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2009 News Releases

Longwood outdoor education class meets in Chile

February 9, 2009

Longwood students and Dr. Rená Koesler (far right) in front of granite spears called los Torres (the Towers) in Torres del Paine National Park. Longwood students and Dr. Rená Koesler (far right) in front of granite spires called los Torres (the Towers) in Torres del Paine National Park.

Eleven Longwood University students and a faculty member recently met for a class in the South American country of Chile.

In what was both a Goal 9 class and Outdoor Education practicum for students minoring in outdoor education, they climbed an active 9,300-foot volcano, worked on two service projects, and visited a penguin colony and two national parks, one of which they trekked through for five days. The trip was from Dec. 13 to Jan. 5.

"It was a fabulous trip," said Dr. Rená Koesler, professor of therapeutic recreation (TR) and outdoor education and coordinator of the TR program. "There were three components of the trip that gave it the zest and purpose it produced: an adventure component, a cultural component, and a service component."

Four of the students were TR majors, and eight were outdoor education minors. All of the students received at least three credits, and some earned as many as six credits.

The group climbed Volcán Villarrica, an active volcano that stands at 9,340 feet, located in Villarrica National Park. "It took all day to climb the snow-packed mountain, including five hours of kick-stepping up the snow until we reached the volcanic rim. Due to the wind, cold and the coughing attacks, caused by gases coming from the volcano, at the top, we quickly made our way down the volcano. It took only an hour going down. We glissaded most of the way down the volcano on the snow; glissading is like sledding without a sled. You use an ice-ax to guide your direction through the snow. We climbed Volcán Villarrica on Christmas Eve day, and on Christmas day we went horseback riding."

One of the service projects was in Villarrica National Park, which is just outside the town of Pucón. "We built a trail and worked on erosion control along the trail," Koesler said. "Every time I visit a country, I want to have the opportunity to give back in some way, since in traveling I'm taking something away. Thus, we practiced sustainability." The trail was along the base of the volcano; volcanic rocks were moved to line the path or mark it with towers known as cairns.

Longwood students and Dr. Rená Koesler (middle) on top of a volcano called Volcán Villarrica in Villarrica National Park.
Longwood students and Dr. Rená Koesler (middle) on top of a volcano called Volcán Villarrica in Villarrica National Park.
"In the other service project, also in Pucón, we helped build a cultural interpretive hut for the Mapuche people, who are the indigenous culture in Chile and Argentina," Koesler said. "We cut tall grass, transported it to a wood hut, and then lined the roof and the walls of the hut with the grass. We're proud to have been a part of helping the Mapuche culture retain its heritage."

The group trekked (hiked) through Torres del Paine National Park along the well-known and challenging W route, so called because it's shaped like a W. "It's a five-day trek and takes you through and by the park's signature views and ranges," Koesler said. "Torres del Paine is in the Patagonia region, the most southern part of South America where the most amazing mountains and glaciers exist."

The group visited the penguin colony outside of Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the world. The group also visited Chile's capital, Santiago, for two days, during which they took a cable-car ride, visited the government center and did other touring. "Due to the length of the country, about 3,000 miles, and the kinds of places and things we wanted to do, the group not only flew to and from Chile but also flew three additional times within the country," Koesler said.

To lay the groundwork for the recent trip, Koesler visited Patagonia, including Torres del Paine National Park, during her Faculty Connections experience in the spring of 2007. "I spent 18 months planning the trip," she said. An outdoor education specialist who has taught at Longwood since 1986, Koesler has taken groups on similar trips to East Africa and Nepal.

Last spring semester Koesler started a blog about the trip that continued during the trip and includes photos. It can be viewed at http://longwoodchileexpedition.blogspot.com.