You Don’t Have To Risk Life and Limb at 8000 Metres to have an Adventure
Scottish Outdoor Educator John White visited Mussoorie last October, as a guest lecturer at the Mussoorie Writers Mountain Festival- during his time here the Wilderness Education Course students had the privilege to work with him on a wilderness first aid night scenario, as well as getting insights in to the outdoor industry and it means to ´adventure´. We chat with him about his passions and the power of outdoor education on young people.
You come from the Island of Skye, in Scottland, where a large part of the outdoor opportunities are water related. How did you feel surrounded by these dev dar forests, langours and snow peaks?
I love travelling to different environments but in truth I am not sure if I could live permanently in a place that didn’t have relatively easy access to water (nowhere in Scotland is very far from a river/loch or even the sea) Even If I realize I haven’t explored the water for a long time – just knowing it is there….My water passion is really floating down a big easy river or on a calm inland loch in an open canoe – preferably a red one, and preferably surrounded by the colours of trees in autumn, paddling with the ‘Indian stroke’ (Native American ‘First Nation’ not Asian…!) where the blade doesn’t leave the water and makes no splash and no sound I( think it was designed for hunting) – This is one of my ideas of paradise…
However I spend a lot of time in forest and woodland mainly mountain biking, and your forests had a familiarity, and when I wandered up in the dusk with Shantanu to the ridge for the first aid scenario, I felt very at home – although the troop of monkeys passing over definitely located us…..
The main difference in geography I felt was the incredible steepness and the way the paths and roads snake about the ridges and valley sides and how distances might not be very far ‘as the crow flies’ ( as we say ) but with the winding trails it takes a while to travel. In Scotland much of land is moorland where you can just strike off in any direction – I felt that around Mussorie it is more trail and path based for exploring.
What are the unique outdoor learning opportunities that striked you the most in Mussoorie, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where the Hanifl Centre is based?
In my travels I am in many ways struck more by similarities than differences – and so learning opportunities despite me believing that they should be place centred follow a similar pattern (self development, awareness, reliance, positivity, team working, creativity as well as skill acquisition and the physical benefits etc etc )
Looking at ‘differences’ my interest is in the culture of place, how humans have existed in these areas and so for me the excitement would be as much travelling to villages and shambas on tracks and paths which might have been used for centuries, and engaging with people who live and work in these places (in the 21st century and not as some rose coloured view of the past)
What I found in India is that you are never very far from people – this I think might be different the closer to the high mountains that you go, but I assume that there are still communities that live there – looking at their commonality would be as exciting for me as much as climbing and camping and so I would be involving this aspect all the time if I worked there.
The Hanifl Centre has very recently launched a Wilderness Education Course for young people at Woodstock School. In your experience, what is the larger impact of outdoor education on youth?
Ha…where do you want me to start….Outdoor education should be incorporated in every child’s upbringing, I mentioned a few benefits above, and could expand for days on these aspects and more – but In Britain I think the move is to try and incorporate the outdoors in all or many parts of the curriculum. I always used to say that the way we fill our children with knowledge, whilst on one hand is great, but on the other is haphazard…apart from what we call (with irony) the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) does it matter what fact a child knows Is Boyle’s Law, or Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion any more or less relevant than being able to tie a bowline or perform a stern rudder in a canoe, or engage with a subsistence farmer on a hillside in Northern India – and yet educationally we constantly go for the ‘easily measurable option’ In this respect outdoor experiences are vital for generations to come, especially as virtual technology is so much on the increase. Engaging with the world – both natural and human, is the only way we are going to create a connection and therefore an empathy with the world and it’s humanity – which we need to do in order to ensure its continued existence…
Outdoor experience tend to have a lasting (and hopefully positive – but not always…!) impact on children – everyone can remember the first time they sat in a boat, but not the first time they studied a subject at school – this power of experience needs to be exploited (perhaps a strong word) for the good of learning.
During your time with the Wilderness Education Course students you had fun with a night rescue scenario, putting to the test their WFA skills. How good were their skills? Is WFA relevant to contemporary Outdoor Education?
I think that first aid should be on the curriculum – connected to my discussion above – being able to open someone’s airway – a vital and incredibly simple and potentially lifesaving action is perhaps more important than tying a bowline or understanding Newton’s Laws… (just this week in the British Parliament a right wing MP ‘talked through’ a bill that wanted first aid to be part of the curriculum in schools so that it ran out of time and couldn’t become law (this is called fillybusting) – why he should want to do this beats me – perhaps he never got to go kayaking as a kid…!!!
I think the WFA has more relevance in India than in Britain – in Britain we are very much first responders – just keeping people alive till help arrives – without technical equipment there is little we can do apart from simple DRABC steps and call for help. Anywhere in Britain is accessible by emergency teams within hours whereas I suspect in parts of India where you might adventure help might be much further away.
Outdoor Instuctors have a more basic First Aid certification but it is imperative to remind leaders not to get in this situations in the first place…!!!
Statistically we are all much more likely to come across a road traffic incident so in this respect First Aid I think is relevant to all contemporary education, not just outdoor.
The Students reacted very well to the scenario – I enjoyed it and didn’t feel that my life was in danger….!!!
You presented at the 7th Mussoorie Writers Mountain Festival, a festival aimed at young people to inspire them to explore and enjoy the outdoors. Looking back, what was your highlight?
It was lovely for me to realize that I have a story that seemed to be well received – having never done anything spectacular, or been a ‘first’ or ‘highest’ but I feel that there was interest in my more ordinary adventures. I hope I played a small part to inspire adventure in a more achievable way – you don’t have to risk life and limb at 8000M to have an adventure….
I enjoyed the whole festival and would like to extend my thanks to all the organisers for inviting me and making it happen – and hope to visit Mussoorie again soon..
White was carried by his dad up most of the mountains in England and Wales before he could walk and climbed his first hill at the age of 5. As an older teenager he rebelled against this healthy living and rode motorcycles and played bass in rock bands. Exploring however was still in his blood, and on leaving university; he rode his motorcycle overland to Israel. Next he worked as builder, then a guide in a tourist cave, which sparked a passion for speleology and exploring caves in the UK and further afield. This in turn led to learning how to scuba dive so he could explore sumps and flooded passageways, which also opened up the world of open water diving in the seas off the west coast of Scotland.
On moving to the Isle of Raasay, off Skye, the vehicle of exploration next became a sea kayak. Meeting a beautiful Island girl meant that roots were put down. With help from a local development agency John and Anne bought 10 kayaks and founded Whitewave based on the Isle of Skye. 25 years later it has grown into a highly respected outdoor centre offering accommodation, a range of activities and place centred outdoor learning.
In 2006 he obtained a Master’s Degree in Outdoor Education from Edinburgh University. He was safety officer for a unique art event, lighting up a mountainside and guiding visitors up at night, stimulating an interest in art and the outdoors, and is a director of ATLAS arts, and has organised music festivals, tours and events. He also cycles a lot and very occasionally plays the fiddle. His passion is also for sharing his passions and the north of Skye the place he has made his home.