GCU adventure team leader talks outdoor rec

GCU Outdoor Recreation Coordinator Cole Hanson poses in Base Camp.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the April issue of GCU Magazine. Read the digital version here.

Cole Hanson awakened to the wonder of the outdoors as a Grand Canyon University freshman when he backpacked to the majestic Havasupai Falls with GCU Outdoor Recreation. He soon became a student adventure trip leader, and after his 2019 graduation, was hired to lead the burgeoning department’s adventure team. By the end of the 2022-23 academic year, he had led 128 trips.

GCU Magazine caught up with Hanson between trips to ask a few questions.

Seems awesome traveling the Southwest on great adventures, but does it transcend fun?

It brings students here, a ton of students. They follow us on Instagram and see all the places you can go. If you’re from the Midwest, you want to go here and see more than the flat fields. And this builds community. You come on a trip and are going to camp with people for the next four days. You can’t sit and look at your phone. Lack of cell reception. There is something about sitting by a campfire and talking. It’s crazy, you don’t even know people on Friday night, and by Sunday, you come back and it’s like a super close family. I hear from people who have been friends since they met on a trip.

Outdoor Recreation goes on difficult hikes, paddles rapids, climbs cliffs, yet you train students to lead the trips?

There are times when a lot of risk is involved. We do all we can on the front side to mitigate that risk so it is safe for students. There are tough calls when weather comes in. But the cool thing for me — because my students are in charge of it — is putting that responsibility on them and having them develop critical thinking skills and think on their feet. I could jump in and take over, but they are not going to learn anything from that. Obviously, I will if it is something catastrophic, but for the most part, I put it on them, let them figure it out. It’s your trip.

Any favorite trips or trip stories?

The Black Canyon canoeing trip is popular. We have a waiting list of 30. I always remember the struggles. We refer to it as type 2 fun. In the moment, it is not fun because you are adapting or figuring it out. In Zion, a rockslide knocked out the chains at Angel’s Landing, stuff like that. What are we going to do? But looking back, it was fun. You figured it out.

Did you do this on your own before coming to GCU?

I grew up in Southern California and did the mountain biking and paddleboarding thing. But my mom doesn’t camp, and I only went on a yearly fishing trip with my dad to a cabin. After I started working here, my dad said he wanted to backpack, so we took his first trip to Big Sur. He was all into it, and it was really cool to experience that with him. You learn things from your dad, but it is cool that I am teaching my dad this.

What does it do for you to be outdoors?

I feel pretty recharged. It’s my passion, getting to go out and hang out with new people and experience God’s creation. And just having a real, intentional conversation with them, too, is rejuvenating for me, sitting by a campfire or walking up a trail, just talking about life, actually diving deep and having time to talk about things. Not to just fill time, but to actually get to the why. It’s a unique platform to show God’s creation and minister to students and get them thinking more, and I think that grows community. I care about these people and want to get to know them, pour as much into them as I can.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected].

Related content:

GCU News: Outdoor Recreation adventures lead to lofty, fun jobs

GCU News: Outdoor Rec trips ascend to heavenly harmony

GCU News: GCU reaches the pinnacle of recreation options

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