Rock climbing in Colorado, white water paddling in Nepal, alpine skiing in Japan. You name it; they do it. SUNY Plattsburgh is the only SUNY school that offers a bachelor’s degree in expeditionary studies. Through this major, students study the skills and gain the experience necessary to help prepare them for careers as outdoor professionals.
Not only is the program itself a unique one, but the area in which it is practiced is unique in itself. With Plattsburgh’s proximity to the Adirondack park, students involved with the program don’t have to spend thousands to complete their expeditions.
“It’s [the location] literally why we’re here,” the Expeditionary Studies department chair Jerry Isaak said. “The program was started to help celebrate the location of SUNY Plattsburgh.”
Isaak teaches rock and ice climbing, backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, avalanche education, history and culture of expeditions and is in his sixth academic year at Plattsburgh state. Although other faculty are involved in overseeing expeditions, Isaak is the one in charge of Planning the student-led expeditions, especially when it comes to winter-based courses. Other faculty members oversee the activities that correlate to their expertise, like rock climbing.
Most of the courses taught through the Expeditionary Studies program take place within an hour away from campus. This keeps costs down while still giving the students a legitimate outdoor recreational experience through local resources. In tandem with the Adirondack park, students also make use of Lake Champlain and other waterways in the region.
A lot of the student’s expeditions are done in places like Maine, Utah, Oregon, Nevada and California. Although some of these expeditions can be done stateside, many of them are also done overseas in countries like India, Iceland, the United Kingdom and Kyrgyzstan, just to name a few.
Because these are student-led expeditions, faculty generally doesn’t accompany them on their trips. Although they don’t have faculty coming along with them, they often travel with their peers, and on rare occasions do solo expeditions. In the last five years there have been over 90 expeditions that were student-led in more than 15 states and 25 countries. The shortest expeditions are slightly over a week whereas the longer expeditions are done over the course of about a month and a half.
Expeditionary Studies major Dylan Lincoln just finished his senior rock-climbing expedition in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Lincoln did a 12-day alpine climbing trip and was completely self-sustained throughout the expedition. Lincoln, who was hiking with a 75-pound load of equipment, and his climbing partner backpacked through the park and were able to complete four climbing pitches throughout the park. Lincoln and his partner multi-pitched for their climb. A pitch is a section of the rock wall, about 150 to 200 fee. Multi-pitch climbing is done in multiple stages on a massive rock wall where climbers will stop at a belay station to make it up the next section of the face.
“I definitely walked away with a lot,” Lincoln said. “I’m capable of a lot more than I think I am. This was my first true time getting on alpine terrain and being in that setting. I felt like I gained a lot of confidence from it. I was already good with my risk management and technical skills, but this helped validate the decisions we had to make.”
Now, these places aren’t chosen from a bulleted list or anything of the sort. The decision on where they’d like to complete their expedition is left entirely up to the student. This gives them the freedom to choose where they want to go, and how much money they’d like to spend.
The Expeditionary Studies program has students traveling to destinations all over the world this month, including China, Chile and Argentina, where they will be putting their climbing and skiing skills to the test.
“The world is their oyster,” Isaak said.