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43 Years of Senior Challenge Memories and Counting

Video by Jesse Paddock

Among Durham Academy’s oldest traditions — and among those most cherished by alumni — is Senior Challenge. It’s an adventure in the North Carolina mountains in which seniors hike to breathtaking summits, cook and sleep under the stars, rappel and climb cliff sides, and find deep wells of perseverance. 

DA Upper Schoolers embarked on the first Senior Challenge in 1978, and the tradition has continued without interruption — even in the 2020–2021 school year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to delay the typically start-of-year experience until the end of the school year. 

For the last 16 years, Upper School Director of Physical Education Greg Murray has led the Senior Challenge program, and he first participated in 1986. Each year, he splits the class into groups of eight to 10 students with an eye toward creating opportunities for students to better get to know classmates with whom they may not have interacted regularly. The groups of adventurers fan out in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area and on Mt. Mitchell.

Students — guided through the experience by the professional staff of Black Mountain Expeditions — carry everything they use on the journey in backpacks, take responsibility for trail navigation, prepare their own food, learn to set up and break down camp, rock climb and rappel. 

Over the decades, many DA seniors and alumni have described their Senior Challenge experiences as transformative. Have a favorite Senior Challenge memory? What impact did it have on your life? We’d love to hear about your experience via this Google form; we hope to share it via social media!