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New Perspectives - Jun, 1998 Issue #52

Buhl, Idaho
Nathan Olsen

The exploration of the American West by European settlers really started with the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition contemporaries called the Corps of Discovery. Very soon after, the whole American West was criss-crossed by a number of solitary men who earned the name Mountain Men. These solitary men would disappear into the wilderness mountains for months at a time, coming back with pelts to trade, stories to share, and often with the unintended consequence of being forever changed by their wilderness experience. 

In Buhl, Idaho, the founders of this late 20th century Corps of Discovery are trying to help a small number of special youth repeat that wilderness experience, and duplicate the consequences found by some of the early 19th century Mountain Men. 

Operating in the arid Owyhee region of southwestern Idaho, a group consisting of one student and two experienced guides, create a type of long “solo” experience for each student. “The course is designed to facilitate personal time in the wilderness without compromising safety or promoting leisure.”

“Students travel for forty days through some of the most pristine wilderness of the West. Depending on individual ability, they hike an average of five days a week, and from 100 to 300 miles during the course. They learn to live comfortably in the wilderness with only a piece of canvas, a blanket, a knife, a water gourd and a basic food pack.”

“The role of the guides is to keep the students safe, teach wilderness living skills, and offer counsel and support. They eat the same food, walk the same miles, experience the same hardships, and feel many of the same feelings. This level of equality between guides and students creates a foundation of trust and respect. Each student emerges from the wilderness with two guides who have focused on providing a life-changing experience for the young person they have been entrusted with. The Corps of Discovery carefully selects and trains guides who can meet this standard of commitment.”

The goal of the founders is to provide a REAL and very basic wilderness experience. There is no workbook with exercises to complete, and no therapeutic techniques. The wilderness itself is the total program, and the staff guides are there to help the student learn how to become resourceful and comfortable in a primitive, wilderness environment. 

This program is for the young man or woman who would be resistant to the typical wilderness group approach, or would spend all his/her time attempting to sabotage the group, or who at first would need two pairs of eyes keeping track of him/her. The founders think what they offer might be perfect for the student who messes up so bad in a long term school that he/she needs a more intense than usual “back to basics.”

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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