Upper School Outdoor Education
The Upper School Outdoor Education Program unfolds through a series of increasingly challenging wilderness expeditions over the course of four years. During each trip, students progressively develop key strengths and skills in preparation for their final senior trip. Challenge and adventure await as they embark on an epic 22-day backpacking expedition in the Sierras. There’s a reason more than 80 percent of seniors complete this physically and mentally demanding quest — it’s life-changing.
As part of the itinerary, students spend three days and two nights in monitored solitude — a rare chance for quiet, unfiltered self-reflection. In this unique learning environment, they tap into priceless new perspectives on themselves, their community and their natural surroundings. It’s a rite of passage and true test of independence — just in time for college.
Upper School outdoor destinations have included Joshua Tree National Park, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and other inspiring wilderness locales.
The senior outdoor ed trip opened up my mind and cleared it out; it has allowed me to be okay with saying goodbye to high school.
Ninth-grade students travel to Joshua Tree National Park for a small-group wilderness expedition, breaking into small groups that follow separate backpacking routes. Along with their instructors, students hike up to four miles per day, spending four nights in the backcountry. Routes provide the opportunity to climb a peak for a period of monitored solitude. Students practice self-confidence, integrity and compassion as they explore the natural world with particular regard to human impact, water use and conservation, and low-impact camping in a desert environment.
Tenth-graders build upon their backpacking skills in various mountainous regions of the Southern Sierra. Students use critical and creative thinking to make decisions as a group and undertake an extended period of monitored solitude. They also have the opportunity to teach outdoor skills to other students using ‘mini-lessons’ and are introduced to different leadership styles. They gain experience in risk management, hazard evaluation and good communication.
In the eleventh grade, students embark on a wellness retreat in the San Bernardino Mountains, focusing on themes of goal-setting, managing stress, dealing with sexuality and relationships, helping friends in trouble and living with integrity. A high and low ropes course led by experts is interspersed with powerful discussion sessions.
In the spring, juniors practice advanced small-group expedition skills and gain a deeper understanding of expedition behavior while on a six-day course in the Sequoia National Forest. Students uncover their own leadership style while developing an increased responsibility for themselves and the group. Advanced outdoor skills along with overnight monitored solitude and reflection are practiced in final preparation for the senior trip.
Chadwick’s progressive Outdoor Education Program culminates with the senior trip — a 22-day backpacking expedition in the Sierras. The trip is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for students to test their cumulative outdoor skills, reflect on this time of transition and bond with their peers right before graduation.
Students develop patience and perseverance, pushing past their perceived mental and physical limitations over the course of the trip. They get the opportunity to climb one of numerous peaks, camp in groups and reflect in monitored solitude for three days. The course ends with an inspiring 6-mile run up in the mountains then, a celebration back on campus, where the entire school comes out to welcome on students home while bagpipes play.
See what students get to experience in the Village School Outdoor Ed and the Middle School Outdoor Ed programs.
All outdoor education instructors are certified Wilderness First Responders trained in CPR, with many having worked for prominent organizations like Outward Bound and the National Outdoor Leadership School. The safety of our students in the wild is paramount.
Chadwick School operates under a U.S. Forest Service special use permit in the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests.