Arkansas Backpacking Trip Builds Confidence For A Lifetime

Why would young people with pasts full of hurt, loss, betrayal, and trauma head into the unpredictable wilderness where risk is real, conflict and fear are inevitable, and comfort is often minimal? In March’s ever-changing weather, 19 young ladies from Great Circle’s campuses across the state accepted the challenge of a six-day backpacking through Arkansas’ Boston Mountains, led by the staff of Great Circle’s Meramec Adventure Learning Ranch and director Brett Bailey.

There was a common thread among the girls’ reasons for participating – to “find themselves.” Their experience led to huge strides in developing self-confidence and trust of others, building individual inner strengths, and sharing stories, as they challenged themselves emotionally, physically and spiritually.

“There’s something special about starlit nights, miles of backpacking, and huddling around a campfire as flurries fall that brings a depth to conversation rarely found in ‘normal’ life,” says Bailey. “It’s remarkable to hear these young ladies open up about their dreams and fears, support one another in emotional moments, and turn feelings of helplessness into determination and strength.”

Blending nature’s challenges and lessons with therapeutic activities is a hallmark of the Ranch’s effectiveness as part of Great Circle’s approach to behavioral health issues. Bailey says adventures “take us out of our comfort zone, which makes us more willing to try new ways of thinking, acting, reacting and interacting. We then help our kids apply that to other areas of their lives.”

Along the way to the mountain’s 14,000-foot summit, the girls navigated the aptly named “Goat Trail”, cheered each other up a 1,200-foot vertical climb and journaled beneath a waterfall. They also found their place in the group – some as map readers, some able to set the perfect hiking pace, others adept at encouraging a companion who was most hurting at that moment.

Each year, Bailey coordinates similar outdoor adventures for young people served by Great Circle. Amid the exhaustion and frustration, they also can confront the negative voices from their pasts that say “you aren’t good enough,” “you’re a quitter,” or “no one cares for you.” For many of the participants, including the girls on the Arkansas trip as they stood atop the mountain, Bailey says “they find the strength and their voice to push aside the naysayers and begin their journey toward a positive future.”

Zariah, Sierra and Nesha lead the group on the first day’s hike.

Zariah slides through “the hole” on the Goat Trail.

The climb gets tough heading up the side of one of Arkansas’ crazy-steep Boston Mountains.

With helping hands outstretched, the group ascended an intense scramble on the way to Cecil’s Bluff.

Following days of hiking, the group of incredibly courageous young ladies celebrates together atop the mountain.