Climb High is an outdoor adventure program based in Smithers, for youth aged 14-18. Participants spend 50 days exploring the local wilderness and learning to climb rock, ice and mountains, travel and camp in winter, kayak or canoe flat and gently moving water, plan meals and pack for overnight trips, cook, navigate and stay safe in the wilderness.
Why Engage in Outdoor Adventure?
There are many benefits of exploring the wilderness, starting with physical and mental health. The different motions of hiking, kayaking, climbing and skiing can build a strong body and excellent balance.
Equally important is the quiet, solitude, and immersion in the rich variety of life on this planet. The reward is a clearer sense of place in the world, a realization that home is larger than our house or town, that although we are very small we are a part of something grand, universal and restorative. Many people find wilderness trips leave them feeling both at peace, and ready to face new challenges.
But outdoor adventure is more than just being outside. Climbing, paddling, and moving through rugged mountain terrain mean navigating situations with uncertain outcomes, evaluating opportunities and risk and making decisions that matter, and working with a team to keep each other safe. We can develop many valuable skills and attitudes, including self-confidence, focus, trust and teamwork, resilience in the face of hardship, optimism and determination.
Wilderness travel, where we rely on ourselves and our companions, builds strong character and even stronger friendships. It has created the best experiences of my life.
The program is offered during the school year, with possibly a final multi-day trip in July to take advantage of summer conditions. Participants need to have flexible school schedules, and will generally sign up as Distance Learning students for the year so they can work on academic courses around their outdoor days. This can be done through BV Education Connection at Smithers Secondary, or through BV Learning Centre, or any of a number of online DL programs.
Climb High will not operate on a fixed schedule month to month; instead we will concentrate program days in the fall and spring when more activities are possible. Students can spend more time on their DL courses during the short and colder days of winter. Click the link below for a list of activities and a rough schedule of outings.
Most specialized equipment will be provided. Participants will need to supply appropriate clothing and boots, backpacks, pfd’s, sleeping gear, toiletries, food, and personal items like sunglasses and utensils. We can provide a folding kayak, rock and ice climbing gear, some tents, maps and cookware, touring skis and snowshoes. Please see the detailed equipment list for more information.
Transportation will generally be in the instructor’s vehicle, a 2008 Honda Ridgeline 4-door pickup. It has seatbelts for four students, lots of room for gear in the back, and excellent crash safety ratings. We will arrange a pickup spot in Smithers unless somewhere else makes more sense for the group.
Of course all these activities incur some level of risk. Probably driving creates the largest risks, as we cannot control other drivers’ actions. We think that experiencing uncertainty and making careful decisions to manage risk is an important part of learning to be independent, and that outdoor adventure with an experienced mentor may be the best way to practice these skills.
Risk assessment and management will be a prime focus of the program, but we cannot completely eliminate risks, including the risk of serious injury or death. Parents of prospective students should think carefully about their values around risk and rewards, and what their response would be to an accident. They are welcome to discuss anything with the instructor.
A permission form and waiver that covers the whole year and all activities will be required for participation in the program. We’ll send out weekly information about our upcoming outings, but we’d like students to commit to the whole program as a package.
Group Size and Cost
To keep instruction personalized and facilitate transportation and organization, the group will be kept very small: 4 participants and 1 group leader. This allows us to travel together in one vehicle, climb as a group, keep some flexibility in our schedule for weather, and minimize our impact on the places we explore.
It’s expensive to run such a small group, but we think the outcomes are worth it. The program cost is $5000 for the 50 days of instruction (compare with Outward Bound courses where $4000 gets you 14 days of instruction in a much larger group). We are seeking grant funding to subsidize the cost of tuition, and we encourage students to do their own fundraising as well.
The BC Ministry of Education now has ministry-approved curriculum for Outdoor Education 11 and 12. Participating in Climb High will more than cover the requirements of either of these courses. There is a process called Independent Directed Studies through which the school where a student is enrolled can give full credit for an elective course if the student covers the course requirements outside of school time. EdGE Learning Centre will be happy to work with participants’ schools to document the experience gained through the program, and we anticipate that students can be granted credit for one of these courses, but we cannot guarantee that as we are not responsible for the decision.
Climb High is a program of the EdGE Learning Centre, run by the Bulkley Valley Collaborative Learning Society. BVCLS is a registered non-profit society established in 2019 to provide alternative education opportunities to local children and youth.
Derek Willmott is a BC certified teacher, licensed aircraft mechanic and pilot, and lifelong outdoor adventurer. He has hiked, climbed, kayaked, skied, and flown all up and down the West Coast from Alaska to California, especially in the Coast Range of BC.
Derek is currently certified in wilderness first aid and avalanche safety, and has previous certification in swift water rescue, rope rescue, and kayak instruction. Over the years he has taught rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, ski touring, ice climbing, and mountaineering in various situations to many people. He lives near Smithers with his partner, in a house they built themselves.
Application and Registration
Interested youth can apply to the Climb High program by submitting their answers to the application questions at the link below.
When we have enough applicants, we will schedule a date to get together to meet each other and the group leader. After that, successful applicants will be asked to submit a deposit to hold their place in the program.
Questions? Please email program instructor Derek Willmott at email@example.com
We’d like to thank the following organizations for their generous support for this program.