Climbing the Peak

by Chloe Kiparsky

Community building activities in schools are usually the cause of much groaning from students, but at Ouray School they are tolerated - and, dare I say it? even enjoyed. Climb the Peak day is an (at minimum) annual event where the entire high school and its staff go on a hike together. 

This year, we did a spectacular hike near the top of Red Mountain Pass. It was by Commodore Basin, and some students got all the way up to Ptarmigan Lake.

CTP is not only the acronym for Climb the Peak, but also for Courage, Tenacity, and Purpose, which are some of the core values in Ouray School. Climb the Peak day has been a tradition in Ouray High School since 2015 and it’s an amazing way to break the ice, welcome incoming freshman, and set our priorities for the school year.

A full day of not doing actual school work is not a decision made lightly by administration and teachers, so Climb the Peak day has to have a clear purpose and visible result to be allowed to happen. 

“It’s a big deal to take a day off of learning,” admitted science and math teacher Ms. Lakin, who has been one of the main organizers of Climb the Peak day over the years, “but it’s also the flexibility we have in a school this size.” She compared this day to other times we take off school, for example seeing UpstART plays at the Wright, watching concerts, and watching Ouray International Film Festival films, and how important and enriching they all are.

Although we live in one of the best places for hiking in the entire world (I’m clearly not biased), many students don’t get out on the trails much. This day is a wonderful way to get everybody outside without it being a giant deal like it otherwise would be. Climb the Peak day is structured as a fun jaunt in the mountains, not a giant slog towards our inevitable doom (though let’s all admit that it sometimes feels that way). Sophomore Luis Rodriguez “thought I was going to hate it because last time we did it it was around nine miles, but this time it was shorter so I got to get to the top.” Looking back at his experience, Luis “enjoyed it” and thought it was a “really fun activity.”

“Everyone seemed to have a really good time,” said social studies teacher Mr. Williams, “both those that were super enthusiastic about the hike itself and those who just wanted a different type of school day.” This is Mr. Williams’s first year teaching at Ouray School, and he feels that Climb the Peak day was very helpful for his settling into this new environment and community. “It was great to spend the day getting to know students and vice versa,” he said.

Climb the Peak day creates unlikely connections between students and their teachers that can last for the rest of the school year and beyond. During our interview, Ms. Lakin remembered a student from a past Climb the Peak day who had said “Oh! High school teachers aren’t as mean as I thought they would be!” 

Last year, when we climbed the ambitious Red 3, we started as a giant high school group and naturally split off into smaller clusters as people’s paces drew them together and apart. I ended up walking with a very unexpected group of people: a senior I didn’t know very well, a girl in my grade that I had yet to form a connection with, and our World Languages teacher.

Being with those people in that context of the outdoors was one of the highlights of my year. We ran around foraging for mushrooms, discovered tiny creeks, inspected bugs, and made it to the top while laughing our faces off. That day created a bond between me and those people (and many others), and I am still very good friends with many people I otherwise would never have had an excuse to talk to.

This year, we tried harder to stay as one big high school group - at least for the first mile - and so I got the chance to hang out with a wider variety of people. After lunch and a break, there was the option to forge on to the lake at the top or stay behind to play games. I went with the group going up more, and ended up walking with two very good friends of mine and a teacher I was already comfortable with.

In my head, Climb the Peak day was synonymous with creating brand new connections with people, but it turned out that hiking with people I already knew very well was its own brand of awesome. Talking to a teacher and other students in a completely different context than school was incredibly (surprisingly) different and enlightening. We didn’t make it to the lake at the very top, but we found a perch and looked at the gorgeous view while having a conversation that spanned across many different subjects. But I consider it a triumph regardless, because now my already strong bonds with my friends have solidified and I feel so much more connected to my teacher, just because we went outside together.

We are told not to use cliches in our writing, but Climb the Peak day is truly the embodiment of “it’s not the destination that counts, it’s the friends we made along the way.” Here’s to the hope that this wonderful tradition never stops happening!