September 8, 2011 — This August, six boys and two adventure staff from the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps’ Lancaster Campus went on a four day hiking trip to the White Mountains thanks to a grant sponsored by the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Youth Opportunities Program (AMC, YOP). AMC’s YOP provides affordable wilderness training for non profit staff with the goal of giving urban and disadvantaged youth the opportunity to experience the outdoors and the wonders of nature. The trip started with a visit to the AMC headquarters in Boston where the boys were outfitted with gear and clothing they would need to backpack the wilderness. Before attempting to conquer Mt. Cardigan summit, the team of boys and staff stopped at the Cardigan Lodge. Along the trek, RFK students, staff, and a guide provided by AMC, hiked down to Wellington Falls where they swam in the cool (some would say ice cold!) clear mountain water.
Later that night from the Cardigan Lodge, the boys viewed the summit of Mt. Cardigan from a telescope and thought it seemed gigantic and far away. They thought they could see tiny figures at the top silhouetted against the sky and wondered if lodge guests would be able to see them through the telescope when the reached the top.
The next morning, the boys were up with the sun to eat breakfast and finish loading everything they would need for the next two days into their backpacks. They knew they had a major challenge ahead.
Two of the boys, Kevin and Shawn, were the leaders of the day, reading the map and finding which route led to the first destination, High Cabin, on the shoulder of Mt. Cardigan. After more than three hours of hiking the boys stepped onto a rock outcropping called PJs’ Ledge for lunch and the first views of the range. “Wow!” seemed to be the most common expression as they got their first glimpse of what was in store for them. Later at High Cabin, the tired hikers dropped their heavy packs and took a short rest before heading to the summit.
Rich Hylan, Director of the RFK Adventure Education Department, said he was so proud to hear the boys encourage each other as they climbed the steep granite to the top. When the group finally arrived at the summit everyone just stood in awe at the three hundred and sixty degree view that opened up in front of them. “This is just really beautiful” said one of the boys, Peter. The hours and days that followed were equally awe inspiring; watching the sun set from a mountain peak, viewing the stars in place unpolluted by electric light, “we can’t see anywhere near this many stars in Springfield” one boy noted.
Of course, the trip had challenges, trying to set up tents and start a camp fire in the rain, cooking over a camp stove and canoeing on New Found Lake in high wind and waves, however its rewards far outweighed its challenges. The boys learned new skills as they overcame each new challenge; they gained a new perspective on the world and a better understanding of their own abilities. Their self esteem and ability to help others was strengthened by the camaraderie they built throughout the trip.
At the end of the trip staff thought that maybe the boys would have had their fill of hiking but several boys suggested the group hike a new mountain every week and maybe even start their own mountain club.
For more information on the Appalachian Mountain Club, click here.