Why We Hike: Proctor’s 53rd Wilderness Orientation

As you read this edition of the Beacon, Proctor’s new students will be in the White Mountains on Wilderness Orientation. For the past 53 years, Proctor has kicked off the academic year with a five-day backpacking trip into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Why? Because we believe there is simply no better tool to teach students about themselves, each other, and the power of community.

The vastness of the wilderness, the challenges of hiking, and the relationships forged with classmates and faculty leaders will lay the foundation for each student’s Proctor journey. Wilderness Orientation is a powerful grounding experience that centers us as we enter the beautiful chaos of an academic year at boarding school. We learn to be prepared, to trust those around us, to pace ourselves, to appreciate the little steps it takes to climb a great peak, to take care of one another, and to know that we each play an important role in making sure our journey is a successful one.

These are the lessons former Head of School David Fowler, former Assistant Head of School Chris Norris, 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 they experimented with how to overlay this educational model on a traditional boarding school. Fifty-three 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.

The time, planning, food and gear prep, acquisition of camping permits, and route planning to send 140 new students and 40 leaders into the White Mountains is overwhelming for the casual observer, but for a logistical genius like Wilderness Orientation Coordinator Kayden Will, it is one of her most powerful contributions to Proctor’s culture. 

Wilderness Orientation requires everyone in the community to rally and do their part to support the collective effort. Quite simply, we believe the experience of Wilderness Orientation catalyzes the relationships that serve as the foundation of Proctor’s culture.

Each year, our work is to keep Proctor’s culture and mission clearly in focus. We resist temptations to stray off the path, to take the easy trail, to bend to the fears of those who do not fully understand why and what we do. We do the hard things because we believe in their impact on our community and their contribution to our culture. We prepare our bags, lace up our boots, pack our sleeping bags, and embark on the best, hardest five days of the year.