Thursday, December 9, 2010


We began our ascent.

"Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don't recognize them." ~Ann Landers

I climbed a mountain.

Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire.

It was just a few weeks after I started my extended term Social Studies position. I was happy to get out of the classroom for the day, but I was also looking forward to getting to know the 7th and 8th-graders more.

I should explain that I grew up in Queens, New York and then Long Island, New York. It’s pretty flat there.

I’d been on hikes before.

But I didn’t really understand what climbing a REAL MOUNTAIN entails.

Apparently, there are two sides to this mountain. There’s an easy side and a hard side.

We climbed on the hard side. (Of course.)

The mountain is 3,165 feet, which may not seem bad until you consider the rocks one must grab onto, the slippery spots, and the leaps one must make in order to reach the top.

We all began at the bottom in a bunch. Most of the teachers had climbed it before; some many, many times. I was told it would be best if I hung back a little so I could stay with the students who were slower and might not make it to the summit.

It began with a steady incline that seemed to last FOREVER. Soon I was sweating under my layers and my breath became labored. (Am I really this out of shape? Was I supposed to train for this?) My small backpack couldn’t hold my extra jackets, so I tied them around my waist.

I wasn’t the only one unprepared for the exertion. Soon students were taking water and breathing breaks on the side. I was afraid to drink water since I knew it would be hours before we made it back down and I’d be able to pee.

At some point, the climb became steeper and trickier to navigate. One student was afraid of heights and began to panic. It was great to see a few other students encouraging him and helping him find footholds. More experienced climbers spoke of a tree line, which meant we’d be nearing the summit. After 1 ½ hours, I began to call it “The fabled tree line”.

But after a couple of hours, we reached it. Then it was nearly all rock. Lots and lots of smooth, steep, scary rocks. Teamwork got us through it. Just when I thought I’d actually make it to the top, some students below said a student was throwing up somewhere below.

See the tree line?

I only knew of one other teacher behind me who was older, so I didn’t know how far she’d be able to go. I headed back down. As I passed other students, they told me how the vomiting student was doing. Then I reached a group that said the other teacher was with him, so I turned around and headed back up.

When I made it past where I’d been before, another student smacked her head. I turned around and made sure she was okay.

This was more dangerous than I’d imagined. The ranger had told us if someone got injured, it would take seven hours to get back down the mountain. First, they’d have to get 17 rangers to group. Then they’d have to climb to reach the hurt person. And then they’d have to make the long and careful descent, carrying the victim on a stretcher.

This happens a few times a month.

What would we do if that happened to one of us?

At some point, the rocks became flatter and I could see our middle school at the very top. I looked at the time. It was nearly noon. If I were going to make it, they’d probably be ready to head back down. I stopped with some students and had a sandwich before climbing again.

(Around this time, “See Me, Feel Me” by The Who played in my head. Remember when Tommy climbs the mountain at the end of the movie?)

View from near the top.

When I was about 30-minutes away, I saw the middle school descend from the summit. The rest of us did too. It was harder going down than climbing up. Gravity was pulling us this way, the spots of frost had defrosted so the leaves were slippery, and we were tired. My legs became jelly.

Finally, four hours from when we began, we made it to the bottom. One girl sprained her ankle, but was able to continue. Another shredded the back of her pants sliding down rocks. But we survived.

I thought, If I’m at this school next year, I’ll have to run up and down bleachers to get in shape before the big climb. It surprised me to be thinking about next year, when I fought to get through each day.

It’s funny to reflect on that trip now. I barely knew the students and they barely knew me. But after our experiences on that mountain, we knew one another better.

You’d think if I could climb a mountain, teaching 7th and 8th-graders would be a cinch. But there are still many days when I wonder what I have gotten myself into and doubt the path I’ve chosen. I still have so much to learn.

I still feel like I’m climbing a mountain. I haven’t reached the tree line, let alone the summit. But I’m striving to get there.

“Ain’t no mountain high enough

Ain’t no valley low enough

Ain’t no river wild enough

To keep me from you”

- Ashford, Nikolas; Simpson, Valerie. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” Diana Ross


  1. This is an awesome story, Theresa. It's true that crazy activities like that will form tighter bonds with your students. You are a trooper for hanging in there. KEEP hanging in there! :-)

  2. Amazing post, Theresa. I haven't climbed a mountain although I remember years ago that I've done trekking. It's nice to know you feel a lot closer to your students :)

  3. Theresa Milstein!! Wow!!! GOOD FOR YOU!!!! And I think it's a fantastic thing to have done. It's really weird reading this because recently the papers (here anyway!!) have been full of stories of school adventure trips being cancelled for fear of being sued in case something goes awry. But reading this - I'm thinking - it's such a shame because look what you've all done and learned on the way!!! The mountain taught you all to about courage and determination and team work and never giving up and such a sense of achievement too!!! Wow!!!

    I am so so so so so so impressed! Good for all of you!!!!! May you all climb many mountains and descend stronger and hardier than ever!!

    Take care

  4. I have to say I'm surprised that the school had the students go on a somewhat treacherous adventure (or at least climb the easy side!). But CONGRATS on making it!
    I remember when I was teaching third grade and was very big and pregnant and having to cross a moving bridge on top of water at the bog. I went very, very slow, it was precarious (but certainly not as precarious as your hike!)!

  5. Great story! Good for you. I've never been mountain climbing. And I love the song you quoted!

  6. What a great adventure. I love mountains and hiking but I haven’t done a four hour one is a long time. It sounds like you had a great experience.

  7. You make me want to teach, but I know it cant all be milk and cookies, you just make it look effortless.

  8. You are amazing, Theresa! I'm exhausted just reading about this adventure. We never did anything cool like that at my high school. Wow.

    Good luck with the everyday mountains and challenges! If you can climb that mountain and all that you've been doing, you can do anything. Thank you for sharing this story!

  9. Way to go girl! Being an avid outdoor girl I know exactly what you were and are feeling, makes life feel grand don't it?! And all it took was putting 1 foot in front of the other :)

    Ashford and Simpson man what a writing duo :D
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  10. Last time I went up a mountain we had to turn back because of the snow was getting too high and we weren't equipped for it... The view was awesome though with lake tahoe below...

    Perhaps there's a meaningful parallel to be drawn... Perhaps not. There is always more mountain to climb, even when you get to the top, so at least you're climbing in high style. ; j

  11. @ Shannon, thanks. I'm hanging best I can!

    @ Len, yeah, these kids are growing on me.

    @ Old Kitty, it was dangerous here and there, but the kids were told what to wear and what to expect. It would be too bad if they couldn't experience climbing a mountain - especially city kids.

    If I can muster the strength to do it again, I hope I make it to the top.

    @ Kelly, walking over a rickety bridge while pregnant couldn't have been easy. Glad you made it!

    @ Nicole, I chose the song because that's what the teachers played when showing the students photos of the climb.

  12. @ Holly, it was fun, though scary at times. I could've used a walking stick sometimes, but then I would've ditched it when I was clutching to rocks.

    @ Joanna, I make it look effortless? I must write better than I teach and manage a classroom!

    @ Jamie, thanks. The hardest part was getting home late knowing I'd have to teach the next day. I needed a vacation from the field trip.

    @ Jules, the field trip forced me to push myself farther than I normally would. It felt like an accomplishment to make it as far as I did.

    @ Alesa, you're right. There's always another mountain to climb. We're never done, are we?

  13. You just reminded me of the ONE hike I went on my senior year of high school. (shudder). My girlfriend and I tried to sign up with the math teacher / chaperone and he tried to talk us out of it because WE WERE GIRLS. grrr. It just got worse from there. LOL Glad your trip was more enjoyable!

  14. I'm really proud of you. I'm sure I would have died. But, it's true that there is so much to learn and see and do. Hope you had loads of fun.

  15. Hi Theresa, even if the climb was tiring, the view from the top was awesome!

    I'm thinking there's a moral to this story?

  16. I admire you for climbing that mountain, because I don't think I could have done it. I'd be too afraid. I also admire you for teaching students from this age group, because even though I've never taught junior high students, I remember how challenging that age can be.

  17. Holy Dooly ... you are a legend. I would have passed out just looking at the mountain... and I certainly appreciate the water intake vs peeing opportunities dilemma!!

  18. Theresa, that is so impressive on so many levels.
    The fact that the school let the children have this opportunity in the first place is good as even here in Ireland everything is calculated to minimise risk so no-one gets sued.
    Also, on a philosphical level, it is wonderfully written, a reminder to us to take risks as the view from the top will be worth a few broken bones and discomfort, similar to the writing journey.

  19. @ Vicki, I hate when men pull the "You're girls" card. But I have to admit, this hike was HARD. It will be harder next time because I know what I'm getting myself into!

    @ Clarissa, I, along with several others thought we would die. YaY for survival!

    @ Nas, the view was awesome. I wish I'd made it to the tippy top.

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, I was afraid. If I knew how hard it was, I don't know if I would've volunteered to go. That said, I'm glad I pushed myself.

    Oh yeah, hard age!

    @ Clutterbug, the trees hid what was in store for me or I would've passed out too!

    @ Brigid, I'm shocked to learn from you and Old Kitty that Ireland and England are worried about lawsuits. I thought that was mainly a US problem.

  20. That's quite an accomplishment! Wish our school had done a climb like that.

  21. What a great story! Keep climbing. You'll get there.

  22. Great post, Theresa. I could actually picture it every step - and feel it, too, because I know how hard it is! I can't imagine doing it with 7th and 8th graders, too. But the view was spectacular.

  23. Great story! But all I can say is that I'm glad it was you and not me climbing that mountain. I am so not a hiker. Or an exerciser for that matter.

    But so glad you went on! Made it to the top! Yay for you!

  24. That's some accomplishment!

    I love the post!

  25. Great story! Just keep reminding yourself when things in daily life get tough, I climbed a mountain. The HARD side. ;)

    Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  26. @ Alex, I think it's a great, yet dangerous opportunity for the students.

    @ Solvang, thanks. I'll keep at it!

    @ Talli, climbing with seventh-graders brought out the best of them. Only one student complained and she ALWAYS complains. But even she made it far.

    @ Elana, I prefer horizontal hiking to vertical hiking.

    @ The Golden Eagle, thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    @ Tere, that's a great mantra. I will say that!

  27. Wow, wonderful story, Theresa! I knew you would bond with these kiddos!!!

    Have a great weekend...

  28. Wow, I'm impressed. I would have been one of those nervous worrier hikers, praying no one got hurt.
    But wow, the pics are amazing.

  29. @ Sharon, I'm bonding with those kiddos. I just have to get over wanting to be liked. It's more important to be respected, right?

    @ Jennifer, I was one of those hikers some of the time. I wish I'd taken even more pictures.

  30. Hi Theresa .. well done on that achievement is all I can say .. and over 3,000 feet is no mean feet .. about our highest mountain in Britain!!

    Sounds like one of those days .. when you were thinking why am a teacher and why am I here .. up and down, up and down .. but what a way to go & such an achievement - I do hope everyone felt they benefited afterwards ..

    Enjoy this weekend peacefully down a mountain .. I hope! Hilary

  31. I love how you take something like this and use it as an analogy for: life, writing, your journey in're a very talented writer.

    I caught myself holding my breath a few times and I'm glad everyone made it up and down relatively safely. It's especially great that you all got to do this in The Age Of Lawyers...

    Hope your weekend is going smoothly and you're finding time to enjoy your family :)

  32. Great post, and well done! Its a wonderful thing for teachers and students to do together...our schools could learn a thing or two, our excursions are far from as adventurous to say the least! When my daughter was in a city school they werent even permitted to run in the playground! Too dangerous?!
    You describe the climb so well -I dont think i would have made it to the top!

  33. It's actually pretty cool that the students were allowed to go on such an excursion. I think I would have to train for months. But, what a view!

  34. @ Hilary, I'm sure the 7th-graders and I all wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into and were impressed with ourselves for making it near or to the top.

    I wonder if I'll still be working there for the DC trip. That will be more work than climbing a mountain!

    And I hope you're enjoying your weekend as well.

    @ Words A Day, weren't permitted to run on a playground?! How did they burn off all that energy?

    I was happy I got as far as I did. If we didn't run out of time, I would've made it. My legs ached for days afterwards.

    @ Missed Periods, training is definitely in order for stamina and to prevent aching the next few days. It was agony to rise for a sitting position!

  35. Amazing story Theresa, and wonderful photos too!

    Good for you for overcoming this and I agree--it's a great thing to be able to share with your students :)

  36. @ Writing Nut, thanks. It certainly was an experience for us!

  37. Oh man, my family went hiking on a new trail around Thanksgiving and I was so out of shape I though I was going to pass out. Doesn't sound like my hike even compared to yours in difficulty, though!!!

  38. A new path is always hard when we start out. Hang in there Theresa! It will get easier.

    What an adventure you and your students had. Loved the photos too.

  39. @ Ann, thank you. It has gotten easier than when I started, but I have a long way to go.