Every February for the past thirteen years, students in fifth grade have climbed aboard the Breakwater buses and headed to Alexandria, NH for a grand winter adventure. Mt. Cardigan is typically one of the adventure trips that is most often mentioned in 8th grade speeches, in memories of Breakwater by alumni, and by parents as one of the most character building, inspiring and memorable trips at Breakwater. This year’s trip did not disappoint. Students left Breakwater at noon on a snowy Wednesday and returned home late Friday afternoon. Within that seemingly short span of time, fifth grade students spent nearly eight hours hiking through the fresh fallen snow 3,155 feet to the summit of Mt. Cardigan or just below to PJ Ledge. Some went on a hike to Welton Falls while others went sledding down a nearby hill. They cooked several meals, put on a memorable talent show and found so many ways to connect with each other, with their teachers, and with the natural world. They pushed themselves and were well rewarded with spectacular views, some hot cocoa, and new personal stories of strength, resilience and pride.
It’s not only the intense winter hiking and exploring that helps these fifth graders have such a rich experience at Cardigan. There are so many opportunities for growth that happen within the lodge. Students work together in teams to set up for dinner, cook their own meals and clean up afterwards. They are responsible for their time management - making sure they get to all activities on time. And the gear! There is so much winter gear to manage! Loading their packs for the big hike and making sure they had packed a lunch and water for the trip, yak tracks, a cup for hot cocoa at PJ Ledge, extra snacks for energy, and multiple layers required skills in organization and patience. The true magic of the Cardigan trip however, are the things that are harder to quantify: the strengthening friendship around a shared experience, the risk-taking and how much it affects confidence and motivation, the ability to lean on and trust one another.
Some thoughts from Breakwater Parents about the Cardigan trip:
“My kids both said it was the best trip at Breakwater. When this year's fifth graders' trip was threatened by a snow storm/snow day, they were seriously concerned that the fifth graders wouldn't get the full experience. Watching the videos that Tom Fisher made always makes me cry. The independence gained and sense of accomplishment from climbing a mountain in the snow with friends is just amazing. Even the talent show at night, in pjs, is a crucial part of feeling supported and part of the Breakwater community.” Erica, Breakwater parent of a 6th and 8th grade student.
“There are only a handful of experiences where Liam came out the other side noticeably changed. Cardigan is one of them. For a child who was wary about leaving us overnight at all, his eager anticipation of Cardigan (he was even excited to pack, which we have never seen) was a pleasant surprise. The video of his classmates from the year before and the promise of a talent show contributed greatly to this enthusiasm. He has always been physically timid and uninterested in pushing himself athletically, but he had no hesitation choosing to ascend the last peak of the mountain. His teachers also predicted that he might back out. He surprised us all. The independence, pride, and camaraderie that came from The Mount Cardigan trip has been evident in him ever since. Liam says that that trip is his favorite trip of his life so far, and considering how much we have travelled, that says volumes.” Lisa, Breakwater parent of a 6th grade student.
It was preschool teacher, Yazi Azel’s, first experience joining fifth graders on their trip. She recalls the excited energy that was constantly present and how the varied experiences all contributed to the whole. “The Cardigan trip has so much momentous excitement surrounding it. You can tell when the kids arrive and see the fire place, hot cocoa machine, and bunk beds, they know they are going to have an awesome time. Then they get ready and prepared for a physical day in winter conditions and there is such a team attitude. Whether they made it to PJ Ledge or all the way to top of the mountain, everyone ends the day with the sweet satisfaction of hard work and tired muscles. A sense of pride permeates the evening.” ~Yazi, Preschool Teacher
Read on to read some thoughts about the trip from this year’s fifth graders. Many of them were eager to share their experiences.
“Cardigan was really fun but really tiring! Climbing down the mountain was really great because I got to slide down some of the big hills.” ~Charlie
“Cardigan was awesome but also exhausting! We had a really fun talent show. It was really funny because Denny did a dance.” ~Wiley
“At the top it’s really windy but it’s a really nice view because you can see in every direction.” ~Rendle
“Cardigan was fun because we found a lot of interesting things in the lodge. I really like “Narnia” and also coming down.” ~Nora
“ It felt good to climb all the way to the top. The view was spectacular.” ~Cora.
If you’d like to get a glimpse of what the Mt. Cardigan experience was like for our fifth graders, take a look at Tom’s video slideshow. You’ll get to see the big hike, the summit, sledding, and scenes from the talent show.