Second Class of Inspiring Leaders Outdoors Follows In Footsteps of a Dreamer
Written by: Joe Mullich

Leaders: Nancy Le, Schuyler Senft-Grupp
Volunteers: Joe Mullich, Meghan Welsh
Teachers: Maria Martinez, Evelyn Constanza

Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe had an insatiable appetite for learning. The self-made scientist patented an ice-making machine, discovered new ways to use hydrogen gas, and served as the chief balloon pilot for the Union forces during the Civil War. To Southern Californians, Lowe is most remembered for the mountain named after him in Altadena; the railway he built up to that mountain in 1893; and the hotel he constructed on top of the mountain a year later.

Planning the trek on the site of the old Mt. Lowe Hotel”
Planning the trek on the site of the old Mt. Lowe Hotel

A group of Fremont High School students followed Lowe’s example in April 2019, showing their own insatiable appetite for learning outdoor skills, as they made their first backpacking trip to the Mount Lowe Trail Camp, the site of that hotel. The six students were the second graduating class of Inspiring Leaders Outdoor, an ICO program that teaches outdoor skills and incubates a new generation of outdoor leaders.

“As important as it is to expose kids to the outdoors, we need to introduce them to the idea of bringing their friends outside, too,” said Nancy Le, head of the ILO program.

Roberto Morales explains how to advocate for the San Gabriel Mountains
Roberto Morales explains how to advocate for the San Gabriel Mountains

‘It’s a Magic Trick!’

The students spent  Friday evening at the Millard Campground, where they received a visit from Roberto Morales, a Sierra Club volunteer and lobbyist for the successful campaign to designate Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument. “My heart is in getting people and families outdoors,” Morales explained. “But it becomes really complex here in this country to go outdoors as a person of color.” He gave a presentation about advocacy for the mountains, explaining the issues with access and management, and telling the students how they could become involved.

That evening, next to the crackling flames of an orange campfire, the students learned how to prepare a balanced backpack. “It’s like a magic trick,” one of the students said. “You can put more stuff in, and it seems lighter, if you just move things around to the right places.”

Learning the tricks of packing a backpack
Learning the tricks of packing a backpack

Early the next morning, the students strapped on those packs and headed to the Mt. Lowe Trail Camp from Eaton Saddle. They navigated through the water-filled Mueller Tunnel, and down a trail that was covered with several fallen trees, all reminders of the harsh winter rains.  “I didn’t know hiking was an obstacle course,” said one student, as she handed her pack over the trees. When the students finally got to camp, they pitched their tents, but rested only a bit before continuing up to Inspiration Point.

No obstacle could stop them
No obstacle could stop them

A Dollop of Ostrich

The students flocked to the telescopes pointed at different sites – “OSTRICH FARM,” a famed Pasadena historical locale, was the clear winner. The students argued over which bird was the most beautiful. Until the multi-colored sunset arrived – it won the debate.

As the city lights twinkled before them, they cooked and consumed ramen. One student, whose opinion was doubtless influenced by the day’s exertion, declared “this was the best meal I have ever had.” One of her classmates countered ramen could be improved with a dollop of ostrich.

Fair or fowl – unusual sightings in the City of Angels
Fair or fowl – unusual sightings in the City of Angels

On Sunday, the students rose early, packed up, and stretched under the direction of one of their teachers before heading for home. While they had moved tenuously through the water-filled tunnel on the way in, they strode boldly over the rocks on their departure. After all, they were now outdoors people — and following in the footsteps of Professor Lowe, a great dreamer who let nothing stand in his way.