Having divided into expedition groups A, B, and C during our preparation, we were ready to head into the wilderness.
Group A – wildlife on day one! After being dropped off on a dirt road about ten minutes from the HMI campus, we were ready to begin our first expedition. We walked for a quarter mile up the road while adjusting to the heaviness of our full packs. Dave, one of our expedition leaders, referred to our initial walking as the “zombie walk,” because of how we wobbled back and forth on both legs to avoid losing our balance from the swaying of our heavy backpacks. We quickly veered off this dirt road and began walking through the brush, soon coming across a precipitous drop that seemed too difficult to walk down considering the weight of our backpacks and our first day skill levels. Later on in the trip we would be walking down hills just as steep, maybe steeper than this one, purely because of the experience we gained along the way. For now though, we helped our instructors, Dave, Becca, and Travis, find an alternate route down the cliff and made our way down to the drainage below. This would be our first river crossing on the expedition. We were taught the basics of river crossing, and made our way through the stream with great caution. We then hiked for about 1.5 more miles off trail, bush-whacking through trees and swarms of mosquitoes. After a few hours of this we finally made it to our Chalk Creek campsite. We dropped packs and scouted for campsites. Later that night, we learned that just because a campsite seems flat when looking at it, doesn’t mean it is flat when sleeping on it. Becca helped us to make a delicious first meal of quesadillas with cheese and beans, before we met for what would be an eventful evening meeting and circle near the I-Team’s tent. Becca was discussing the next day’s plan when Dave jumped to his feet, having spotted a mountain lion coming over the nearby ridge. We were all shocked, a little scared, but mostly excited to see such a rare sight. People may spend a good portion of their lives in the field and never experience such a wonder. We (Dave) didn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the trip, and informed just about everyone what we had seen. This night would set the tone for what was an incredible ten days of wildlife sighting (pika, marmot, fox, hawks, elk, and more), for seeing the mountain lion gave us a sense of the place we were all about to encounter.
Group B – Circle: a time to reflect and share. HMI culture made it very easy for each expedition community to feel like a family even after the very first day, something that would have otherwise been impossible given the difficult physical and mental tasks we had to overcome during our first expedition. To facilitate this bonding, we would come together as an entire expedition group at the end of each hiking day. We would laugh together, playing games that involved anything from acting out skits to belting out songs to our heart’s desire! We would then move to the more intentional “circle” discussion. The term “circle” was something many of us had never heard before attending Summer Term, but have grown to cherish very much over the course of only two weeks, as it provided a space for us to reflect, share our thoughts and truly listen to one another. During circle, one expedition member would prepare a question, which they then presented to the group, asking for each person’s input. The topic can be lighthearted or serious, and for this reason we have all been to an equal number of circles that end in laughter or tears, often both. Regardless of its outcome, it is certain that circle facilitates the creation of a type of community that is open, understanding and compassionate, allowing our group to grow closer with each passing night.
Group C – mastering backcountry cuisine. Food is a necessity. Good food is a luxury. This was our kitchen motto for the first expedition, and we certainly upheld the luxurious end! Over the course of our ten day expedition, our tarp groups set out to become master backcountry chefs. Armed with our small white fuel stove, a pot and pan duo, and a spatula, we strived to go above and beyond the normal oatmeal and trail-mix filled meals of the collective backpacking stereotype. Anytime we would start a meal, we would ask our instructors what we could do to take it one step further, and their tips helped us achieve our goal to work like peasants and eat like gods. Among our breakfast meals we had baked scones, brownie whoopie pies, and French-toasted pancakes (which used about a third of our butter ration and all of our powdered eggs). Filling out the dinner menu were awesome dishes like pad thai, 7-layer enchilada pie, curry couscous with fried tuna and almonds, and an amazing shepherds’ pie that attracted the attention of two thieving gray jays. Our kitchen systems worked flawlessly. While we did have a rotating executive chef, the scullery in the woods was a group effort. By the first night, we had already planned out all of our dinners to include proteins and starches, and we were constantly reevaluating and pinching our recipe to make sure it turned out great. The instructors found it a habit for the boys to come present our morning and nightly dish to them for approval. In fact, our greatest source of pride came from the laurels of one particular instructor: “You have no idea how disgusting some outdoor cooking can get. I would actually eat most of your food.” In the backcountry, there are very few luxuries, but our mouthwatering discussions about what we would make next gave us something new to look forward to each day.
Overall, everyone had a fun and successful first expedition. Now we are looking forward to settling into campus life, and enjoying all that summer in Colorado has to offer!