Group A: Being only with women for 11 days in the back country was an empowering experience. We hiked over 40 miles in Lime and Road Canyons, hiked to see ruins, and did a 10 mile day hike to see Neville’s Arch. Each day we awoke to the warm desert sunlight on our faces— we never slept in our tarps— and the sounds of others waking up and packing their bags. We proved to be better at navigation than we thought, and the lack of adult authority taught us how to resolve conflict and talk to each other in a healthy way. We completed wilderness first aid and got Independent Student Travel (IST) the second day that we hiked. Although being without Emily and Renee (our expedition leaders) was hard at times, having a student leader and all being able to participate in group decisions brought us closer than we ever thought possible. At the end of each day we would laugh and cry, sharing memories and making so many more. We fell asleep to the soft snoring of our tarp mates, and the millions of stars above our heads.
Group B: For our third expedition, we headed to the San Rafael Swell in Utah. When we arrived, we were surprised to see so much plant life, as our first trip to the canyons had been pretty barren. We rarely slept in our tarps, instead choosing to sleep under the stars. We did get a bit of rain, however, and a lightning storm struck just as we were doing a river crossing on our fourth day, our first day of Independent Student Travel, or IST. Everyone in the water was quickly helped out, with Fran and Eliza taking packs. We stayed on other sides of the river until the lightning passed. River crossings were more common than expected due to this winter’s record snowfall. It all melted into the rivers, so where the maps showed a path between the canyon wall and the rover, there was none. We didn’t let it break morale, though—we found ways to cross and stayed positive, always singing. Our expedition group was probably more often singing than not. Some favorites were the national anthem and Sweet Child O’ Mine. We also learned and practiced rounds of a song called “Dominica,” which we then performed at dinner when we got back to campus. Another thing that kept our spirits high was the Lord Of The Rings theme Jacob employed. Our mission was to throw a ring that we took turns wearing around our necks on a cord. Each of our campsites was given a LOTR-inspired name. Some highlights were Rivendell, where we had our first layover day; Isengard, where we got to see the other expedition group that was in the Swell; and our last campsite at the gates of Mordor. In the morning of our second-to-last hiking day, we had a naming ceremony where Jacob gave us all character names, then we hiked up a mesa. On our very last day of hiking, we went down into a canyon where we met a cowboy who gave us directions. We followed the map to Mordor, which was a huge, beautiful, amphitheater-like canyon. We threw the ring in and celebrated, then completed our hike to the bus.
On the last night, we stayed at an established campsite with a campfire. We took turns staying up and stoking the fire, reflecting on our final expedition with HMI. We were sad to leave the canyons, but excited to visit the supermarket for fresh fruit and lemonade.
Group C: After about 8 hours of driving with two stops the boys made it to Utah. Based in cedar Mesa, we started our journey with a day hike to the citadel which is a unique cliff dwelling connected by a land bridge. After our day hike we dropped down into Road Canyon where we spent four out of our eleven days. On day four when we arrived to our site, we decided to camp on top of the canyon. From there, we had views of the whole valley, the canyons, and Bears Ears. From this site we were able to explore a new canyon section never before explored by and HMI group. The following hiking day was the longest of the trip, nine miles, exiting one canyon and entering a whole new one and at the end. During the last two miles, we saw our first glimpse of freedom from the I-team which marked the beginning is IST, or Independent Student Travel. We hiked in Fish and Owl Creek Canyon for a few days before we got to a site where we did a day hike to Neville’s Arch. That afternoon, we had an enlightening four-hour solo and the true beginning of IST. For the last three days of the trip, we hiked closer and closer to the bus until one day, we got to the bus. The next day we got up at 5:45 AM and made on our way back to HMI with excitement for the future and smiling faces.
Group D: For the first four days of expedition, we camped in Lime Canyon. We found amazing places to camp at all of our campsites because Lime Canyon is very wide and does not have steep walls. We had our layover day on our third day in Lime Canyon. We took our free day to do a lot of wilderness first aid training. That night, we had a group kitchen where we made pizza and hung out. While hiking the last couple days in Lime Canyon, we saw some amazing views and took some amazing pictures. On our last day in Lime Canyon, we had a push day where we hiked nine miles. We were supposed to climb out of Lime Canyon, walk on Cedar Mesa, and finally descend into Road Canyon, but somewhere along that long arduous hike, we got lost, and we ultimately did not make it to our X. So, instead, we camped with another HMI group about a mile and a half from where we were supposed to enter Road Canyon. That night, we did a group circle with the other group and talked about the awesome times we had had so far. The next day, while hiking along the road, we had amazing views of Bears Ears National Monument, but the highlight of the day, and maybe the expedition, was when we ran into several trail Santas. The trail Santas gave us clean water and tons of snacks. After about ten more minutes of hiking, we arrived at the mouth of Road Canyon where we waited for our Instructor Team. We decided to go on a day hike along the edge of the canyon to the Citadel where there were beautiful and perfectly intact cave dwelling ruins. We dropped into the canyon later that day where we camped for two nights. On our last night, we camped at Neville’s Arch and did our final circle. Overall, our exped was amazing full of hilarious moments and amazing views.
Group E: On First and Second Expedition, and I didn’t feel like I proved my outdoor competency, but in the San Rafael Swell it felt natural. The weather, my group, and the Instructor Team truly shone on this trip. I fell in love with the outdoors again while backpacking through those canyons. The circles we had made us talk, laugh, and sit in silence. In those canyons I thought about the future. I thought about how I could stay out there forever. We talked about HMI being over and were content with our trip being at the conclusion. Now, when I look back to Third Expedition, I think about when our laughs banged against the canyon walls in a chorus of echos. I read my journal entries and will forever be on the lookout for similar experiences and feelings. I’ll be looking for warmth, companionship, and togetherness. I’ll be looking for an experience that only the ones out there with me understand. I’ll be looking for a true connection.