Today, my family and I climbed to the top of Mt. Manadnock (a 3,165-foot, lone mountain in the southern end of New Hampshire). I know, I know hiking mountains (even comparitively little ones like this) in New England in late October isn’t the smartest of things, but hey. We got to the trail head at about 10:00 this morning and, after a brief consultation with the park ranger, we opted for the White Dot trail which is the quickest ascent. Steep but efficient. We were racing a pending afternoon rainstorm and hoped to get up and back before the rain hit. The ranger, sizing us up, assured us that we could do the round trip in 3 hours. Famous last words.
So, off we went. My husband, my 14-year old son, and me. In the beginning, the climb was arduous but doable. Within the first half hour we all shed layers, heating up from the workout. About halfway up, things started getting more difficult. Large granite (NH is the granite state) slabs that we had to go down on all fours to scramble over, finding foot and handholds as we climbed. Not only was the ascent getting trickier, it was getting colder. As we neared the summit, the temperature dropped to the 20’s and there was a serious wind picking up. We retrieved jackets out of our daypacks and put on hts & gloves. What was previously a heavy mist, turned into a driving sleet storm with the 40-mile-an-hour winds at the top of the moutain. We had to shout at each other to be heard. When I saw a grown man topple over in the wind, I opted out of the final 100 yards and said I’d hold the packs while my husband and son made the final push.
But the ascent, of course, was only half of it. Once they’d (very briefyl) visited the top, we all had to go down. And that’s where the really hard work began. What were fun rocks to clamber over on the ascent were slippery death traps on the descent. Each of us fell more than once and my poor old knee joints were talking to me – and they weren’t talking nicely. My anxiety grew with each step down. What if one of us falls? Will I be able to make it?
Slowly. Oh so slowly, I made my way down the trail, picking and choosing, looking for the driest patches, the pine needles that would surely provide more traction, the tree branch that would offer me some support as I navigated. And as I made my way, my thoughts turned to that lovely phrase I’ve learned from you, my CCK08 cohort — “wayfinding”. I suspect I’m hardly the first to draw the analogy between making your way on a difficult hike/climb and making your way through an educational event but I was so struck with the apt comparisons, I vowed right there to write about it as soon as I got home.
Wayfinding. Darken’s notion. As George and Stephen have shown us – with wayfinding, we begin to devise strategies to make sense of new environments. Do you pick your path carefully, as I did, or do you blast your way through, as did my 14-year old son? Not only is he a digital-native, he has much sproingier knees than I! He had no trouble with the risks and seemed completely oblivious to the potential for injury that was dogging my every step. I was so taken with watching his descent – he leaped from rock to rock, making the quickest of mental calculations about where his feet should go next. At one point I asked him, how are you deciding what path to take?” He breezily said, “Oh, I’m deciding as I go.”
Do you decide as you go or are you more planful than that? Do you bound down or do you judge each intersection and proceed with caution? Do you just dig right in or do you map out goals for yourself? How often do you stop for a breather or to admire the view? I particularly noticed how many people (who were now on their way up) would stop us to inquire – “how much further is it?” or “what are the conditions ahead” Yup, we all want to know where we are in relationship to the whole experience (a basic tenant of good instructional design).
I became quite enamoured of the trailmarker signs. Small white dots painted on rocks or on trees to reassure hikers – yes, you are on the right path. And those wonderful wooden signs that give you estimates – 1 mile to go. Or, my personal favorite, “1/2 mile to the parking lot”. I was reminded of the importance of leaving students signposts as they make their way through our planned activities.
But it was my husband who offered the best insight of the adventure when he noted that, inevitably, once he finished a bad stretch of descent, he would realize that there had been an easier way. He just didn’t see it until he was done. And it was the reflecting back that gave him the information. A reminder of the importance of reflection on our practive.
So there you have it – CCK08 is making its way into my weekends; wayfinding on the mountain.