On a bright and chilly March morning I skied up to Bryant Camp in Bolton Valley to meet the Kroka Expeditions Vermont Semester group on one day of their semester long expedition. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I was led to the group’s pavilion-shaped canvas tent tucked back in the woods, but as I ducked through the entry flap, I met a familiar scene: breakfast.
About a dozen students and two instructors were gathered inside the tent, comfortably settled on a floor of evergreen boughs and sleeping pads, ready to dig in to an enormous pot of oatmeal. We passed steaming bowls around the circle and talked about their journey on the Catamount Trail. The Kroka trip is, to put it mildly, an incredible journey, and the Catamount Trail is only part of the experience.
To begin with, the Kroka group skied directly from their home base in Marlow, New Hampshire over to the Catamount Trail. The group will ski approximately two thirds of the trail northbound. Afterwards, they will spend several weeks in northern Quebec, learning indigenous skills with the Cree Nation. Later, they will paddle, row, and bike their way back to base camp in New Hampshire. All of this happens during one school semester.
But the Kroka Vermont Semester is about more than crushing miles. Kroka’s motto “where consciousness meets wilderness” was very much apparent in all the group’s activities. During breakfast students and instructors discussed how to minimize campsite impact by rotating camp locations from year to year. One student shared how even the seemingly simple task of scattering evergreen boughs after breaking camp affected the local ecology. If too many boughs are scattered against living trees, the ensuing damp microclimate could encourage fungal infection of the tree. Scattering boughs amongst dead trees, on the other hand, would create pockets of habitat for small mammals.
And did I mention that this is school? After breakfast, the morning was split between two classes: math and skiing. Half the group started in on a round of algebra and calculus while the other half went out to practice telemark turns through the trees. Each night, the students read and reflect after dinner. School on a Kroka trip might look different, but it was clear to me that an immense amount of learning was going on.
Some other things I noticed:
-Students routinely swapped skis with each other. No student had his or her “own” skis.
-Each student carved a wooden eating spoon and built a knife with handles carved from wood burls.
-They were really good skiers, easily out-skiing me on the improvised ski-pole-slalom course.
-Estimated daily intake of butter for the group: 3 pounds.
As I skied back down to my car, I felt refreshed and energized. I can only imagine what it must feel like after a full semester.