Big Bend region, Texas
The Texas course area, one of the most remote and geologically interesting in the Outward Bound system, lies along the US-Mexico border in southwestern Texas. The Rio Grande River carves a huge sweeping bend through the area earning its namesake, Big Bend National Park. This 750,000-square acre wilderness is an ideal setting for desert backpacking, canyoneering and rock climbing. Delicate desert flowers exist alongside fossilized trees millions of years old, mountain passes give way to steep-walled canyons and cliffs.
The Chihuahuan Desert of Texas is usually dry, warm during the day and cool at night. Students may encounter hot sun or a snow shower. Desert temperatures vary widely. Night temperatures are often cooler, averaging 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rock Climbing – At one or two different points during the expedition, students have the opportunity to climb at a stunning, outdoor rock climbing site. Outward Bound chooses rock climbing sites that provide a number of different route options including cracks, sheer faces, and chimneys. Regardless of a student’s rock climbing background, everyone is sure to find something that will both challenge and encourage them. All Outward Bound rock climbing experiences are heavily supervised and employ safety systems that are compliant with national standards.
During climbing days, students learn about general rock-climbing equipment, safety and etiquette before practicing how to belay. Students have many opportunities to climb, belay, and rappel throughout the day. Rappelling involves stepping over the edge and controlling one’s own descent.
Solo – Weather and time permitting, an Outward Bound Solo experience provides an important break from the rigors of the expedition and gives students the opportunity to reflect on their Outward Bound experience. The duration of Solo depends on the course length and type as well as the competency and preparedness of the student group. Students on a 3-week course typically spend 2-nights on Solo while students on a 1-week course may spend one night or even just a few hours on Solo. Regardless of Solo length, all students receive sufficient food, water, and shelter to keep them safe and healthy during Solo. Instructors choose Solo sites to offer as much solitude as possible while retaining some proximity to the whole group. While students spend the majority of their Solo time alone, Instructors do check on each student as often as needed, usually 1-4 times per day, to ensure that each student feels safe and comfortable. Instructors work with each student individually to structure a successful, unique Solo experience that meets their specific needs. Solo is purposefully scheduled near the end of the expedition so students have plenty of time to acclimate to their new environments beforehand.
Students often have mixed feelings leading up to Solo. Inevitably, students feel some nervousness and hesitation but are also excited to rest, reflect and test their new skills after spending many days in the wilderness. Students often find that Solo provokes profound and powerful learning in a short period of time and Solo often becomes one of the most memorable parts of their Outward Bound experience.
Final Expedition – Outward Bound believes that an appropriate amount of independence is a powerful educational tool. In order to deliver that benefit, Outward Bound purposefully and gradually transfers certain leadership responsibilities to the students culminating with our “Final Expedition.” Near the end of course, if you and your group have demonstrated the necessary leadership, team problem-solving and wilderness living skills, you may be given the opportunity to travel without your instructors immediately present. Students on courses designed for ages 16 and older may travel without instructors immediately present (although they will be near the group for safety reasons) for one to five days depending on course length, student age, staff assessment of students’ abilities, and terrain. Many of our students feel this phase of the course is the most rewarding as the group learns to work together, problem solve, and accomplish a goal independently while utilizing all the skills they have acquired.
Service – Service is an integral part of the Outward Bound curriculum. In addition to practicing Leave No Trace® ethics on all Outward Bound expeditions, Outward Bound also coordinates service projects with land management agencies like the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, local land trusts, and social service agencies like nursing homes and hospitals. Most Outward Bound students have an opportunity to participate in at least one service project during their course. Intercept courses always include 2-4 days of community service.
Desert Backpacking - Students backpack through rugged desert up to the mountainous terrain – elevations range from 2,500 to 7,500 feet. During the expedition, instructors will help you learn safe desert travel, teaching how to plan the expedition around water management strategies. The group will navigate “from tinaja to tinaja” – desert water sources vital to desert life. Following trails or traveling cross-country, the group will explore wide open expanses and encounter water-sculptured canyons. Here it will be necessary to scramble around boulders, climb low walls, or give packs or companions a boost.
Students will grow accustomed to backpacking over rough terrain and become familiar with balancing and shifting weight while carrying a pack. Each student carries his or her own personal gear, some group gear, and four to six liters of water in an internal frame pack. Packs weigh at least 50 lbs., sometimes considerably more. Students often choose to redistribute weight according to physical strength. Courses are designed to be challenging. Outward Bound requires that groups travel together for safety and peer motivation and form a blend of everyone’s backpacking styles and needs.
Rio Grande Canoeing - After learning basic whitewater strokes in calm currents, students begin the expedition. The group will spend five to six days traveling downriver through sections of calm currents and whitewater. The whitewater of the Rio Grande offers beginning paddlers a progressive challenge, and a perfect place to learn and hone skills.
When the group reaches a set of rapids, the group will stop to read the current, deciding whether to run the rapids or portage around, examining the river for obstacles and current patterns. As a group, you'll decide the best route, and then plan and assign roles for a river safety system. While two paddlers maneuver a canoe through the rapids, other group members observe, ready to activate the safety system and paddle after floating gear, should a canoe dump or tip over.
Wilderness First Responder Course – The ideal medical training for leaders in remote areas including outdoor educators, guides, military, professional search and rescue teams, researchers, and those involved in disaster relief. The curriculum is comprehensive and practical. It includes the essential principles and skills required to assess and manage medical problems in isolated and extreme environments for days and weeks if necessary. Skills and information covered in the course include:
Mornings are generally devoted to lectures and exams with afternoons devoted to practical hands-on sessions and rescue simulations. Expect many rescue simulations with made-up victims and stage blood that will be videotaped for enhanced learning. Evenings are reserved for study and assignments. Successful completion of this course involves full participation in the field simulations and written exams. Students will receive a WFR certification card upon completion of the course.
Personal Challenge Event – Time and weather permitting, Voyageur Outward Bound School courses end with a Personal Challenge Event (PCE), a final individual physical push. The PCE usually involves an 8-mile run starting as the sun rises over the mountains in Big Bend Ranch State Park.
The PCE is non-competitive. Each student sets his/her own time goal for completion and works toward it to see how their mental and physical stamina has grown as a result of their wilderness expedition. Students celebrate the completion of their wilderness expedition and PCE with a final banquet and graduation ceremony at the basecamp.
The following is an example of what your course itinerary may look like. Your actual itinerary will vary according to weather, student skills and abilities, and instructor preferences.
Day 1: Meet your group in El Paso then travel in the Outward Bound van to the Outward Bound offices in Redford, TX, tucked between the mountains of Texas and Mexico. The journey takes about 5 hours and meanders through low and high desert grasslands and small towns like Marfa and Presidio. Local families have lived in Redford for centuries and Spanish is more commonly spoken than English. Upon arrival in Redford you’ll meet your Outward Bound Instructors, organize your equipment, eat dinner and sleep in tents on the banks of the Rio Grande.
Days 2-15: Enter the vast expanse of Big Bend National Park and begin backpacking. Learn camp craft, cook over camp-stoves, navigate with a map and compass, and get to know your expedition mates. During this phase, there will be access to additional canyoneering opportunities and participation in a solo experience, where you will have a small campsite to yourself overnight and the instructors will check on you periodically.
Day 16-23: Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Course
Day 24-40: Start down Rio Grande and begin the paddling portion of your expedition with an introduction to whitewater paddling session. Gain experience as you paddle down the Rio Grande, taking time to understand each rapid before and after you paddle through it.
Day 41-42: Basic rock climbing and canyoneering instruction at a gorgeous wilderness rock climbing site.
Days 43-50: Begin the final phase of the expedition. Work with your group to navigate to the course-end location with less oversight from your Instructors.
Day 51-53: Teaching Practicum
Day 54: Start the morning with the Personal Challenge Event. Clean-up your expedition equipment, shower, and attend a graduation ceremony before enjoying a final banquet celebration.
Day 55: Eat an early breakfast and depart for the airport to travel home.
In addition to the expedition itself and all of the skills and learning associated with it, Outward Bound’s time-tested curriculum includes education on the many aspects of personal growth and learning that can be found in each activity you undertake. You will learn four important Outward Bound Core Values:
You may find that the most important lessons you take home are learning about yourself and your community while acquiring backcountry skills and having an adventure.You’ll learn to protect and appreciate the unique, unspoiled environments through which you travel.
Successful completion of your course demands mastery of skills, trust, fitness, confidence, tenacity, leadership, initiative and compassion. The promotion of these qualities and the discovery of what’s in you is the purpose of Outward Bound.
In Texas the temperatures vary between 15-70 degrees during the winter. Typically there will be little to no rainfall during the desert portion of your course, though an occasional storm will happen. You may encounter hot sun or even a brief snow storm!
Please refer to the following link for any questions you may have about COVID-19 and your course.
Please utilize the resource below to physically and mentally prepare for your course. The more preparation you do, the better your experience will be!