Why We Hike At The Ecole d’Humanite


At our progressive international boarding school in the heart of the Swiss mountains, hiking, climbing, cycling and snowsports form the backbone of our outdoor programme. More than that: Every spring and fall, students and teachers leave the classroom for a 4- and a 6-day hike. Joshua Curtis, teacher in mathematics, piano and football, writes about this experience:

Painful knees, feet, shoulders, backs. Blisters, aches, sunburn, sweat, muscles straining to take steps that we wouldn't think twice about normally. Everything is too sunny, dirty, grimy, salty, wet. Our next shower is five days away.

Why do we hike? For me, the hikes are the cornerstone of Ecole life, not despite but precisely because of the difficulties, inconveniences, and learning experiences that they present. We spend every waking hour with our groups of around 12-14 people, learning to deal with their flaws and aggravating characteristics but also reveling in their witticisms, quirks, kindnesses and joys. We see first hand that if we don't step up to help out, the fire won't get made, dinner won't get cooked, water won't get filled, and everyone will suffer as a result. We are often too tired to care about what we look like, how we should present ourselves to impress others, or who is friends with whom. Although people invariably want to hike at different speeds, and one or two will often struggle with being the slowest members of the group, we learn to support these people rather than castigating them, since our success is contingent upon theirs. Genuine, deep interactions become the norm.

And then, of course, there is the nature itself. I don't need to explain the startling, awe-inspiring beauty of the mountains we live amongst every day here in Hasliberg Goldern to anyone. But as we hike, we are confronted with ever-changing, spectacular landscapes that somehow seem even more stunning, dramatic, and vast because, as my sister once said to me as we snowshoed up the Gibel (a nearby mountain) on Christmas Eve, "The view is just different when you've earned it."

Part of this difference comes from the very visceral representation of effort and reward that hiking offers. We feel the work we have put in physically, all over our bodies, and we see the reward right in front of us, in all directions, as shimmering mountains and ridges pile up behind each other into the infinite, hazy distance.

As humans, we often doubt whether we deserve what we have been given, or even what we have managed to achieve. But as Sarah said to me on the 4-day hike this year, "When we hike, we can't trick ourselves. When we make it to the top, we know that we did it ourselves." No one has carried us. There is no room for self-doubt. And the sense of liberation this realisation inspires makes all the pain, sweat, and effort more than worth it.



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