Leaving behind their own beds, mobile phones and daily showers, a group of nine teenagers recently hiked 88 kilometres over eight days through the northern Flinders Ranges.
It is the fourth year Millicent High School (MHS) students have been involved in the transformative Operation Flinders program.
The girls, aged between 14 and 17, were accompanied on the trip by MHS assistant principal Stephanie Gilbert, peer mentor Deon Howell and three members of Operation Flinders.
Last week the students regrouped with organisers and gave a presentation to the sponsors who help fund the trip.
A video was shared showing the difficult terrain and conditions endured and some students chose to speak about their personal experience.
A common theme was how difficult the first few days were with many mentioning how much they wanted to go home in the beginning.
Operation Flinders group leader Simon Jackson, peer group mentor Tilly MacLean and assistant team leader Elena Hussey presented the girls each with their certificate of achievement and a map of the terrain marking the route they hiked while carrying large backpacks.
Mr Jackson spoke of the tough start to the trip when the group were met with challenging weather conditions.
“I’ve never had so much wind, and on the first night,” he said.
“Even in the morning the wind was still blowing and I thought it’s a good sign because anyone who can put up with that is going to be able to do anything.
“I’ve never had such a fantastic group of kids and what they achieved is phenomenal.”
Mahli was encouraged to participate in the program by her family and SSO Thea Clough who thought it would help improve her mental health.
“I hated it at the start, especially the first day,” Mahli said.
“I wasn’t used to the pack and it was really hard to walk up mountains but near the end you got used to it.
“You learnt how to distract yourself in your mind and when you distract yourself your legs don’t hurt so much.
“The first few days I missed my phone more than anything, you get so bored when you don’t have it.
“But it was kind of good near the end, I didn’t really miss my phone because I was so busy with everything else.”
Mahli said the ground was really rough with lots of prickles and sleeping next to “all the ants” was challenging.
The experience has been a positive one for Mahli who has learnt to persevere when overcoming challenges and made new friendships.
“At the start of the camp I was all by myself but then I got really close to the girls at the end.
“I never thought I would, it was really good and I have changed how confident I am to walk up to someone and talk to them now.”
Local man Deon Howell accompanied the girls and found the experience enriching.
“It’s hard to explain because we don’t talk about everything that happens out there, but Operation Flinders as an organisation is probably one of the best I’ve ever walked into,” he said.
“The changes these kids have made in eight days of being out there is incredible.
“It was amazing for my personal growth and I would go again tomorrow.”
Operation Flinders was initiated in 1991 by teacher and former army officer Pamela Murray-White to create opportunities for young people.
It is an adventure therapy program where participants face challenges which provide demanding experiences, personal development and pathways to wellbeing.
The students self nominated for the program or were suggested due to leadership potential or for their own mental health with all participants benefitting from the program in various ways.