Day and Boarding; Grades 6-12

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What Adventure Camp Teaches Children

Pennington in the Wild invites students to explore ecological ethics in conversation with religion and spirituality through direct experience with the wild. As we canoe across Adirondack lakes, we will build community, cultivate leadership, explore ecological spiritualities, and learn skills in outdoor adventure.

I set out on my first backcountry canoe trip when I was fifteen. For ten days, I journeyed, with six teenagers and three adult leaders, across a dozen or so lakes and several portages deep in the Adirondack Park. 

Lessons in Nature

I awoke each day to the eerily beautiful sounds of the loon's call. I spent long days padding in all kinds of conditions. I sweated in the hot sun and shivered under the cold rain. I learned how to hang a bear bag, make a fire, set up and break down a low-impact backcountry campsite, portage a canoe, J-stroke and C-stroke, and work with a map and compass. I learned how to cook a meal for ten people over a camp stove. I learned how to lead a group conversation. I learned how to be quiet. 

In conversation with the wild, I learned about myself—what I was capable of, and who I understood myself to be apart from the distractions and commitments of life back home. The trip helped me imagine who I wanted to become. 

Wilderness in Shaping Who We Are

A little more than two decades after that first backcountry trip, I finished an academic book on the idea of wilderness and its significance for the ongoing work of ecological responsibility. In that book, I argued that wilderness is a unique and necessary site for exploring who we are (as individuals and as societies) and who we might become. 

To sojourn in the wilderness—and to immerse oneself in the idea of wilderness—invites us to develop habits of gratitude, generosity, and humility. The study of wilderness can help us to clarify our values, embrace the limits of our creaturely life, and recommit ourselves to the work of justice in the wild and in the city. 

My first trip, in the summer, between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, sparked a love of the wild that has shaped nearly every other part of my life. It introduced ideas about character and responsibility that would lead me to countless mountains, trout streams, and eventually to graduate studies in religion and ethics. Experiences of the wild are at home in my research and teaching (Pennington students can attest that bears often sneak into the classroom conversations in Religion courses). 

Summers at Pennington's Adventure Camp

The two areas of the personal and the academic, known uniquely in relation to the wild, inspired the creation of our new summer adventure camp, Pennington in the Wild: The Wilderness Seminar as a part of the Outdoor Adventure Series. This interdisciplinary course aims to embody and embolden the distinctive excellence of The Pennington School—academic rigor in a community of character. 

Pennington in the Wild invites students to explore ecological ethics in conversation with religion and spirituality through direct experience with the wild. As we canoe across Adirondack lakes, we will build community, cultivate leadership, explore ecological spiritualities, and learn skills in outdoor adventure.

The journey begins when we push off from an Adirondack lakeshore in early July. Who knows where the journey might eventually take us?

Learn more about Summers at Pennington, which delivers the highest quality, innovative summer programs for youth in the Mercer County area, which includes Princeton and Hopewell.



Nate Van Yperen is the department chair of Religion at The Pennington School. He is the author of Gratitude for the Wild: Christian Ethics in the Wilderness (Lexington, 2019).