Steamboat Mountain School students gain perspective, unplug on 14ers hiking trip |

Steamboat Mountain School students gain perspective, unplug on 14ers hiking trip

A group of Steamboat Mountain School students summitted Mt. Massive.
Courtesy Steamboat Mountain School

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For three days, Steamboat Mountain School students put down their phones and picked up a backpack. In small groups, they scaled one of Colorado’s 58 14,000-foot peaks, learning how to handle themselves in the backcountry along the way.

While on the trip, the students weren’t allowed to have their phones, not even on the rides to and from the trailhead.

“Not having a phone is an incredible way to be almost forced to get to know people really well on these long trips,” junior Cooper Puckett said. “It definitely felt great. By the end, you feel much better and more connected to the people.”

Without their cellphones, the high school-age hikers were able to spend more time together, rather than individually scrolling through social media.

“I’ve done this a lot of years now, so I’ve been on some summits with some students, and that’s of course always a highlight, but I love the time in camp after we’ve climbed, and we’ve gotten back to camp,” Steamboat Mountain School’s Outdoor Program Instructor Gina Wither said. “The kids just play. They don’t have their cellphones. Kids are in camp together playing cards, giggling and just creating little forts, just being really playful.”

Wither has helped lead the 14ers hike for years, which is just the first of many camp trips the students and staff take throughout the year.

“The founder of our school, Lowell Whiteman, founded this school on the idea that we could give these kids really fantastic college preparatory academics, but also have wholesome fun outdoors,” Whiter said. “From his vision really stems the idea of the outdoor program and giving these kids the opportunity to grow not just academically, but with the skills you learn when you’re in the backcountry.”

Ahead of the hike, students learned about how to handle heavy winds, lightning and altitude sickness as well as cook and purify water. They were also educated on natural history, leave no trace principles, National Park etiquette and many more lessons.

Thankfully, their knowledge didn’t need to be tested in a real-life emergency situation, but Puckett said the field training came in handy.

Sophomore Josie Angell hails from Seattle and had only spent a few weeks at altitude before embarking on the hike. While she said breathing wasn’t particularly difficult, she found it harder to pump her legs up the incline as less oxygen reached her muscles.

The struggle was rewarded with an incredible view, though.

“It’s kind of cliche, but just the breathtaking moment on the summit where you’re looking at a sea of mountains, which you are slowly starting to see as you go up; you really get some perspective on life,” Puckett said. “While you’re doing stuff like the SAT and trying really hard to get good grades, it’s just a really good perspective, I think, and a nice break from all those things.”

A Steamboat Mountain School students stands on top of Torrey’s Peak with a sign that reads: 14,267′.
Courtesy Steamboat Mountain School

While he’s from the area, Puckett had only ever hiked one 14er before, and that was on the school’s hiking trip last year.

“They’re really accessible, but I think a lot of people struggle to find the time, even if you’re really close to 14ers,” he said. “It was really nice to get an allotted amount of time to go on a trip like this.”

Angell said the best part was the summit, but she also enjoyed spending time away from technology, since it’s something she rarely does as a student in 2019.

“I think it’s kind of difficult in daily life not to have a phone and a laptop because, even here, we communicate so much by email. We get notifications, and that’s how we see our grades,” Angell said. “What we do on a 14er, getting out into nature and unplugging, it’s a really cool thing that people in general should make more of an effort to do.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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