THE SUMMIT OF HOGBACK MOUNTAIN – “Make sure you touch the summit marker,” Bonanza P.E. teacher Jason Hardrath told the 40 sixth-graders as they reached the top of Hogback Mountain, which at 6,205 feet offers panoramic views of Klamath Falls.

The students had been on the challenging 2.3-mile route to the top for the last couple of hours, gaining 1,761 -feet in elevation from the school bus near the trailhead off Foothills Boulevard to the lookout tower marking the summit.

Some were still bursting with energy, others were tired and thirsty. 

Hiking to the summit of Hogback has become a sort of rite of passage for sixth-graders at Bonanza, Shasta, and Ferguson elementary schools. Late Shasta Elementary School sixth-grade teacher Trish Polsinelli started the tradition more than 20 years ago at Shasta as an end-of-the-year celebration for the sixth-graders and a wellness goal for students. Since then, Bonanza and Ferguson elementary schools have started similar traditions.

Bonanza sixth-graders summited on Tuesday (June 13). Ferguson fifth- and sixth-graders and Shasta sixth-graders hiked the trail on Wednesday (June 14).

Hardrath believes it’s important for children to not just hear about the importance of physical activity and a healthy mindset, but to actually stretch their limits and achieve success.

This is an opportunity for young people to go through that journey of ‘Oh, this is really hard, I don’t know if I can do it,’ followed by the transcending experience of ‘But, oh, it was worth it,’ ” said Hardrath, who in his free time is an avid outdoors adventurer, mountaineer, and climber. “The reason I choose Hogback is for the rest of their lives as they come to and from Klamath Falls, they can look up and be like ‘I was up there. They can look at something difficult and know they conquered it at least once.’ And I firmly believe that that makes a difference to people over time.”

Bonanza sixth-graders, along with Hardrath, sixth-grade teacher Crystle Gillam, and child development specialist Rachel Duren, supported and encouraged each other as they neared the top. The group gathered together at the lone pine – an iconic tree that was struck by lightning years ago – before making the final summit push together.   

At the top, they took turns climbing the steps to the old fire lookout to enjoy the panoramic views of Klamath Falls, Klamath Lake and to the east Pine Grove, Olene, and beyond. After a quick snack and group photos, students headed down, moving quite a bit a faster than they had on the way up.

Overall, students climbed more than 1,700 feet up – and again back down – covering 4.65 miles. The last day of school for students in the Klamath County School District is June 15.