Taking high school to new places
Prospect Mountain Outing Club making its 50th excursion this weekend
PROSPECT MOUNTAINíS Outing Club treks up Mt. Cardigan on a winter overnight in 2010. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
October 19, 2011ALTON — Trudging up a mountain slope on snowshoes or rafting through whitewater on a Maine river are hardly experiences most people would associate with their high school experiences.
However, anyone who has been part of the Prospect Mountain Outing Club over the past few years can likely claim one of those experiences as part of their version of high school.
Science teacher Joe Derrick started the Outing Club in the school's first year and this coming weekend, Oct. 21 and 22, the group will be making its 50th excursion out into the world.
"I had a lot of hiking experience and I wanted to provide something that kids could do besides sports and band," Derrick said. "I knew there were clubs like this."
Derrick had never been part of an Outing Club, but his passion for the outdoors helped lead him to get Prospect kids into the same state of mind.
"There's not a lot of structured activity," Derrick said. "It's more just the experience of being out in the woods."
The trips range from small local trips to larger, more elaborate journeys, but Derrick does his best to keep the cost to a minimum so as many kids as possible can join in.
He also chooses trips based on the kids he has in the group. A group of mostly younger kids would be more likely to take a shorter trip, while a more experienced group might be up for a bigger adventure.
"On a year when there's mostly seniors, you can do certain things and can depend on them being prepared," Derrick said. "In a year when it's all ninth graders, you have to work on the basic skills."
The Outing Club's first trip was pretty local, as the group climbed Mount Major in Alton. The 50th trip will be much of the same, as the group will be going to Round Pond in the Belknap Mountain range, a relatively close trek.
Derrick said the main reason for doing a local trip is to help a lot of the younger kids learn how to pack effectively so they can be prepared for a winter trip if they so desire.
"If they're going to do a winter trip, they have to learn to pack," Derrick said.
The Outing Club also took a trip earlier in the school year. They camped out along Tripoli Road and hiked up Mount Lafayette.
Some of the trips have had small groups of three or four, while other trips have been groups of 20 or more. One of the more popular trips is the indoor rock climbing trek to Indoor Ascent in Dover, which the club has made five times since its inception.
"It varies year to year and month to month," Derrick said of the destinations.
The club has visited 29 different locations, including things as simple as ice skating, corn mazes and hikes up Mt. Major and things more complex such as the white water rafting trips on the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers and the winter hikes up Cardigan Mountain.
Teddy Pruyne is a sophomore at Prospect Mountain and has been on five trips in two years. His favorite trip to date was a journey to Squam Lake. The group took a boat to Bowman Island two at a time and camped over on the island.
"I think it's the best club," Pruyne said, noting that the group made up scary stories and tried to scare people throughout the night.
Julie Parker joined the Outing Club her freshman year and now, as a senior, she is the president of the club.
"I've tried to go on every trip, every year," Parker said. "Last year I didn't miss a single trip."
However, Outing Club was something completely new to Parker when she joined up as a freshman.
"Before Outing Club and freshman year, I wasn't much a hiker," she said. "I joined on a whim and realized how much I love hiking, getting out and enjoying nature.
"Outing Club really opened my eyes to that," she continued.
She recalls fondly one of her most memorable moments, which was her very first snowshoeing experience. The club was making a trek into Zealand Falls Hut on the other side of Crawford Notch. There wasn't much snow on the ground prior to the hike, but just days before the group was to set out, it snowed like crazy.
That meant that the road into the trail head was closed and there was no trail broken for the kids. They had to hike an extra three miles and had to break trail the whole way, with the last portion being almost straight up hill.
"Mr. Derrick said 'you'll be fine,'" Parker laughs. "It was definitely hard, but it was fun and I enjoyed it and I am glad I went."
Parker noted that the winter trips aren't always as popular with the students as the trips in the spring and fall.
"It's the hearty members that want to freeze their butts off," she said.
As for her favorite trips, Parker points to two that will always stand out for her.
One is one of the whitewater rafting trips when the she was in the boat and it flipped over. The guide had taken the group through the same set of rapids three times.
"It was quite an adrenaline rush," Parker said.
However, her favorite trip is one that the Outing Club has made six different times. The group goes out to the Isles of Shoals off the New Hampshire coast, where they work on a tern restoration island.
The staff of the island takes the weekend off and the students attend to all the work that needs to be done. There is very little electricity (through solar power) and no running water. And there also hundreds of the birds flying around.
"It's really serene, it's nice to get out there and get away," Parker said. "It's a really good, relaxed time."
In an effort to help keep costs down (hut fees for winter hikes, whitewater rafting fees, rock climbing fees), the Outing Club is selling full-color calendars of photos from different excursions throughout their years. The calendars are available for $15 and can be ordered by sending a check to Derrick at PMHS, 242 Suncook Valley Road, Alton. Orders are due by Oct. 28. Anyone looking for more information can contact Derrick at the high school at 875-3800, ext. 2122. The funds raised will also go to help purchase cold weather sleeping bags and comfortable hiking backpacks and other gear to help more students participate in the club's outings.
The photos included with this article are all part of the calendar.
Over the years, the club has had more than 200 students participate on excursions and has covered more than 200 miles of trails or waterways. And plenty of memories have been made.
"My best friend, Cristina Varney, I met through Outing Club," Parker said. "That's how we got to know each other and now we're best friends."
When the group heads out on Friday for its 50th trip, there will likely be more kids forming friendships and enjoying the experience, making their high school journey all the better.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126