Summer Term: Second Expedition

Expedition #2 – Sending and Peak Bagging

Our second, weeklong expedition, in which we again split into three different expedition groups, was filled with climbing near Hagerman’s bowl and fishing various alpine lakes for brook, rainbow, and the beautiful, native to Colorado, greenback cutthroat trout.  But, perhaps the crowning moment for many of us were ascents up Colorado’s two highest peaks, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, standing at 14,439 ft and 14,429 ft, respectively.

Mt. Massive – Group A

In our first attempt at Mt. Massive, everything was going according to plan.  We woke up at 7:00 and hit our planned departure time of 8:30.  Led by our Leaders of the Day, we made our way up to the base of our ascent route and began to climb through switchbacks.  By 11:15am we had reached 13,800 ft., but the storm clouds were blowing in as the afternoon build-up arrived early.  After a quick group meeting, the consensus was to turn back and descend to below treeline before the storm hit.  It was not an easy decision to make, but it was the right decision risk management-wise.  A bit disappointed at being turned back by the weather, that night we planned our second attempt for the next morning, adhering to the old adage – early to bed, early to rise.  We awoke at three am and began to climb in order to see the sunrise atop the mountain.  It was an incredible feeling to ascend through the dark as a group, fully relying upon each other to ensure we all made it to the top.  Seeing the sunrise and summiting shortly afterwards was a great accomplishment.  We were all very proud of our successful day!

Climbing at Hagerman’s – Group B

On day four of seven, our expedition group of 4 boys and 4 girls had reached past halfway on our journey together, both in term of time and miles.  After three of the most consistently challenging days any of us had experienced, we were all ecstatic to finally have a layover day and be able to spend it rock climbing. We woke up sore and tired, but still ready to try our hand at climbing.  For many of us, this was our first summer of rock climbing, and it represented a new challenge.  The energy around camp was a mix of nervousness and excitement as we rushed to grab our shoes, harnesses, and helmets.  We split into groups of three (climbers, belayers, and back-up belayers) and broke off with all of the necessary gear to get started up the crag.  We knew when each of our expedition mates started up a new climb by the cheers of encouragement that filled the previous silence of the wilderness.  Each route was purposefully different and ranged in difficulty, posing challenges for all, even those of us with a climbing background.

Soon after a couple of us completed our first ascents, the weather took a turn for the worse.  Storm clouds and thunder interrupted the forming flow of climbing.  As a precaution, we halted our climbing, packed up, and decided to return later if possible.  Soon after leaving the crag, lighting caused us to all rush into the trees below and wait out the passing storm.  With the excitement of the storm passed, we decided to be productive, choosing to work on our science homework, finishing to gather and test water samples.  As the day continued, our group split up to either fly fish in Hagerman Lake or boulder in a nearby, breathtaking alpine meadow.  Many of us chose to boulder, as we were antsy to start our next round of climbing again after the long delay.  One specific bouldering problem had at least 6 of us huddled around it all afternoon with continuous attempts to complete it.  It was great to see the persistence and involvement of everyone and the energy we were all putting into something that was new to many.

Mt. Elbert – Group C

On day two of our second expedition, our group of 7 girls, technically Group C, but better known as “Team Femme Fatale” set off to conquer Mt. Elbert.  We awoke during the wee hours of the morning, 3:30 am, to start the hike up the second tallest mountain in the contiguous United States and the tallest mountain in Colorado.  It was cold and dark as only our headlamps illuminated the rocky path of the Mt. Elbert Trail, but as the hours passed and the miles gathered, the sun came out, warming us and lighting our way.  No amount of hot sun, thirst, or fear of heights could stop us as we bravely plowed forward, undeterred by the fact that two toddlers had sped ahead of us, unaffected by the elements.  Despite the tease of several false summits the beauty around us, including a majestic white mountain goat, lifted our spirits, while the voices of our two Leaders of the Day pushed us forward with words of enthusiastic cheer and support.  We had our doubts and moments of overwhelming stress, but by noon we had reached the summit.  Victoriously, we proudly pumped our fists and posed for peak pictures.  Reaching our highest point of the day gave us the strength to hike back down the mountain towards camp.  Some will say hiking uphill is the hardest part of a trip like ours, but anyone in our group can attest to the fact that traveling downhill can be just as challenging, as your tired knees and ankles struggle to support your weight down a slippery slope.  By the end of the day, we had traveled a total of more than ten hours, and though it wasn’t easy and our bodies craved rest, it sure was fun!

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