Semester 35: First Expedition

Over the past two weeks, Semester 35 explored the Sawatch mountain range in five expedition groups, all of which had incredible and transformative experiences.

As feet were our sole means of transportation, hiking was one of the most significant parts of the day.  A designated student Leader of the Day (LOD) exercised decision-making and leadership styles that were learned through a series of classes as part of the Practices and Principles (P&P) curriculum. The LOD delegated certain responsibilities to the days’ group members such as Water Czar, Sunscreen Czar, and Cheerleader for moral support through physically and sometimes emotionally challenging hiking days. Learning how to read and understand topographic maps was an important part of hiking days and P&P as well. Each hiking group encountered varied terrain every day, ranging from dense trees to bare ridges to alpine lakes. The LOD and group members (participating as active followers) hiked on and off trail in order to reach new destinations marked on the map with an “X.” In order to hone navigational skills, hiking groups would trap the “X” using surrounding geographical features. The P&P curriculum also extended beyond navigation and encompassed many skills such as communication, feedback, and basic self-care in the backcountry.

Prior to departure, instructors taught us how to use WhisperLite camp stoves. We were sure that there would be no gourmet cuisine in the backcountry, but we were wrong. In particular, we had a backcountry cooking lesson where we learned to make delicious pizza! Some groups went above and beyond backcountry cooking expectations though: challah bread, brownie cake, and caramelized vegetables were a few of many successful meals. Gourmet cooking truly brought out the negotiator in each student, however. Bargaining vegetables for ramen, flour for tea, and absolutely anything for SunButter quickly became an intense expedition activity that reflected the culinary preferences of each tarp group. Each group likely has a famous meal they will be sure to repeat on our next expedition–which we are really looking forward to, given how well our first expedition went.

In the afternoons, we often experienced rain storms. On the summit of Mount Ouray, it even started to sleet! However, this never got us down. We were able to do most of our activities outside rain or shine. When the weather would turn inclement we often got together in the tarps where we learned new card games, did homework, and laughed a lot. Our academic classes in the backcountry were different from anything we’ve ever done. For our US History class, we had a discussion about the book Rediscovery of North America by Barry Lopez, which was held surrounded by beautiful mountains and lakes. We also had an English discussion about women in the West. For science, we were able to do a lab in the backcountry, where we explored plant life in different ecosystems, including the alpine tundra and the marsh. Our P&P discussion was about a reading entitled “Thinking Like a Mountain,” where we explored topics about the natural world, and how humans are treating it. We realized the impacts of our actions, and what we can do to make the world a better place. Even though we weren’t in a traditional classroom setting, we were all very involved in the discussions, which were led by our instructors. Through these discussions, we learned more about ourselves and our perceptions of the natural world.

After a full day of hiking, classes, learning to cook, and otherwise fending for ourselves in the backcountry, expedition groups would reassemble together in the evening for Circle. Circle is an opportunity for us to open up to each other and share aspects of our lives, creating a culture of honesty and friendliness within our expedition families. This sharing is structured either through an “Open Circle,” in which we speak about any topic we feel called to discuss, or through following a prompt. At times Circle was funny and lighthearted, whereas at other times more intimate Circles pulled out emotional stories from within ourselves. For example, one of the expedition groups had a circle prompted by the question: What are you proud of? This question inspired people to discuss their past struggles with adversity and ultimately created a strong bond among the students. Circle is a tradition that will continue through the semester, both during expedition and on campus, establishing a strong HMI family in the process.

Our first expedition was a powerful experience, and we are excited to take everything we learned about communication, leadership, and community and apply it to our life here on campus. Plus, we won’t take showers or our beds for granted ever again! We are looking forward to uncovering more of the HMI experience every day, and learning about ourselves and each other in the process.

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