Over the last two weekends of a frigid January, OA Trip Leaders were hard at work to train for the upcoming season of outdoor programs. While the weekends are usually a time to rest and recover, OA staff took to the caves, mountains, and rapids, sometimes leaving before sunrise and returning after dusk. Many knots were tied, bonds were formed, and yeah, we got a little dirty. Our training trips are important for our Trip Leaders to teach crucial skills for planning trip logistics and details, as well as learning about the environment that we’ll be in. We’re still constantly discovering more about the outdoors and honing our skills to ensure that our trips are exciting and safe! Here’s what happened on our four January training trips…
OA staff started underground with a caving trip at Tawney’s Cave in the small town of Newport, Virginia. Owned by a family that allows it to be used by rec programs and boy scouts, the cave has a beginner friendly layout for those interested in discovering new depths. Gear included helmets, rain jackets and rain pants, and headlamps for the impending darkness and muddy terrain. Trip Leaders discovered incredible rock formations as they traversed through the cave, with designs spanning from narrow cracks to gaping caverns. The cold made for some beautiful icicles, but also some pretty frigid toes. Trip Leaders navigated the route of the cave, passing through the Moon Room, Emerald Room, and Formation Room. The slippery ground challenged our balance and reaction time, with the mud making it difficult to stay on two feet. After making it through, our more Southern-based trip leaders played in the snow of Virginia, and then warmed up with coffee spills at the local gas station.
Trip Leaders went from being in the pitch-black earth to over 60 feet above it on a climbing trip at Pilot Mountain. Like our caving trip, the climbing training trip is a classic experience for early Trip Leaders to become exposed to outdoor rock climbing and practice setting up top-rope anchors, tying life-saving clove hitches and bowline knots, and testing dynamic belaying skills. Unlike indoor climbing with static ropes, a top rope set-up outdoors uses dynamic rope, which makes for a looser belay that takes some getting used to. Trip Leaders tied into trees to set up their anchors, and then got in some climbing of their own (with helmets for safety!) in the Amphitheater area of Pilot. The quartzite rock face is ideal for beginner outdoor climbers. After working up an appetite, the clear, sunny day made for the perfect environment to cook up some quesadillas on the camping stove for lunch.
The following weekend kicked off with some brand-new training trips. On Saturday, we traveled just around the corner at the familiar Eno River to try out some fly fishing techniques. Since it had rained earlier that day, we didn’t expect to catch any fish in the murky water but instead worked on casting without hooks, tying knots, and reading the river. Fly fishing in North Carolina is catered mainly towards trout, so Trip Leaders learned about the eddies and quiet spots where the fish like to catch their prey. We practiced the traditional back cast and roll casts, trying to go slow and steady with the delicate rod to master the “finesse” of fly fishing.
We saved the best for last, with our first white water kayaking training trip on the Green River in Saluda, North Carolina. At 6 a.m., Trip Leaders piled into our transit vans and embarked on a four-hour drive out to some Class I rapids. Our brave first-year Trip-Leaders-in-training took the wheel as the rest of us either napped or tried our best to keep them company. Once we arrived, we planned the take-out and put-in locations for our kayaks, and then settled in for some lunch, wetsuit fittings, and a debrief on the rapids to come. Squeezing our way into 5 layers of wetsuits and shirts, dry vests, PFDs and spray skirts after devouring some hummus wraps might have been one of the hardest parts of the trip.
Practicing on a 6-mile route on the Green River, Trip Leaders learned how to maneuver the sensitive steering of the kayaks with paddles, wet exit from the kayak after flipping, and navigate the rocks, ripples and swifts. We didn’t make it all the way down our route due to the waters being especially tricky after a heavy rain (some stuck and runaway kayaks involved!), but still got the chance to experience beautiful nature like great herons and sprawling trees. We drained and loaded the kayaks onto the trailer and, pretty drained ourselves, changed into some dry clothes and stopped for some sandwiches on the long way back to Duke.
Training trips like these provide a chance for our Trip Leaders to learn, explore, and build backgrounds that make our Spring Semester trips run as smoothly as possible. They mimic real trips in many ways- some things might go wrong, there’s always a surprise, and yet we always find a way to persevere together in the great outdoors. If any of these adventures piqued your interest, check out our trip schedule for any open spots in the next few months. Trip lengths vary from days to weekends to whole week excursions! Visit our trip board on MyRec, and discover your own adventure with OA.
Contributed by: Christina Ferrari - Duke University, Class of 2024
Image Credit: Duke Rec & P.E., 2024