While our blog posts are usually written by the students themselves, we just had to share this story from our Hawaii & Western US instructor Lucy McGrath that is on the ground right now. Enjoy this week's tale about Pacific Discovery's unique self-led week, which has long been ingrained in our DNA. We truly believe in the amount of learning and growth our students experience throughout our semester programs, and this week puts that to the test, in the best way possible!


One morning as our cook crew Maya, Hannah, and Lindy prepared breakfast, a passerby asked what kind of group we were and how we got there. In retrospect they were probably referring to which highway route brought us to Durango, but our answer to what “led us here” is an elaborate tale.

It started with self-led week. A unique component of Pacific Discovery’s program where students are handed the reins. They’re given a budget and must get us from Moab, Utah to Sedona, Arizona in five days and plan all the accommodations and activities in between. What a week it was…

All students presented their thoughts and ideas and we came out with a plan to climb one of Colorado’s 14ers in the San Juan mountains. 14ers are the tallest mountains in the U.S, it's the highest you can get!

Self Led Week on a Gap Year Program

We woke up on Saturday at 3.30am and hit the trail by 4.30 am. We walked and walked, walked, walked and walked more. From 4.30am to 10.00 pm. We saw stunning blue alpine lakes, but never did see our campground in the daylight that day. One mile from the top and faced off with a boulder field, which Quinn and Aiden refused to be intimidated by and practically flew up. 

It was a day! Grueling, wonderful, immensely challenging, but an essential lesson was learned, it’s one of the hardest and most important lessons you’ll ever come to learn outdoors: when to turn back. At some point every great mountaineer has had to do it. Technically speaking we did make it up 14000 feet so 14er status was achieved, but we were just 200 feet from the top when the storm clouds gathered and the daylight began burning away. We’d overstayed our welcome on the mountain and just shy of our goal, for the sake of safety, it was time to go down. 

Self Led Week on a Gap Year Program

A bummer! A huge one! But setbacks are when teams really show up for one another. Mason, who probably could have climbed a second 14er that day, wanted dearly to reach the top, but instead of letting disappointment bring him down, he showed tremendous empathy, and when another team member was struggling, he shared water and words of encouragement.

Self-led week is a time honored Pacific Discovery tradition, but in my time as an instructor I’ve never seen a group of students set such a goal and attempt to tackle what we have. Even knowing we might not achieve it, but to step forward anyway and give it our all. We were the proudest instructors you’ve ever seen! 

Self Led Week on a Gap Year Program

From the mountains, we traveled to Durango for ziplining! After hiking for fifteen hours we were so happy to get off our feet and glide through the air. We split into two groups and those a little antsy about heights fought to have Sydney in their group, the most comforting, kind big sister of our dreams. Sam did claim to be “afraid of heights” but smiled and flipped upside down the entire time. Cambell looked completely tranquil while she zipped across at warp speed, she could have been reading a book or drinking tea while she soured the air. The guides tried to rattle her but the girl could not be shaken. 

That evening we took some much needed showers and whipped out our “city outfits” for a night in Durango. From there we traveled to Mesa Verde, Jackson and Casey’s idea! We caught Horseshoe Bend for sunrise and concluded the week at The Grand Canyon. The students did a fabulous job and absolutely ran with this opportunity.

 Self Led Week on a Gap Year Program

There are many adventures yet to be had, but if these students tackle everything in life as they tackled self-led week, they will dream big and rock the world!

- Hawaii & Western US Instructor Lucy McGrath

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Author Pacific Discovery Outreach Posted

Program Hawaii & Western US Departure Fall 2021