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Expedition 2: Rock Climbing in Seneca Rocks & Backpacking in Shenandoah National Park

After two weeks on campus, all of the students were ready for their second expedition, arguably one of the most exciting expeditions of the year. They left early on a Sunday morning, trailers packed with gear, and began their journey to Seneca Rocks in West Virginia with plans to also backpack in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. If you’ve never been to West Virginia in October, it is beautiful. The students settled in at their campsites with a clear view of the peak they all hoped to be summiting in the next few days.

Group Climbing in Seneca Rocks

But first things first—safety. Day one was spent in ground school, learning how to tie various knots, practicing belay skills, and mastering communication with their teams. Seneca Rocks is a multi-pitch climb. This means that several ropes are set up because it is too long for just one. Like many goals our students set, we always encourage them to take it one step at a time. So on day two, they got to try out the North side of the rocks, a shorter climb to practice their skills. Most of our students are beginners, but their confidence in their abilities shined through, and we knew they were ready for day 3. Although nervous, North and South house all made it to the summit and were able to rappel back to the base of the climb—nearly 200ft!

Rock Climbin in Seneca Rocks

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t as kind for East and West house. Unsafe to explore above ground, these two teams ventured underground to Seneca Caverns, a limestone cave in Riverton, WV. The students learned about different rock types and formations and got to experience total darkness in the cave.

No surprise to many, all teams celebrated the completion of the first part of their expedition with a pizza dinner out. Before beginning their backpacking trips, the students spent time working on their school work and visiting the Frontier Museum. Here they learned about the ways of life for English, German, Irish, and African people in colonial America. They learned about what motivated them to move around the world, what the journey might have been like, and where they lived and what they did. They got to operate a two person saw, learning what it would have been like to clear land. They also go to grind corn into meal and cook eggs in a hearth!

This time around North and South house got their dose of bad weather. After hiking the first 3 miles into their campsite, they were met with Tropical Storm Phillipe who showered them with cold rain and gusts of wind through the night. Managing to stay mostly dry, they had to hike out the next day to dry their tents and clothes before hiking back in that evening. It was a rough start, but they persevered as a team to complete the trip. In all, the students backpacked about 20 miles, seeing waterfalls and lots of salamanders along the way.

Another great trip in the books. Next up, paddling the Suwannee River in Florida. Stay tuned!



East/West House Expedition: Panthertown Valley, Fontana Lake, Ocoee & Nantahala Rivers

Our school year officially began earlier this month (September 7th), and things are off to a great start! East and West House were the lucky teams to go on Expedition first. For those of you who aren’t very familiar with the Academy at SOAR, our students operate on a two rotation. They spend two weeks out of the month on campus and two weeks on expeditions, traveling throughout the United States. For this first expedition, the teams stayed close, visiting some of western NC’s beautiful outdoor spaces. After a minor 2 day delay due to Hurricane Irma’s heavy wind and rain, East and West house departed campus for their first adventure of the year!


Their first stop was Panthertown Valley, near Cashiers, NC. Upon arrival at the trailhead, the students had a quick lesson on using a compass and how to read maps. After hiking a few miles, the teams made it to their first campsite of the trip where the learned the ins and outs of setting up camp—where to set up sleeping, cooking, and bathroom areas to protect from animals, assembling the tents, and setting up their water filter. The students spent a total of two nights in Panthertown Valley, hiking out on their last day to head to Fontana Lake to set up camp for the next phase of their trip.


Fontana Lake is a beautiful mountain lake bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Before beginning their canoe trip, each team spent a day on the Ocoee River in Tennessee, barreling down the river’s class 3 and 4 rapids. One of the most exciting rivers in our area, the Ocoee is known for whitewater rafting and for hosting the whitewater events during the 1996 Summer Olympics. After a warm shower and a night of rest, the students finally began their canoe trips. East House canoed a total of 18 miles and West House a total of 19 miles! But don’t worry, there were plenty of breaks for swimming, cliff jumping, and exploring. Last but not least, the trip ended with a day on the Nantahala River. While not quite as thrilling as the Ocoee River, students had the opportunity guide their rafts and implement the strokes they learned to help steer their rafts with confidence.


As with all expeditions, school is incorporated into day to day adventures. On this expedition students calculated water usage, researched dams as alternative forms of energy, calculated density of objects they found at and around their campsites, began reading Candide, learned about the Columbian Exchange, Medieval Times, and the Reconstruction Era.

Both houses have returned to base and are currently in their first campus phase, doing school in a more “traditional” way and likely dreaming of their next expedition starting in a couple of weeks. Up next, rock climbing in Seneca Rocks, WV and backpacking in Shenandoah National Park.

Stay tuned!