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Adventure abounds in Argentinian Andes

By Olivia Braude
On February 14, 2014

Most students know Patagonia as a clothing brand, but for the 16 Miami University students and four instructors who spent winter term in Argentina it is a place of extreme beauty, experiential growth, unforgettable adventure and advanced leadership.

"I've never seen something as majestic as southern Patagonia," Russell Hobart, the assistant director of the Outdoor Pursuits Center (OPC) and one of the instructors, said.

Hobart, who was hired last September, will be taking over the trip from current leader and the Director of the OPC, Mike Maxam. He will be leading a trip to the Chilean side of the Patagonia Mountains next year.

The OPC has offered the opportunity to travel to Argentina for the last five years, Maxam said,

The students enrolled in HON 281 Outdoor Leadership in Argentina during the fall semester where they learned useful skills such as basic backpacking, how to pitch a tent, and general information on Argentina before arriving in the city of Mendoza Jan. 9, Maxam said.

After leaving Mendoza, the students travelled to El Calafate for their introduction to the backcountry. On the third day, the group boarded a bus to El Chaltén, the final destination and where they would start their hike along the foothills of the Patagonia Mountains.

Wine-tasting, walking on a glacier, and hiking to a waterfall were just a few of the adventures the students had before backpacking began, sophomore, Mike Coutre said.

Sleeping bags, tents, and cooking utensils on their backs, the students hit the trails in two groups of 10. Each smaller group went separate ways, Coutre said, with two students leading their group each day.

Sophomore Rachael White said the leaders were responsible for everything from determining what and when the group ate to when and for how long they hiked.

"The main purpose of the trip," White said, "was to put what we learned in class to use in an outdoor setting."

In addition, the students had to make a daily journal of their experiences, interview an Argentinian, and take video to document the journey, Coutre said.

White said the trip taught her to appreciate the little things she has at home, but also to appreciate the beauty of silence, often lacking at home. She also learned that backpacks filled with five days' worth of necessities can be very heavy.

Despite the weight of the pack, White successfully made the trip through southern Patagonia.

"Because I'd never backpacked before, I was just very proud of myself," she said.

Hobart, who joined the trip for the first time this year, praised the learning outcomes of the experiences the students had in Argentina.

"Education at its best gets us to re-examine the fundamentals of who we are, what we think, what we're doing," Hobart said, "I think going to a foreign country, experiencing a foreign country, really helps people look at the very basic things about themselves."

As the students traversed the foothills of Fitzory Mountain-the image adorning Patagonia brand products-they were treated to sights of a Patagonian fox and her fresh pups, friendly parrots, the unique forest of crooked Lenga trees, and glacial pools of icy blue, Hobart said. The group could not have had those same experiences anywhere else, he added.

"The area we were in was one of the strangest on the planet," he said, "The whole thing was out of a dream."

The five days in the region were not enough for Coutre, who said he wishes he could have stayed longer.

Their journey came to end Jan. 20, Maxam said, and he hoped the students gained a new sense of independence and realized that the world is filled with interesting people and places.

He said his favorite part is getting to know the students each year, and this year's group was particularly great.

"They were unafraid, they challenged themselves," he said.

Hobart is eager to continue getting to know and influence the students who go to Argentina when he takes over for Maxam.

"Trips like that are the sort of experiential education that can fundamentally change people's lives for the better," he said, and he is excited to help shape the worldview and provide lasting leadership for the next batch of Miami student adventurers.

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