Another successful 4-Day Hike!

Friday, 13. October 2017

As they do every fall, Ecole students with MitarbeiterInnen left campus for the “4 day hike.” This year we had seven hike groups spread across the Bernese Oberland, hiking as many as 60km with 300m to 1000m elevation gain per day. Most groups stayed in tents while a couple were in huts, and all prepared their meals outside on cook stoves or over open fires. In addition, the Mountaineering group explored the area between Gstaad and Sion, including the Wildhorn at 3248m. Finally the Mountain Biking group rode near Einsiedeln in Canton Schwyz. As the weary but triumphant hikers, bikers and climbers returned, we seized the opportunity to interview Tom Sampson, our Outdoor Manager.

Marie: What do you do to ensure safety on the hikes?
Tom: Each year hike leaders meet to review our safety concept which details our standards of practice. We pair up our hike leaders at the beginning of the year and decide who will lead what level of hike. Once we are sure we have the correct number of hikes at the right levels, our hike leaders begin to plan their hikes, with one route option in the North and one in the South. This gives us flexibility depending on the weather during the hike window. Hike leaders have either done the hikes in recent years or they will head out and check the routes before the students sign up for them. A few weeks before the hike window opens, students choose three hikes they would like to join. As a staff team, we then split the student body into the various hike groups. Once the students are divided we head out for the test hike where we assess students on an individual level and the dynamics of the group as a whole. The last piece is to make a call to the meteorological experts at Meteotest where experts help us to decide when the best weather window will be for hike departure.

Did you face any challenges during the 4-day hike this year?
Getting 120 students and staff away from the school for four days doesn't come without challenges! This year we had a very successful hike, and barring a few blisters, the hikes were injury free. But before leaving, our biggest challenge was planning the hike because of the weather, and in particular because of the snow! SNOW at 1600m in mid September! We’d had an unseasonably cold and wet start to the autumn with far fewer visits to the Badesee. On top of this, a stubbed toe during folk dancing saw Ernst, one of our most experienced hike leaders, sidelined with a broken toe. Then Ben, one of our top climbing instructors, suffered a stubbed finger in a family evening dodgeball game! Fortunately we have a very flexible staff team and were able to ensure that each hike was supported by skilled hike leaders.

Why is hiking so important to you?
Students are often slightly anxious before their first hike, and always extremely excited and proud after they’ve done it! They have a unique chance to be very close to nature, and to spend minutes, sometimes hours, in silent reflection. Hiking is also the chance to exchange within smaller groups, to cook in the middle of the forest, to sleep outside in hut or in tents. Students learn about the flora, fauna and geography of the area they are passing through, about local history and land use. Many students take up the challenge of leading the group and navigating their way through the countryside. By spending time in the great outdoors our students develop a greater respect for and understanding of the environments we spend time in. The lessons they take away from their hiking experience are not measurable. They will often have an impact on them throughout the course of their lives.

What do you consider to be a successful hike?
In the short term I measure the success of the hikes by the buzz during the first dinner back in the Essaaal. Students return at the end of the hike excited to share stories and see their friends. And I can tell you this time it was loud! In the long term, it is rewarding to watch student choices change year on year, when they stop looking for the shortest hike with the most comfortable accommodation and start looking for a hike that will push them out of their comfort zone.

What are you looking forward to?
The 6-day hike in the summer term! Watching students grow in confidence as they realize their capabilities is an undeniable piece of evidence that hikes and nature are excellent teachers for our students.

4 Day Hike Photos here