would be on the interpreter. I had to rethink the best order to explain and demonstrate. It was really cool to watch Ashton demo how to use a bow drill to make a fire. He barely spoke, relying on visuals only. 

I was super impressed with the teens on this trip. There wasn’t nearly as much complaining as I thought there would be, even though the nights were cold and rainy. Not only did they embrace all their camp duties, they were also super excited about the service project. We removed fencing that posed a tangling hazard to wildlife. 

By the end of the trip, even with cold toes and some wet packs, the group was smiling. I was super grateful to have been able to tag along on this trip. I learned a lot of ASL by talking to the students, and I learned so much about backcountry camping.

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