Proctor’s 51st Wilderness Orientation Completes Successfully

Students learn valuable lessons

By Scott Allenby
Proctor’s new students completed a five day, four night backpacking trip in the White Mountains. The 117 new students, in groups of eight students and two faculty leaders, completed Proctor’s 51st Wilderness Orientation, a tradition since 1971.
Caption: Scott Allenby. Photo: Lindsey Allenby.

For the past 51 years, the first week of September at Proctor Academy has been synonymous with Wilderness Orientation. While last year’s Orientation program had to be altered due to COVID-19, Proctor’s 117 new students headed into the wilderness of the White Mountains for five days once again this September. 

The experience they had – the vastness of the wilderness, the challenges of hiking high peaks, and the relationships forged with classmates and faculty leaders – lays the foundation for their Proctor journey.

Last year’s 50th anniversary of Wilderness Orientation celebration was abridged due to COVID-19. While last year’s new students only were able to spend two days and one night in the wilderness, this year’s new students had the full Wilderness Orientation experience that every Proctor student has enjoyed (or at least survived) since 1971. 

That which we learn by preparing for and spending time in the woods is not merely an outdoorsy activity to kick off the year, but rather a powerful grounding experience that centers us as we enter the beautiful chaos of an academic year at boarding school.

It is the lessons of planning, preparing, and executing a Wilderness Orientation route that we carry into the school year. We must be prepared, learn to trust those around us, pace ourselves, appreciate the little steps it takes to climb a great peak, take care of one another, and know that we each play an important role in making sure our journey is a successful one. 

These are the lessons former Assistant Head of School Chris Norris, former Head of School David Fowler, and others brought to Proctor from their time with Outward Bound in the early 1970s. They saw the power of small group experiences, where each member was stepping well outside their comfort zone, and experimented with how to overlay this educational model on a traditional boarding school. 

Fifty-one years later, we continue to benefit from their foresight and willingness to commit wholeheartedly to a grand experiment in building community that we remain a part of today. It was amazing to get back in the woods this fall and put these lessons into practice alongside our new students!