Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Community in the backcountry: The EMH Hut Course

"Leadership begins with myself. If I can't lead myself, how can I lead others?"

This question formed a key focus of the recent EMH Hut Course. The course gets its nickname from the Sangree Froelicher Hut just north of Leadville. On December 13, nine students, four instructors, and one EMH alumnus trekked the 3.5 miles to the hut on backcountry skis. Designed in part to introduce the students to winter travel and teach them the basics of backcountry skiing, the four-day course also included the annual EMH Leadership Seminar. 

The students worked together in small groups and listened to classroom teaching about leadership, addressing questions like, What is a leader? What is the difference between a natural leader and a spiritual leader? In what ways are we called to lead, in our schools, in our communities, in life?

"We learned that good leadership begins with self leadership," said EMH Director Ben Little. "We also continued discussing the theme of living a good story. One evening we talked about taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zones to pursue God's call. So often fear stands in the way of what God has for us. God has called us to be part of his plan to reach people, and that means facing hard things, challenging things. It takes risk to step out and to reach people."

Students also discussed the idea of leading through excitement and enthusiasm. "People don't want to follow leaders who are pessimistic," said Mr. Little. "If we are excited and passionate about what we do, people are going to be more excited to follow."

As so often happens on course, the physical challenges reinforced the spiritual discussions. Most students had never backcountry skied before, and several students found it to be far more difficult than they had imagined. 

"I learned a lot on this course," said senior Ellen Burdick. "On the way back I got really frustrated and didn't want to ski anymore. I just sat down. But Deanna [an EMH instructor] convinced me to get back on my skis and keep going. I felt so stoked when I made it and kept going when I wanted to give up."

"This was the most challenging course for me physically," junior Hawk White reflected. "Going up the 3.5 miles to the hut was really tough. But being at the hut made it all worth it."

The students enjoyed being able to stay in the beautiful three-story cabin in the midst of the wilderness, which was a change from the two previous courses. "The mattresses were so nice," commented one student. "We had an actual outhouse!" said another. 

The hut also drew the students together into community. "We had some really good times of worship and prayer together," said Mr. Little.

One day the students did a "chalk talk" to deal with conflicts that had arisen within the group. Students were not allowed to speak, but instead wrote comments on paper that others could then read and comment on. Students identified many of the issues and struggles they faced in living and working together, and the chalk talk led to a discussion that helped to resolve those issues. "The students really grew in their ability to handle conflict," Mr. Little said. "We were able to talk about how dealing with these conflicts can transfer to working through conflicts in other areas of life."

A highlight of the course for Mr. Little came during the Leadership Seminar. Becca, Levi, and Ellen, three senior students who had been through the seminar last year, along with 2013 graduate Micah Ritschard, were given the responsibility of leading part of the seminar. "They did such a good job of capturing what they learned last year. It was cool to see how much they had grown as leaders, that they felt comfortable and confident enough to lead their peers and to teach them what they had learned." 

Listening to the students talk, it is clear that this course was a favorite so far. As junior Joel Parker put it, "Getting there was so hard. But it was so worth it once we got there. One evening we went out around 4:30 and did a 1.5 mile ski up to a ridge. We reached the ridge right at sunset, and we could see so far on both sides--it was so beautiful. We had an amazing ski down to the hut just as it was getting dark."

Joel captured the sentiment of the other students when he said, "We all just get along really well. The community we have is so cool."

You can see more photos of the course at our Facebook Page.

Ekklesia Mountain High is a boarding and day-student program for high school juniors and seniors at Darren Patterson Christian Academy, in which approximately forty days of wilderness experience and leadership training is integrated with rigorous academics in DPCA's Biblically-centered environment.  To learn more, please visit the school's website at, and the EMH program's website at

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