Spotlight on the Outdoor Program, Part 3: Hiking

Wednesday, 13. November 2013

by Daniel Davis Wood

Hikes are an integral part of the education provided by the Ecole d’Humanité, and all Ecole students participate in them regularly throughout the year. Hikes are arranged for students through the Ecole’s Outdoor Program, and they are the third of four outdoor activities that we’ll take a closer look at with Michel Raab, our Outdoor Program Director and Risk Management Officer.

“Hikes help students to develop social skills, teamwork, self-awareness, and a sense of responsibility and accountability,” says Michel. “They allow students to discover themselves through the challenges they encounter in the mountains, as well as allowing them to explore their surroundings and develop an appreciation of nature.”

Video footage and photographs from the Four-Day Hike to the top of Mount Pilatus in 2012. Video created by Phil Oechsli.

Six hikes take place each year at the Ecole: three in the Fall Term and three in the Spring Term. First up is the Blueberry Hike, which takes place at the beginning of the academic year and involves students hiking up the Hasliberg to pick blueberries with their Ecole families. Then there’s the first Test Hike, which involves students testing the local terrain in different groups that are comparable to the groups they will be in when they embark on the Four-Day Hike. The Four-Day Hike itself takes place in September or October and allows students to explore different parts of Switzerland and neighboring countries.

After the winter snows have melted, students rejoin their Ecole families at the start of Spring Term and set off on the May 1 Hike, an event held each year on the anniversary of the death of the Ecole’s founder, Paul Geheeb. There is a second Test Hike later in May, and then a Six-Day Hike sometime in May or early June. Each and every student takes part in all six of these hikes.

“If students show self-leadership and good teamwork ethics on the simpler hikes,” says Michel, “they are identified as candidates for later participation in skitouring classes and/or technical hikes like the Mountaineering Hike in the Fall Term or the Skitouring Hike in the Spring Term, both of which require a higher level of leadership.”

Click here for a selection of photographs
from this year's Four-Day Hike in September

Up to twelve students participate in these technical hikes each year. One of this year’s participants in the Mountaineering Hike was Linda Markus, who came to the school as a helper this year after completing her formal schooling in Sweden. “The main reason why I decided to apply to the Ecole d’Humanité was because of all the different outdoor activities on offer,” Linda says. “At the Ecole, I have the opportunity to try activities that I otherwise never would have the chance to do and so far I have already done more outdoor activities than I did during my last three years in Sweden. The Mountaineering Hike is one of the most impressive things I have experienced so far in my life. It really convinced me that I can do anything that I set my mind to. If you had asked me a year ago what I would be doing now, I wouldn't have said that I would be walking on a glacier, climbing up mountains, rapelling down a cliff, and using crampons to cross a steep and icy hillside. But here I am, one year later, and I have done all of those things!”

“I’m certain that this experience had a positive impact on every single member of the team,” Michel says in his special report on the Mountaineering Hike. “We all came back with big smiles on our faces, with fun memories to keep and share, and having learned a fair amount of new skills.”

“Afterwards,” Linda adds, “I understood for the first time how important it is to face challenges once in a while. The challenges that I had to overcome in my hike gave me so many skills and so much confidence to take with me. Even if I never get to experience climbing up mountains again, I will undoubtedly face other obstacles to overcome, and when I do that I will always think of my Ecole hike and what it taught me, and my realization that it is possible to do anything if you set your mind to it. What makes me really happy is the knowledge that other Ecole students who are younger than I am will experience this ‘Aha!’ feeling much earlier in life than I have. They will have it with them for a much longer time and hopefully it will help them when they have their own personal mountains to climb!”