Seventh-graders of Garth Pintler's outdoor science class did more than play in the snow during a field trip to Kirkwood Valley on Monday. They learned how to save their own lives.
"When we first went, I didn't know anything," said Zack Toomey. "Now, if I ever get lost in the mountains, I think I could survive the night."
Pintler's nine-month course at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School focuses on outdoor survival.
"The main thing for the field trips is to have students experience the weather," said Pintler, back in his classroom on Friday.
Students of the class study scientific and practical aspects of the outdoor experience: weather, environmental hazards, including hypothermia and frostbite, fire making, shelters, survival kits, outdoor gear, water, food, wilderness navigation, wilderness impact and water safety, among other things.
Pintler, who also teaches life science, grew up in the Bay area traveling with his biologist father who worked for state fisheries.
"We did a lot of camping and fishing," he said. "That's where I got a lot of my life science from."
Pintler's love for the outdoors led him all over the West. He was a river guide in Utah. He canoed in the Canadian Arctic. He climbed Yosemite's El Capitan. He moved to Carson Valley in 1989 and hasn't left, spending much of his time skiing in the Sierra backcountry.
"There's a lot of outdoor enthusiasts here," he said.
Twenty three of his 32 students attended the field trip. After learning how to cross country ski, they moved on to the basics of wilderness survival. Successfully building a shelter would be 10 percent of their overall grade in the class.
"You always want to carry a basic survival kit," said Zack. "You need a tarp, rope and some kind of shovel."
Zack said he tied the tarp to two trees and spread it out low to the ground.
"You want to angle it away from the wind," he said.
He built a wall of snow on the open side of the shelter at the base of which he built a fire.
"The heat from the fire needs to reflect back into the shelter," he said.
He found dry twigs and branches at the bottoms of trees and formed them in a small teepee around some wadded-up toilet paper his partner had.
"Once you get it going, you keep finding dry wood and feed it to the fire," he said.
Hanna Perry had a different kind of survival experience.
"I was skiing down a little hill, and I hit a mound of snow and caught some bad air," she said. "Mr. Pintler later said I looked like a cartoon while I was flying through the air, but I landed in about 5 1/2 feet of snow and got stuck."
Hanna said Mr. Pintler helped her out, but also taught her how to get out by herself if it ever happened again.
"You take your skis off, pack the snow around you and lift yourself out," she said. "You can't panic when you're in a bad situation."
The students will wrap the class up next week with their final test, and Mr. Pintler will get a new batch of seventh graders, whom he plans on taking to Spooner Lake sometime in February.