Students in the wilderness
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
No St. Cloud State class demands more effort, metes out more pain, carries more risk or delivers more rewards.
Kevin Tatsugawa’s REC 412 Wilderness Expedition class left campus May 12 on a 21-day trip to Cloud Peak Wilderness, a rugged area of the Bighorn National Forest near Sheridan, Wyo.
As they drive west in a university van, the seven students will ponder the physical and mental challenges that lie ahead.
They’ll battle dehydration, altitude sickness, trench foot and body sores.
Interpersonal conflict, combined with fatigue, will test their self-control.
Isolation and loneliness will cause some to dissolve into tears, some to escape through sleep, some to find a spiritual place that only quiet contemplation can deliver.
At the expedition’s core are two days and three nights of solo camping -- a test of self and spirit based on the vision-quest practices of pre-modern societies, according to Tatsugawa, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Sport Science.
Students will be above the tree line with nighttime wind chill readings in the teens Fahrenheit. No watches. No cell phones. No books. No fishing gear. No knives.
“I’ve had a few complaints in the past about the solo camping,” said Tatsugawa. “My response is ‘If you get bored out there, what does that say about the company you’re keeping?’ ”
Solo camping also has practical purposes.
“By then they’ll be sick of each other and sick of me,” said Tatsugawa. “The solo experience is a chance to get a break from each other and kick back.”
Solo camping, which includes a fasting option, is also a period of rest and recovery.
Expeditioners will do 13 hikes, sometimes with full packs. The shortest hike is three miles. The longest is 17 miles.
Documenting the expedition is Bjorn Bagnall, a junior mass communications major. Bagnall expects to shoot eight hours of high-definition video for a 30-minute feature. The Lakeville native is using Department of Mass Communications gear through an independent study project.
"Twenty-one days is what I'm nervous about," Bagnall said. "The challenge of living outside society for 21 days."
Bagnall said he and his classmates will acquire the types of leadership and problem-solving skills unavailable in the typical classroom.
REC 412 is part of the Outdoor Education minor program closed as a result of the university's strategic reorganization.
The Cloud Peak Wilderness is the the most remote portion of the 1.1 million-acre Bighorn National Forest. Home to golden eagles, elk, deer, black bear and bighorn sheep, it features a glacier and 13,167-foot Cloud Peak.
The tentative expedition itinerary:
Story and photos by Jeff Wood