Backpacking class teaches how to explore safely

Next month, San Juan College will offer an Encore class to introduce students to the basics of backpacking in the Four Corners

San Juan College Community Learning Center
Special to The Daily Times
Students in San Juan College's "Backpacking Basics" in 2010 spent one night on Cedar Mesa, near Bluff, Utah.

Adventure — the word brings up the idea of excitement and freedom, as well as risk. The Encore program at San Juan College is offering the opportunity for adventure through a “Backpacking Basics” class that begins Oct. 7.

“When I think about backpacking, I enjoy the fact that I am out on an adventure, relying on myself,” said class instructor Mark Everson. “I am in a beautiful place without demands put upon me by the phone, email, my children and the world around me. Many people experience daily pressures, and backpacking presents an opportunity to get from the modern world, existing without the evening news.”

For Everson, the risks involved in backpacking offer opportunity and different concerns than everyday life.

“In nature, you might come around a corner and have a bear or deer staring at you. At home, I often go for walks in the evening in my neighborhood and I wonder if I’m going to come along some crime. When I see someone, I sometimes feel fear. When I’m out in nature, I never have that feeling. There may be a storm coming and I may need to prepare for the storm, but I know that the storm isn’t out to get me. I don’t experience fear but instead a sense of openness and kindness in the natural world.”

In 2014, students in San Juan College's "Backpacking Basics" traveled along the Pine River, near Bayfield, Colo.

The Encore program has offered three previous backpacking classes, and more classes with the Outdoor Leadership, Education and Recreation program at San Juan College.

“This used to be an OLER ‘Backpacking for Women’ class,” said Community Learning Center Director Liesl Dees. “The instructor realized that most students in the class were over 50 years old, which is our target audience for Encore classes. We design classes for learners over 50, but they are open to anyone 18 and older, and we welcome a wide age range into our classes. We had successful Encore backpacking classes in 2010 and 2011. In 2014, we changed this to ‘Backpacking Basics’ to include both men and women.”

When past students evaluated the classes, “camaraderie” was the most frequent answer to what they enjoyed about the class.

In 2014, students in San Juan College's "Backpacking Basics" traveled along the Pine River, near Bayfield, Colo.

“Students repeatedly reported that they appreciated a fun, friendly, comfortable and supportive environment,” Dees said.

Past classes have traveled to Cedar Mesa, Utah, and Colorado’s Pine River. This year, students will attend two pre-trip meetings. At the first meeting, they will, as a group, decide the destination, which will likely be an approximately 3-mile roundtrip in the Four Corners that takes into account the group’s interests and weather.

The class will meet Oct. 7 and 14, and the two-day trip will take place Oct. 22 and 23.

Everson, the instructor, has logged thousands of miles of backpacking and has years of experience. He is a former Outward Bound Instructor and has completed a 50-day Outward Bound instructor course. His past expeditions with Outward Bound include the wilds of Maryland and Florida. Everson will be assisted on the trip by Ethan Martin, an avid backpacker and who is both Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responder certified. Martin has a particular passion for ultra-light backpacking and is happy to share tips about gear.

In 2014, students in San Juan College's "Backpacking Basics" traveled along the Pine River, near Bayfield, Colo.

Encouraging others to experience nature’s openness, creating the desire to do this again and providing students the skills and confidence for backpacking are goals of the class.

“We want students to get to the point that they feel confident going out on their own in the future,” Everson said.

For more information on “Backpacking Basics,” visit sanjuancollege.edu/Encore or call San Juan College’s Community Learning Center at 505-566-3214.