The Integrated Outdoor Program

Sunrise on the IOP Desert Trip, Boyd Cave, Oregon.

Sunrise on the IOP Desert Trip, Boyd Cave, Oregon.











The Integrated Outdoor Program (see AP article) is a combined English and outdoor-pursuits course that was founded on the principle that students need to have a deeper connection to the natural world. Recognizing the truths of Nature Deficit Disorder and Leave No Child Inside, the IOP is a counter-culture program, a program that combats Affluenza, teaches gratitude, survival, and the new dream, and encourages environmental consciousness.

Created by Jeff Hess and Peter Hoffmeister in 2005, the IOP is an opportunity for juniors and seniors at South Eugene High School.

IOP instructors, Hess and Hoffmeister, on Fuji, Snow Trip.

IOP instructors, Hess and Hoffmeister, on Fuji, Snow Trip.

IOP Ethics:

1. We are open to new people, new activities, and new ideas.

2. We are willing to put others before ourselves.

3. We are grateful for our resources.

4. We believe that process is more important than product.

5. We believe that the world holds potential for positive change.

– Thematic Trips –

The Snow Trip:


1. Breaking Trail
2. Indian Creek Chronicles
3. Ordinary Wolves

Students and volunteers, IOP Snow Trip, Fuji, Oregon.

Students and volunteers, start of IOP Snow Trip, Fuji, Oregon.


Recovering a lost boater in Oak Springs rapid, IOP River Trip, Deschutes, Oregon.

Sunset on the IOP Desert Trip, Boyd Cave, Oregon.

Sunset on the IOP Desert Trip, Boyd Cave, Oregon.

Snow Trip Skills:

1. Backpacking on snowshoes
2. Snow shelters
3. Alpine ascents
4. Fire starting and maintenance
5. Journaling narratives

The River Trip:

1. The River Why
2. River Notes
3. Fall of the Phantom Lord and/or A Little More About Me

River Trip Skills:
1. Rafting
2. Kayaking
3. River Swimming
4. Rescue
5. Leave No Trace

The Desert Trip:

1. Into the Wild
2. Desert Solitaire
3. Desert Notes

Desert Trip Skills:
1. Orienteering and night orienteering
2. Spelunking
3. Water acquisition and conservation
4. Rock climbing
5. Desert camping and survival structures

Excerpts taught from Laurence Gonzalez’ Deep Survival:

(Summaries from National Geographic Adventure)

1. Do the Next Right Thing
“Debriefings of survivors show repeatedly that they possess the capacity to break down the event they are faced with into small, manageable tasks,” writes John Leach, a psychology professor at Lancaster University who has conducted some of the only research on the mental, emotional, and psychological elements of survival. “Each step, each chunk must be as simple as possible…. Simple directed action is the key to regaining normal psychological functioning.” This approach can sometimes seem counterintuitive. And yet almost any organized action can help you recover the ability to think clearly and aid in your survival. Forcing your brain to think sequentially—in times of crisis and in day-to-day life—can quiet dangerous emotions.
2. Control Your Destiny
Julian Rotter, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, developed the concept of what he calls “locus of control.” Some people, he says, view themselves as essentially in control of the good and bad things they experience—i.e., they have an internal locus of control. Others believe that things are done to them by outside forces or happen by chance: an external locus. …”Your habitual way of reacting to everyday events influences your chances of being a survivor in a crisis.”
3. Deny Denial
It is in our nature to believe that the weather will improve, that we’ll find our way again, or that night won’t fall on schedule. Denial, which psychologists call the “incredulity response,” is almost universal, even among individuals with excellent training…. A hiker in denial will continue walking even after losing the trail, assuming he’ll regain it eventually. He’ll press on—and become increasingly lost—even as doubt slowly creeps in. Learn to recognize your tendency to see things not as they are but how you wish them to be and you’ll be better able to avoid such crises.
4. Use a Mantra
In a long and trying survival situation, most people need a mantra. Ask: What will keep me focused on getting home alive? Then learn your mantra before you need it. For Steve Callahan, adrift in a raft for 76 days, his mantra was simply the word “survival.” My personal mantra is “Trust the process.” Once I’ve gone through the steps of creating a strategy, I continue telling myself to trust that the process will get me where I’m going.
5. Think Positively
Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning recounts the story of Jerry Long, who was 17 years old when he broke his neck in a diving accident. Long was completely paralyzed and had to use a stick held between his teeth to type. Long wrote, “I view my life as being abundant with meaning and purpose. …According to her research, individuals with a “growth mindset”—those who are not discouraged in the face of a challenge, who think positively, and who are not afraid to make or admit mistakes—are able to learn and adjust faster and more easily overcome obstacles.
6. Understand Linked Systems
In complex systems, small changes can have large, unpredictable effects. I wrote an article for Adventure (September 2002) about an accident on Mount Hood in which a four-man team fell from just below the summit while roped together. On the way down, they caught a two-man team and dragged them down too. Three hundred feet below, the falling mass of people and rope caught another three-man team. Everyone wound up in a vast crevasse. Then, during the ensuing rescue attempt by the military, an Air Force Reserve Pave Hawk helicopter crashed and rolled down the mountain. … Being aware of such systems and analyzing the forces involved can often reveal that we’re doing something much riskier than it seems.
7. Don’t Celebrate the Summit
Climbers learn this the hard way: Don’t congratulate yourself too much after reaching a goal. The worst part of the expedition may still be ahead. Statistically speaking, most mountaineering accidents happen on the descent. Celebrating at the halfway point encourages you to let down your guard when you’re already tired and stressed.
8. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Every new challenge you face actually causes your brain to rewire itself and to become more adaptable. A study at University College London showed that the city’s cab drivers possessed unusually large hippocampi, the part of the brain that makes mental maps of our surroundings. The fact that London has very strict requirements for cab drivers forced them to create good mental maps, which caused their hippocampi to grow. For most of us, a normal routine at work, home, and play will provide plenty of opportunities for simple mind-expanding exercises. … Take tasks that require no thought and re-invent them so that you have to think. This bears repeating: Survival is not about equipment and training alone. It’s about what’s in your mind and your emotional system. Living in a low-risk environment dulls our abilities. We must make a conscious effort to learn new things, to force ourselves out of our comfort zones.
9. Risk and Reward
The more you sacrifice to reach a goal—and the more you invest in it—the harder it becomes to change direction, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that you should alter your course. Recently I decided to clean the leaves out of the gutters on my house. I put up a big aluminum extension ladder that is a real pain to move. I was up there, 20 feet in the air, reaching to clean as far as I could without moving the ladder. And I looked down and thought, Is this worth a broken neck? Or should I just go down and move the ladder? ….” When facing a hazard, always ask: What is the reward I’m seeking? What is the most I’m willing to pay for it?
10. Trust Your Instincts
Be careful who you go into the backcountry with. Some people just have it stamped on their foreheads: “I am going to die in a wilderness accident.” But to recognize this stamp, you must pay attention to some very subtle signals. … In a culture like ours, which puts more emphasis on logic and reason, nonverbal signs are easy to dismiss. Pay attention. They mean something.
11. Know Plan B
When undertaking anything risky, always have a clear bailout plan. In November 2004 I wrote about the hazards of Mount Washington for this magazine, recounting the death of two ice climbers who had evidently not planned beyond reaching the summit. When a storm blew in during the middle of their climb, they could have made an easy rappel to the bottom. Instead, following the only plan they had, they continued toward the top, where they died of exposure. … When formulating a bailout plan, it’s important to establish parameters by which to make the decision. For example, if you aren’t on the summit by three o’clock, you must turn back. Or if you have lost $100 million, you must end the project. Whatever the criterion, make sure it’s specific. Then, when your brain’s not working well because of stress or exhaustion, you’ll still make the right decision.
12. Help Others
In a survival situation, tending to others transforms you from a victim into a rescuer and improves your chances. Psychology professor John Leach writes in his book Survival Psychology that in disasters, natural and otherwise, doctors and nurses have a better survival rate because they have a job to do and a responsibility to others. This same phenomenon was documented in the Nazi death camps, where people who helped those around them stood a far better chance of surviving. Practice being selfless in daily life and it will become second nature when disaster strikes.
13. Be Cool
Acting cool is not the same as being cool. As the head of training for the Navy SEALs once said, “The Rambo types are the first to go.” Siebert wrote in his book The Survivor Personality that “combat survivors . . . have a relaxed awareness.” People who are destined to be good at survival will get upset when something bad happens, but they will quickly regain emotional balance and immediately begin figuring out what the new reality looks like, what the new rules are, and what they can do about it. … Examine the way you handle yourself under pressure: Do you blow up when you’re stuck in traffic or when someone cuts you off? Are you able to accept failure philosophically and move on with resolve to do better next time? If you’re rejected—in love, in business, in sports—do you stew over it? Practice being calm in the face of small emergencies and you’ll be more prepared to deal with large ones.
14. Surrender, but Don’t Give Up
The concept of surrender is at the heart of the survival journey. While that may sound paradoxical, it starts to make sense when you realize your limitations. If you are terrified, for example, you are more vulnerable in a hazardous situation. … Once you surrender and let go of the outcome, it frees you to act much more sensibly. It actually puts you in a better position to survive, to retain that core inside of you that will never give up. A good survivor says: “I may die. I’ll probably die. But I’m going to keep going anyway.”

17 thoughts on “The Integrated Outdoor Program

  1. Hi Peter,

    I just read your book (loved it) and was happy to see mention of the Integrated Outdoor Program. I’ve lived in Eugene since 2001 when I moved here after becoming involved in Not Back To School Camp, a camp for unschooled teens run by Grace Llewellyn, author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook. My passion has always been the unity between being outside and creative expression. I’m a writer and a visual artist. I would love to participate in the Integrated Outdoor Program in whatever way would be welcome.

    Tilke Elkins


  2. Is TIOP attendance open to students outside South Eugene HS? If not, are there other similar programs you might recommend? Many thanks.


  3. Peter
    For years I worked with St. John’s School in Canada. As part of that, I wrote a rough draft of a manual to use with the program. I figure that it may help you in your outdoor program. However, you don’t post an email. If you are interested drop me a line, and I will send it to you.


  4. Hi Peter,

    I attended South and graduated in 2006, but never had the pleasure of taking your English classes. I nearly cried when I read the IOP Ethics. How incredibly refreshing. While in college, I co-lead a multicultural outdoor high school leadership group and taught community rock climbing classes through the River House and City of Eugene Parks and Rec. I would love to be involved in IOP in some way — please let me know if you are seeking volunteers. When I was 16, I attended my first week-long backcountry whitewater trip with peers from other high schools in Eugene. It changed my life!! I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for that profound bonding experience with nature. At such a confusing point in life, nature anchors us and is also pleasingly indifferent to our dramas and insecurities. For teenagers, that can be deeply healing.

    Keep up the great work! You are changing lives!

    Abigail Diskin


    • Abigail, Thank you for reading and for being interested in volunteering. We’re doing a Spring Project this next week, and you’re welcome to come to the IOP courtyard to meet us and see what we’re up to right now (any day, 1:45 to 3:10). Or feel free to email me and we can figure out a time. So glad to read your story. -PBH


  5. Peter–Just wanted to connect–I founded and run a similar literacy-based outdoor program for 6th graders here in Logan, Utah. Take a look. Most of our field experiences during the school year are half-day outings with occasional full day trips. Students have an opportunity to go once per week throughout the whole school year. We do some extended trips in the summer. I’d like to talk via email about how you got your program rolling. My contact info is on the Discovery webpage.
    Eric Newell


    • Eric –
      This is really cool. Thanks for contacting me. There aren’t many programs like yours out there, and working with that age is so important. Yes, we should definitely be in touch and share ideas.
      Most of our trips are half-day as well. Then a few three-day trips each year also.
      I’ll contact.
      – PBH


  6. Have you ever looked at the book Coyote’s Guide by Jon Young & Evan McGowan?
    Jon Young was the only one mentored by Tom Brown jr (The Tracker) in the way “grandfather” mentored him. He’s got some great suggestions for adding in elements used in indigenous societies.

    Also Victor Wootens outdoor camp which also includes music.

    Thank you for the work you do and keep it up.
    A relationship with Nature is a fruitful journey.
    One that everyone will benefit from.


  7. Just read this article

    It states you have never owned a mobile phone. I work in outdoor education in New Zealand. A mobile phone here is a critical part of the safety syestems we use to ensure student safety a back up for the radios we use. Part of the kit we have to carry on the river, mountain and in the bush. How does not owning a mobile phone fit into ensuring communication with base and rescue services?


    • Great question. The problem I’ve found is that in the back country, cell phones usually don’t work – my other leaders have tried to use them. So while they’re great in theory (for a rescue), no reception means that cell phones are a waste of space. Do you have cell towers and reception in the back Country in New Zealand?


      • In the part of New Zealand I work in cell phone reception is patchy. But so is radio coverage. A combination of the two and and the availability if exposed hill tops and ridge lines means we are often not to far away from reasonably clear communication.


  8. Hi Peter,
    I just read your book, “Let Them Be Eaten by Bears”. I teach at a elementary school in Orange County, California. I teach 3rd grade and often discuss the outdoors with my students. Are there any programs at the elementary level? Do you have any suggestions for starting one?
    Is there anyway I can observe a class in around Southern California (including Yosemite)?
    Thank you for your time.


    • Hi Harvey,
      Thanks so much for reading, and for reaching out. It would be wonderful if you started some kind of outdoor program in Orange County with elementary students. I haven’t heard of anything like that down there, so you’d be on the forefront. Go for it.
      Camp Sherman (Oregon) has a grade-school with an outdoor bent. They do many outdoor activities during the week, then Fridays are an outdoor day all day (ski-school in the winter). That’s a public school.
      I’ve also heard that the Mariposa School of Global Education has an outdoor/environmental component and is right by Yosemite NP. Maybe you could visit them?
      Unfortunately, I don’t teach any classes in California (I’ve done outdoor pursuits and outdoor home-school with my daughters in Yosemite, but nothing with an official school there).
      Elementary school-aged kids need more of the outdoors. You could do something wonderful.
      Also, a simple agreement with your principal and parents (one permission sheet at the start of the year) could mean that you’re class is outside reading and/or doing something else for half-an hour every day for the entire school year. Or an hour? Start small.
      Good luck and contact me again if you start anything down there. I’d love to hear about it.


  9. Do you have any additional resources for how you started this program? I’m an English teacher and was looking you up online today because I read Let them Be Eaten by Bears years ago and loved it, and was thinking about how much my kids at school could benefit from an outdoors program. I hadn’t realized yours combined with English and now all my wheels are turning and I’m super intrigued at the idea. How does one get something like this started? Was it hard to get your school or district on board?


    • Hi Sarah,
      Thanks for messaging me, and I’m sorry I was a little slow to respond.
      We started with the two departments (PE and English). Once we got colleagues to understand the need for an integrated program (hands-on learning, getting kids outside, the health benefits, buy-in, etc.), we went to the curriculum committee and explained what our curriculum would look like – how we would integrate what we read and write with the activities we do.
      Then we went to something called Site Council, a group of admin, teachers, and parents. Basically, we held an open meeting.
      The more data you can have, and there’s a lot out there, the more people will go for the idea.
      Could you link-up with a PE teacher? Or could you get dual-certified? My teaching partner and I both got dual-certified in PE/Health and English/Language Arts. That really helps create curricular freedom because both of you can teach both subjects and the school can block the class. We have two blocked periods back to back so our students do the outdoor program for 2.5 hours each day.
      Ask more if you need to know more.
      And good luck!
      – Pete
      PS – We also brought the concept of recess back to our high school, with breaks to play games as a group. It’s been really fun.


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