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Photo of Sarah DupreyThis article was first published the CMC Leadville’s blog, Education at Elevation. By Lauren Swanson, Social Media Coordinator.

Each semester, outdoor students at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville look forward to their experiential based outdoor orientation classes. It is in these courses that classrooms are transformed into wilderness experiences, and hand-on learning is amplified. Those working towards their Associate of Arts in Outdoor Education must take 6 credits from the Orientation Classes; choosing from Mountain, Snow, Canyon, River or Desert Orientation.

In late January, Desert Orientation class headed out from Leadville. They drove down through Nevada & California all the way down to the Kofa Wilderness in Arizona, about 1.5 hours away from the Mexican border. Sarah Duprey, Environmental Studies and Outdoor Education student, opened up about her experience backpacking through the desert not only as a student, but also as an outdoor education intern.

“Although I’ve traveled a bit and hiked in lots of different environments, backpacking through the desert was a totally new experience for me. Saguaro cactuses and Palo Verde trees dotted the landscape against the backdrop of the rugged Castle Dome Mountains. The weather was warm, in the 70s, with some intense sun on the first few days” – Sarah Duprey.

The class was fully immersed in the desert environment of the Kofa Wilderness, and as you may have guessed, water was not readily available. Daily travel plans were primarily centered around water sources. “We would pull out the map, check out where the nearest “tank” was (hollowed out areas in the rock that were filled with water) and then hike to the general vicinity of the tank.”

For leave no trace purposes, the class would set up camp about a mile away from the “tank”, allowing water access for bighorn sheep without scaring them away. “Hiking up through the washes that led to the tanks, often bushwhacking our way through the thorns of the cat’s-claw and mesquite bushes, scrambling over rocks, and then carrying a 16 lb. dromedary of water back to our campsite definitely gave me a new appreciation for water.”

From an early age, Colorado Mountain College – Leadville student Sarah Duprey craved a connection to nature and the outdoors. “That connection with the natural world has continued throughout my whole life, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in the Environmental field. I want to be able to pass on my love and respect of the Earth to others, and fight to protect the environment.”

Photo of Castle Dome mountainsDesert Orientation was Sarah’s second OUT orientation class, and the first in a leadership intern role. “I was able to have the fantastic experience of shadowing Kent Clement and Brett Menter, who were heading our group. This opportunity to spend 7 days learning from these seasoned guides… everything from delicious backcountry recipes to navigation techniques through the challenging desert terrain… I feel like my skill-set grew exponentially.

One night we took some time to use the star-chart Kent brought along to pick out the constellations. Just being there under the stars with the milky way clearly visible, and the quiet of the wilderness all around us… it was such a special moment, and definitely a highlight for me.”

Sarah, like many other professional women in the outdoor industry, is working towards dispelling stereotypes that discourage females from working in what is perceived as male-dominated industries. “It can be intimidating knowing there is often a bias towards women in leadership positions. But I believe that this mentality has begun to change, as the outdoor industry is starting a movement to hire more and more females in their workforce. It’s a perfect time for us gals to get our hands dirty in the field, hone our outdoor skills, and most importantly, learn positive leadership strategies to not only make an impact in our future careers, but also be an inspiration for younger girls and other women.”