6th and 7th Grade Backpacking Trip on The Foothills Trail

By Kim Skeen | Brevard, NC

I often reflect on how grateful I am to have a job where I get to spend time with kids backpacking in these beautiful mountains that surround us. I love seeing their faces light up when they finally see the wildflower that they have been researching or when they find a cool beetle in the middle of the trail. The deep connections to the natural world and one another that develop on these trips are such an important part of the curriculum at Mountain Sun.

Last week, the 6th and 7th graders put on their backpacks filled with all the gear and food they needed for a 3 night, 4 day adventure on the Foothills Trail. The Foothills trail is a 77 mile long trail that winds through beautiful gorges from Table Rock State Park to Oconee State Park. The elder Monarchs hiked a 20 mile section of trail starting at Bad Creek in SC and ending in Gorges State Park in North Carolina.

The students were involved with every aspect of the trip from route planning, menu planning, gear preparation, shopping for food, and researching the Foothills Trail history and the flora and fauna of the area. This trip was an excellent opportunity for the elder Monarchs to demonstrate and use all of the wilderness skills they have learned throughout their time in the Monarch class.

The students had to use their map and compass skills to navigate and figure out which way to go at intersections, they built fires started with tinder bundles and a spark from a piece of flint, and they had to be sure camp was set up in a way that kept us dry and safe.

The first day we set out on the trail the weather was perfect and spirits were high. We hiked about four miles and then had to do some scouting and orienteering to find our campsite for the night. Some of the highlights were crossing the Thompson River and finding a scorpion in our campsite that evening.

It is still debatable on how far we hiked the next day but we estimate that we hiked between 8-10 miles. The terrain was steep, challenging and beautiful. We saw waterfalls, crossed the Horsepasture River, got a view of Lake Jocassee, identified many species of wildflowers, and saw blue ghost fireflies in our campsite that night. The students did excellent, encouraged one another and had positive attitudes all day.

On day three the rains came and a long climb up Chestnut Mountain. The students wilderness skills were put to the test during the evening’s torrential downpour. Fortunately spirits stayed high and we had fun huddled under a tarp cooking and eating dinner that night. We also had a surprise visit from Monarch lead teacher Becky. The students were so excited to see her and to share all the stories of their adventure.

This experience gave the elder Monarchs a chance to reflect on the last three or four years in the Monarch Class. During a silent hike on Wednesday the students reflected on how they have grown, what they have learned about themselves, and what they plan to share with the younger Monarchs and Acorns who are moving up. We also made time to reflect on each student’s’ own Hero’s Journey which has been one of the overarching themes in the Monarch class this year. The students were asked to think about their own personal journey and how they see themselves as a hero.  

This experience was unforgettable and beautiful in so many ways. Nick and I witnessed the students demonstrate their knowledge and it is apparent how much they have grown. They overcame many challenges with grace and inner strength. These students have a unique opportunity to get to have this kind of experience at such a young age. The days and nights spent together and the challenges that they overcame will be with them as they take on their next adventure…Middle School!


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