Controversy At Outward Bound!

Controversy ? Ok, yes, I know, I said I was out of town and wouldn’t be updating, but I had some time this afternoon, and decided ten bucks for Internet access in my hotel room was probably worth for me to get back in touch with the world.

I found this article over at National Geographic Adventure to be very interesting and sad at the same time. It tells the tale of Elisa Santry, a 16 year-old girl from Boston who was a member of the Outward Bound Program.

She was participating in a 22 day hike across southern Utah when she went missing. After searching for her for hours, the guides and other members of her team found her dead on the trail, her pack still on her back.

Elisa’s death opens a lot of questions about the 46 year old program that is amongst the best known youth wilderness training programs in the United States. But how did one of these young people get left behind on the trail?

How come no one noticed until they stopped to make camp? And how did she get into a position where her life was threatened while hiking? Were there signs of her struggling on the trail? If so, why were they ignored?

The article notes that this isn’t the first death in the Outward Bound Program. In fact there have been 24 fatalities in it’s history, despite claims that safety is the number one concern. Of course, this has put the spotlight clearly on the leadership of the organization, and their policies for taking care of the young men and women in their care.

I don’t know about you, but for a program that has been around for 46 years, 24 deaths seems like a lot! That’s more than 1 every two years over the course of the life of the program, although it should be noted that this is the first death in ten years. Lets hope that some changes are made and good judgement prevails here, but those questions remain, and someone needs to answer them.

Thanks for the tip on this one Ryan!

Kraig Becker

12 thoughts on “Controversy At Outward Bound!”

  1. Outward Bound aims to affect lives in a positive way through challenge and discovery of potential. While a death (or 24) is never excusable, nor just “part of the game” I do believe that the experience Outward Bound offers is worth every penny. These are inherently risky activities, which have real consequences. If it wasn’t real, it wouldn’t work….just ask the 500,000 alumni whose lives have been changed forever by an Outward Bound experience.
    I ask myself–if Outward Bound and it’s mission didn’t exist, how could it be replicated? Take out the struggle and you have merely a “nature walk.”
    There are many benefits to a simple “nature walk”, but it will never be as deep as the refined and intentional experience which Outward Bound offers.

  2. I think Outward Bound does great stuff too. I think it’s a valuable program. But like all similar programs, care needs to be taken to insure that everyone is safe and sound.

    My post was not meant to be an attack on outward bound, but instead to bring to light a sad incident. Nothing more.

  3. While any death is tragic. To just say 24 deaths in 46 years distorts the ratio. It should be noted that they run more than 100 various trips per year with an average of 18-20 kids per trip. So you could have said 1 out of 20,000kids over the last ten years has died on an outward bound trip.
    Very easy to use with the same numbers to state a point. I am not making lite of the death just putting it in context.

  4. As I said, months ago, this was not meant as an attack on Outward Bound. Just reporting on the incident.

    You’re right, thousands of kids have gone through the Outward Bound program without any kind of incident.

  5. not sure where your 24 number is coming from. I believe this was the second program-related death for Outward Bound in the US – the first was an instructor… 24 in the whole international Outward Bound system, maybe?

  6. The article itself says that this wast he 24th death in Outward Bound’s history in the U.S. That is where the number comes from, so if it is wrong, then National Geographic got it wrong as well.

  7. As an Outward Bound instructor i believe that the courses that we subject our students to are risky without the right precausions taken. It is up to the instructors to keep the students safe within any given situation. YES the programs are risky, but it takes getting a student out of their comfort zone to induce change. We try and balance the appropriate ammount of risk with what we believe to be within “safe” limits. I love what Outward Bound has done not only for my students but for me as well.

  8. I did Outward Bound and hated it. I was in a group of 10 with 4 boys who spent the whole time talking about drugs. It was a horrendous experience because parents obviously sent those boys there for rehab or something. They also jeered us girls who walked towards the back.

  9. Outward Bound is brainwashing-nothing more. They get you in a situation where their adrenelin junkie counselors have total control over you. After a few days and fatigue and hunger sets in, you become easily manipulated and are more prone to believe their hogwash. Then you come back to the real world with your renewed sense of self-esteem only to find that nobody gives a rip.

  10. I went on an Outward Bound trip in 2005 and nearly got killed on the third day of the whitewater rafting trip. Escaped injury. It was without a doubt though the best trip I've ever been on. Hundreds of thousands of people are OB alumni and if only 24 people have died during the trips, that's a tiny number. Hell, I narrowly avoided a head-long car wreck on the trip home when a driver turned left in front of me without looking.

  11. I attended Outward Bound about 20 years ago and had a horrible rock climbing accident. I can barely walk now and need a total ankle replacement. My instructor was arrogant and incompetent.

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