Before officially starting classes at PLNU, Margaret Mann, a sophomore media communications and film studies major, had already taken part in an outdoor trip the university organizes on a yearly basis. The summer before her freshman year, Mann participated in The Way, a week long backpacking orientation that is meant to help new students connect with each other in a fresh and new environment.
Director of Outdoor Activities, Jonathan Morell, said the desire to create a connection between students and the surrounding nature came from an idea of Dave Spaite, founder of Wilderness Adventures, a precursor to the current Great Escapes program. “Dave Spaite took the first group of students to climb Banner Peak in Mammoth in the late 1970s,” Morell said. “The next year, in conjunction with Residential Life, he took a group of students to Mexico, near San Felipe.” During those excursions, Morell explained, Spaite noticed how students felt stronger and closer. “They [students] felt like they were capable of more, and they had fun,” he said.
Michelle Torres, a sophomore broadcast journalism major, who, like Mann, joined The Way trip in the summer of 2015 and said the whole experience was rewarding. “I learned a lot of survival skills, and I realized that I was a lot tougher and stronger than I originally thought,” she said.
While backpacking along the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains Torres and her peers had to “navigate through the wilderness, make our own shelter, prepare our own food, fetch water and sanitize it.”
Mann, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, on the other hand, has always been comfortable backpacking. Growing up around nature, she was excited and enthused to see how those who did not share the same life experiences interacted with their surroundings. “A time I’ll never forget, while on a trip, was leading a hike to Nevada Falls in Yosemite on last year’s spring break trip,” she said. “While up there, it started snowing, and it was a lot of the participants’ first time seeing snow. It felt like it was happening in slow motion, that’s how magical it was.”
Mann, who is also a guide and a coordinator for the Great Escapes program, said she began working for the Department of Outdoor Activities “because it is the perfect opportunity to get involved in leadership opportunities while doing something I’m passionate about and be able to share it with others.”
The Department of Outdoor Activities organizes about eight to twelve tours with the Great Escapes program each semester. Because trips sell out sometimes within 24 hours of being advertised, Morell advises students to follow the Instagram account, @plnugreatescapes, or Facebook page, PLNU Outdoor Leadership Programs. Here, those who are interested can sign up for activities before the department releases them elsewhere.
“We are trying to go to the ‘raddest’ places in SoCal,” Morell said. “My two coordinators, Margaret Mann and Kylee Krynicki, put a lot of time and love into to making these trips awesome. Our student guides run the trips so they are fun, inclusive and memorable.”
Students who are interested in Great Escapes and other trips are required
to cover their own costs. However, Morell specifies that the department collects just enough to cover the basic expenses, some of which are fixed.