Evading most of the smoke and all of the fires in surrounding sections of the west, the 8th graders ventured to the Zirkel Wilderness for a backpacking trip to mark their transition back to school. We met at the Slavonia trailhead on Thursday morning, and, while the rest of the school prepared for shorter day expeditions around Steamboat, each eighth grader and both faculty chaperones cinched up backpacks brimming with the gear needed for an overnight. Parents bravely smiled through their understandable hesitations, and the group returned their collective grins as we headed off into the woods. The trip served many functions, including the foci of making good decisions, leaving no trace, working well as a group, and remembering to see the big picture while noticing the small details, all of which will transfer back to the classroom as the fall semester unfolds. After selecting a comfy campsite and setting up our tents, we took lighter daypacks a few miles uphill to Gilpin Lake, where the students enjoyed the view, got their feet wet, and assessed whether to complete the full loop through Gold Creek. In the process, they took a really good look at the gradation ahead of them and, having reconsidered the time of day, wisely decided to return to camp for the evening. Times being what they are, we weren’t able to cook a proper camp meal, but everyone brought their own individual concoctions ranging from sensible granola to Qdoba burritos. We debriefed the day, noting the importance of maintaining the pace, voice, and health of the whole group while being prepared for whatever the conditions may offer. In accordance, Friday morning proved a series of useful goals set, then reassessed and reset as time and temperature allowed. We made it halfway up the trail to Mica Lake and enjoyed the lovely penumbra and soothing cascade of a waterfall, which provided the refreshment of clean, delicious spring water and the fulfillment of a task accomplished. All things are metaphors, I assured them, a subject we’ll return to in English classes henceforth. Meanwhile, the group became more bonded while revealing their individual qualities as leaders. This year in particular, the landscape they’ll navigate for and with their peers in the lower grades may be a bit more jagged than in years past, though the rest of the school should surely come to depend on the 8th graders for their resourcefulness and collective temperament. They’ll get us where we need to go.