I attended both the keynote presentation and one of the workshops by Geoff Green, founder of Students On Ice. Wow! This guy is the real deal–nearly 90 expeditions to the poles and counting. He spoke with such calm and poise. Geoff oozes confidence and leadership, yet at the same time he is so unassuming and welcoming. That is a gift. His mission is to bring people to these polar regions of Antarctica and the Arctic to inspire the next generation to think about and understand the importance of protecting mother Earth. I get it. I have been leading my own mission to instill an appreciation of nature by leading students and adults on rock climbing trips for the past nine years.
Since starting my international teaching career at the American Community School in Amman, Jordan, back in 1997, I have been organizing rock climbing trips. In 2002, I befriended a Bedouin man, Mezied Atieeg, and together we built a permanent encampment in the heart of the Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan. Wadi Rum (translates Valley of the Moon) is known as the “Yosemite of the Middle East” to the greater climbing community. Over a three year span, I led over 200+ people, mostly expats and school families, to the pristine deserts of Rum. Those trips introduced people to the beauty of the sandstone monoliths, red sand dunes, starry night skies as well as desert desert camping, rock climbing and abseiling. After six fantastic years based in Amman, my family moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I taught at Northbridge International School.
In Cambodia, I met Ryan Sinclair, an NGO working to better the water quality in Cambodia. We shared a passion for rock climbing and soon found ourselves a sweet crag project about one hour north of Phnom Penh. Cambodia is mostly flat, so we thanked our lucky stars to have found a place to climb fairly close to town. Just off the road stood Phnom Ot Lok (Mountain with No Monks), three 20 meter crags that were itching to be climbed. Quickly we started building top rope and sport climbing routes, and then hauling anyone who was interested to our locale. Within two years, I was guiding beginner and novice climbers on the steamy basalt. This endeavor provided a constructive and safer adventure to riding motorcycles throughout the region (although I did a lot of that too). Soon we met missionary guy who began documenting our pioneer climbing experience. Eventually he published our effort in Cambodia’s first rock climbing guide book, Rock Climbing in Cambodia.
Three years later, my family and I found ourselves in Balikpapan, Indonesia (Borneo). My moonlight project this time was creating the school’s first adventure club for students. Kids in the club learn climbing techniques and rope managment on local artificial climbing walls. Unfortunately, there is not any “real” rock located in our area, so the man-made walls expose kids to the skills needed to have fun in the mountains once they leave Balikpapan. For the past three years the adventure club has been chocked full of enthusiastic kids excited about climbing the overhanging features and reaching the top of the walls.
Kids are natural climbers. They climb the fridge, the curtains, and whatever they can grasp. Have you ever watched a baby instinctively try to climb up or down stairs? The technique is hard wired. Climbing commands the simultaneously involvement of body and mind. Similar to yoga, climbing is intrinsically personal. Each person has their own goals, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. Beside the physicality of climbing, the practice is also a great platform to build self confidence and self esteem. Kids feel good about themselves when they overcome their fear of heights or reaching the top of a hard route. Kids walk away from the rock wall feeling better about themselves and standing taller than they did before. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy leading kids on their first climbing experiences. Working with new climbers as they begin to explore and discover their potential is a rewarding venture for me.
Listening to Geoff share his mission and passion for leading polar expeditions made me think about my own desire to balance regular classroom teaching with continuing to lead outdoors adventures on the weekends and holidays. Am I prepared to do this full time. Is it financially feasible? Maybe not, maybe so. What I do know is that as we prepare for our next international posting, we will continue to discuss which countries provide a balance of work and adventure. Will it be Africa, South America, or Europe? Or maybe even Antarctica?