When you live in the mountains, educating yourself about your natural surroundings is invaluable. Fortunately, the students at Golden Secondary School have access to an outdoor education program that helps them appreciate, enjoy, and most importantly understand the mountain region.
“There are students who have grown up here, and know the area, but we take them to do things they probably wouldn’t have done on their own,” said Tom Frebairn, the senior outdoor education teacher who retired this past year. “We do rock climbing and ice climbing, and those are two things that very few of the students have tried before. We are broadening their horizons a little bit.”
The class is hugely popular, not surprising as it gets students out of the classroom all year round. Only being inside for a handful of classes a year, the rest of their time is spent on the gym’s climbing wall training, outside, or out of town on field trips.
“We had great weather this year so we got to do a lot…we did a trip into Lake O-Hara, so we ski/snowshoe. And we had an ice climb winter camp down near Spillimacheen,” said Freebairn. “We had a canoe camping trip down the Columbia from Radium to Spllimacheen. And we had a rock climbing camping five-day trip down in Skaha in Penticton.”
A thrilling experience for any Canadian teenager, but Freebairn has found that another demographic is also getting a great deal out of the class.
“The last five or six years we’ve had a large international student presence. I would say easily half of the class,” he said.
“It’s a great way to see the town and the country, such a great experience for them.”
When the program started in 2000, Freebairn taught one class. Since then it has expanded by 400 per cent, with GSS now offering one junior (taught by Ron Ainsley) and three senior classes. Although now looking back, Freebairn isn’t sure that a class like this would be approved given the liability considerations.
“I think if you were setting up a program like this now, everybody is worried about liability, it would be very difficult. But because we’ve been doing it for so long, and quite successfully without any incidents, we’ve been able to do it,” he said. “The safety considerations are huge for us, especially for rock climbing and ice climbing. There’s a lot of prep work, and there’s a climbing wall in the gym where we can go through belaying and tying knots, putting on the harness properly, that sort of thing.”
Classes similar to this can be found throughout the province, although quite scarcely. Freebairn often gets comments when he’s out on field trips from other climbers or hikers saying they wished they had something like this when they were in high school.
“It’s becoming more and more popular, and it’s not surprising. The kids always come back from these trips, some of them quite tough especially if we’re winter camping, but they always return feeling like they’ve accomplished something.”