MISSOULA – When students arrive at the University of Montana for the Freshman Wilderness Experience, they are greeted by a leader yelling, “Get ready for an adventure you will remember the rest of your lives!”

This year marks the fourth – and largest – year for the FWE program. More than 160 freshmen and student mentors will embark on a wilderness adventure to kick off their undergraduate experience at UM.

A scene from the 2016 University of Montana Freshman Wilderness Experience (UM Photo)
A scene from the 2016 University of Montana Freshman Wilderness Experience (UM Photo)

The students convened with a check-in and orientation at Schreiber Gym. They then met one another and broke into small groups for their backcountry experience. They talked with their student mentors about food, gear and route logistics. Then it was packing and orienting themselves with the UM campus.

Students leave for the backcountry Wednesday, Aug. 23, and will return at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26.

Students participating in the experience, sponsored by UM’s Wilderness Institute and Campus Recreation’s Outdoor Program, spend four days and three nights exploring various wilderness areas around the state. Thirteen groups of 10 freshmen, each led by two trained student leaders, will backpack and canoe while performing group and community-oriented tasks, as well as completing service projects.

“Being able to arrive on campus one day not knowing anyone, and then return four days later having bonded with strangers in a wilderness setting was an amazing way to integrate into the school community,” said Zoe Leake, a former FWE participant, who returned to the program as a student leader. “It gave me confidence to recognize faces during orientation, and the trip itself instills a confidence as well, because you're completing physically strenuous tasks that challenge your body and your mind.”

One of the highlights of the FWE is the growing involvement of student alumni in the program. Each year former FWE students return as organizing staff members and guides for the trips. The goal of Campus Recreation and the Wilderness Institute is to make this a program run by students, for students. In this way the FWE program supports the University’s continuing efforts to increase retention by fostering peer networks and establishing a sense of engagement with the UM campus, Missoula and the surrounding wilderness areas.

FWE is open to all incoming freshmen at UM, regardless if they have been on a multiday wilderness trip or have ever been camping before. For more information, click HERE.

More From K96 FM