The Redcliff Review – Launch
February 12, 2018
Wilderness Family Therapy
March 15, 2018
The Redcliff Review – Blog Series No. 3


The sun is up and a light breeze hums through the juniper trees. Though the day is warming up, a layer of snow covers the ground. The smell of campfire smoke hovers thickly inside the winter tarp shelter. Some students are cleaning up their breakfast pots while others are working on therapy assignments. It's around 10 o'clock on a Friday morning.

"We're peaking Steamboat today!" the head instructor announces. "Pack your gear. Be sure to bring plenty of water, and something to eat. It's going to be a long day."

Steamboat - aptly named because of its flat top resembling a steamboat, is a mountain peak in the RedCliff field measuring in at some 8, 500 feet tall. Groups have attempted to peak this mountain on several occasions, only to turn back.

In order for a group to summit a peak, the students must be in physical shape, as well as mentally ready for the journey. Most importantly, they must be able to function as a team in order for the hike to be successful. Can they communicate well? Can they encourage their peers instead of criticizing them? Can they put aside momentary fatigue in order to focus on reaching the top? Today the Firehawks, a group of about four adolescent boys, seem ready to answer those questions.

The instructor's announcement is met with a mixed response: "We're peaking a freaking mountain! Yaaaaaaay!" one of them yells. Others grumble. Nevertheless, the group starts gearing up. Twenty minutes later, with bags packed, water bottles topped off, and sunscreen applied the Firehawks set off on their adventure.

An hour later, reality sets in. "This sucks," a younger member of the group mumbles, "I’m getting tired." Several students echo his complaint. At the base of the mountain, in a tall Ponderosa grove, the instructors call a quick break to order, hoping that it might help. Bags of trail mix are opened and water is guzzled with intensity. Some students just sit there, resting their legs and catching their breath. A few minutes later, the group gets up again and begins the ascent. The only sound is the crunch of powder beneath their feet as they trudge through calf-deep snow. They move without stopping. As the incline steepens, staff pauses to work out navigation. "We're getting closer!" they say in an attempt to encourage the group.

"Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better."

Albert Einstein

But soon, the hike soon turns into more of a scramble. Navigation gets tricky as footing becomes uncertain. A staff member goes ahead to help students safely pass through. Communication and teamwork are of paramount importance now. Together, the students point out where to step and offer a helping hand when necessary. After forty-five minutes of scrambling, they make their way out of the hardest part of the ascent. The top is in sight.

One of the older members of the group races to the peak. "Come on, man! You can do it! Don't give up!" he yells to some of the group members who have stopped. At last, they all peak, out of breath and bedraggled. Together, they gaze out and see before them miles of juniper trees, winding dusty roads and patches of snow. Silently, they reflect on hikes they've completed and places they've visited in the field that now lies under them. Eventually, with the help of staff, they are able to point out the campsite they started from that morning. "Can you believe we've come all that way, bro?" someone asks in amazement. "Nah, man, that doesn't even seem possible" another responds. The group lingers for a moment and with the sun lowering in the western sky behind them, they begin the descent.

One of our greatest hopes at Red Cliff Ascent is that when students leave this program they will be able to stand on the mountain of their experience and look back in amazement at where they started. We believe the wilderness is full of metaphors for their lives in the front country. Perhaps when they first arrived, they didn’t think they could finish the program and much like the ascent of the mountain, they needed a helping hand of a peer to encourage them along. We hope they will call to mind the thrill they felt after finishing a long hike, or the simple satisfaction they found in seeing a sunset. We hope they remember these moments as they head out into the front country and know that they possess inside their hearts a deep reservoir of strength that will carry them through any hard times they may encounter. -Anna Jayamanne

Learn more about the wilderness experience at RedCliff by visiting us on the web, watching our YouTube videos, or reaching out to me at [email protected]