Going Vertical and Seeking Challenge with Nanjing International School

IMG_6284-compressorby Ian Gabrielson, Education Program Coordinator

This past week, we at The Hutong invited the ninthgraders from Nanjing International School to “Experience Beijing” with The Hutong Education Team. One of the highlights of this trip was when our program leaders encouraged the students to seek challenge, a core Hutong value, by completing the beginner course at the Yanshan Via Ferrata Park, an outdoor climbing park in theTianchi Canyon Scenic Area, located 75 km north of downtown Beijing).

The Hutong Education team first learned about Yanshan Via Ferrata this past summer, and after completing the training and rescue courses, aimed to incorporate the park into our upcoming Beijing-based education programs. Unfortunately, September rains prevented multiple groups getting the opportunity to do the activity.

October however, brought a different story – and different weather. With a blast of cold wind from the North West blowing the pollution away (at just the right time) and bringing blue skies and sunshine, the Grade 9 students of NIS were afforded the perfect conditions for doing Via Ferrata.

For those unfamiliar with Via Ferrata, it is an Italian word, which means “iron road”. These “iron roads” are built into the sides of cliffs using cables and bars in order to create routes that can be traversed by climbers. Each Via Ferrata climber is equipped with a harness and set of lanyards that connect them to cable on the wall. The climbers then use the cable to traverse the route. An incredibly safe method of climbing, Via Ferrata allows enthusiasts of all ages to experience the thrill of rock climbing. For those interested in learning more about Via Ferrata check out this interview with owner Wang Qingqing on The Hutong Education staffer Kristen Lum’s blog.

IMG_4644-compressorUpon arrival at Tianchi Canyon Scenic Area, we found it fascinating to watch all of the different reactions of the students as they stared up at the cliff before them.

“We are going to be doing that!”

“I am not doing it… no way!”

“This is going to be AWESOME!”

“Do I have too?”

“I am afraid of heights!”

“No way… I am not strong enough!”

Others just sat silently… following the path with their eyes and breathing as if to suggest: “Ok… I can do this…”

There is no doubt the course can be quite daunting. Reaching heights of just over 130P1020148-compressorfeet (40 meters), the course is built on a vertical rock face. To increase the difficulty the route includes two wooden plank bridges and requires the use of rock climbing hand and foot holds at its highest points. The route however, is incredibly safe and easy once those initial fears are conquered, as the students soon found out.

Over the next few hours the activity really came alive. Every single student stepped up to those initial footholds, clamped in, took a deep breath and began the ascent up the cliff. No one opted out. No one gave up. Everyone completed the course. Everyone sought challenge. The students worked as a team, supported one another, and praised the accomplishments of each of their peers. To top it all off, the setting sun, combined with full array of fall colors and canyon backdrop provided the ambience to It was truly an inspiring moment to witness and be a part of.

Moreover, the grade 9s expanded on the experience by offering insightful, meaningful reflections later in the program. These incredibly reflective students talked about how they felt, what they perceived, what they learned about themselves, and what the value of completing Via Ferrata was to them. Our education team was blown away by the level of insight that these young people were able to communicate and the sheer amount of learning that they were able to draw out from the experience. It was what is known in education as an “aesthetic learning experience.”

We knew that the activity would be a valuable experience for the students, but it wasn’t until we implemented it that we really, fully understood the value that an activity such as this can add to a program and the experiential learning environments we are trying to create. From now we at the Hutong will look to implement more opportunities for students to “go vertical” at Yanshan Via Ferrata.