Summer Wilderness | Earlham College
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Summer Wilderness

Start College with an Adventure   |   Summer Wilderness 2021   |   Outcomes   |   Academics   |   Staff

Start College with an Adventure

Established in 1971, Summer Wilderness is one of the oldest and most respected pre-orientation programs in the country. This 21-day expedition, coordinated by the Outdoor Education Program, builds confidence and connects you with other new classmates before the start of the fall semester — a great beginning to your four-year Earlham adventure!

Summer Wilderness 2021

Backpacking in Utah

  • Duration: 21 days (1 day orientation, 11 days backpacking, 6 days road-tripping, 3 days Richmond re-orientation)
  • On and off trail travel in alpine and sub-alpine zones (8,500-12,000 ft)
  • Possible 12,000+ ft peak ascent
  • Approximate pack weight at heaviest: 50-60 lbs.
  • Typical Male/Female ratio: 40/60
  • Average Group Size: 9 students/ 3 instructors
  • 3-semester credit hours earned

On this course you'll receive an introduction to the essentials of wilderness travel, in addition to learning more about yourself, your new peers and leaders, and Earlham College. You'll pick up skills including minimum impact camping, mountain travel, map and compass navigation, and outdoor leadership. There will be lessons on geology, environmental ethics, and natural and cultural history (among others). Working hard, traveling over steep, rocky terrain with a pack on your back, in any kind of weather, you'll find strengths you never knew you had!

Our hikes will typically be between five and ten miles a day, at elevations ranging from 8,000 to 12,000 feet. We will make our way along river valleys, travel broad glacier-carved basins, and ascend some of the highest peaks and passes in Utah. As the program progresses, you will take on increasing responsibility for yourself and for the group. There will be rest opportunities along the way to allow time for solitude and reflection. Towards the end of the course, you will test the skills you have acquired with student-led travel days, where you'll make decisions with peers and rely less on input from your instructors.

This experience is a college-level, three-credit course. As such, there will be assigned reading and you will be expected to participate in all course discussions and related activities. In addition, there will be several assignments to complete in the form of journal essays and mini-presentations. Evaluation and grading on the course will be Pass/No Pass. Students will be given a written and oral evaluation at the midway point and at the conclusion of the course.


The value of Summer Wilderness goes well beyond the initial experience. In post-participation surveys, students report establishing early — and lasting — friendships, increased self-confidence, comfort with faculty and academic expectations, and a sense of readiness for the challenges and opportunities of college.

Imagine beginning college with a wide variety of already established friendships and acquaintances. From the relationships you make with your incoming peer group, to mentor roles with your student leaders, to faculty connections, August Wilderness students begin school with an exceptional support group and network of relationships that make the transition to college easier and more successful.

The relationships you make during this intensive experience living with peers, student leaders, and faculty members will leave you with a support group and network of friends that will likely stay with you through the years.

Spending time with faculty members, learning and living alongside them for several weeks, enables a unique personal connection to be made. As well as guiding future academic progress, these faculty can become true mentors for all aspects of college life.

August Wilderness prepares students for the holistic academic approach that is distinctive at Earlham. Readings, field classes, group discussions, and written journal assignments provide rigor that makes this experience not just “a walk in the park”, while living in a close-knit group teaches the importance of self-efficacy and service to community.


Summer Wilderness is a 3-credit, experiential, field-based course that combines wilderness travel with study, observation, and personal reflection. Readings, journal writing, skill assessments and group discussion provide the basis for academic credit, and the curriculum has three main emphases: natural and cultural history, environmental ethics, and leadership. Five core values guide the program’s educational mission:

Adventuresome spirit is viewing obstacles as challenges to be overcome. It is actively seeking out opportunities to learn and push oneself outside the “comfort zone”. It is living life in a “positive state of non-expectancy” to appreciate the magic that can come from always moving forward.

Connection to the land we travel through, such that we are not just tourists, but come to understand our relationship with the land and its stories.

Servant leadership emphasizes collaboration, trust, and empathy as means of helping a community form and achieve its objectives. Servant leaders are dedicated to being their best selves and empower others to do the same. In this leadership philosophy, we are ALL leaders — as it is possible to serve others from any position in a group.

In the 1920s, Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound, wrote: “Unless the present day generation acquires early habits of quiet and reflection, it will be speedily and prematurely used up by the nerve-exhausting and distracting civilization of today." Contemplation is what brings meaning to our lives. It is also fundamental to the critical thinking we value at Earlham.

According to the Quaker principle: “a life guided by the testimony of simplicity can lead us to recognize what makes us genuinely happy and to be good stewards of personal, community, and global resources”. Living simply enables us to discern what is really necessary for the well-being of ourselves, others, and the world.

Core Curriculum

The areas we travel through are unique classrooms for natural history observation and interpretation. Students will learn to identify key species of the local biological communities while being introduced to big picture ecological and geological processes, such as fire adaptation and glaciation. The cultural history of the area will also be explored, with a particular emphasis on changing patterns of land use.

Students will grapple with global issues surrounding sustainability and climate change, critically assessing human impact on both individual and societal scales. The course will explore contemporary land management, resource use and conservation efforts in the context of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Participants will learn Leave No Trace principles in the backcountry and will be given opportunity to reflect on how we might transfer this knowledge to minimize impact in our “frontcountry” lives.

Living in an intentional community, students will learn critical leadership skills, including effective communication, conflict resolution strategies, problem solving/decision-making, and developing self awareness. Students will explore their own distinctive leadership styles through "leader of the day" responsibilities and structured reflection activities.

Double Rainbow


Kim Reid

Kim Reid
Director of Outdoor Education


Jamey Pavey
Director of the Center for Environmental Leadership

Summer Wilderness Program
Earlham College
801 National Road West
Richmond, Indiana 47374



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Earlham College, an independent, residential college, aspires to provide the highest-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences, shaped by the distinctive perspectives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Earlham College
801 National Road West
Richmond, Indiana
1-765-983-1200 — Main Switchboard
1-800-EARLHAM (327-5426) — Admission


Earlham admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin, age, gender and sexual orientation to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, age, gender and sexual orientation in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.