Summer Term 2015: 1st Expedition

Last week, we headed out on our first expedition. This entailed three different groups setting out to explore the Sawatch mountain range over the span of eight days. For most of us, venturing out into the field was a completely new experience. Groups took on new challenges: carrying eight days worth of food, navigating through the woods on and off-trail, successfully setting up camp, improvising with food to make delectable meals, and more. These various tasks were daunting at first, but as we assumed new responsibilities and learned how to work as team, we gradually got the hang of things. After a lot of trial and error over several days, we can all agree that we were finally able to successfully settle into our new environment.

On expedition, each of the three groups had the opportunity to make a peak ascent. On Group B’s summit day, alarms went off at 4:30 a.m. We headed out to our group kitchen which sat only a couple hundred yards away from the beautiful Slide Lake. Our expedition group was gathered and ready to attempt to summit Homestake Mountain by 6:00 a.m. The 15 of us set out with our “possibles bags” packed and slightly sore bodies, ready for the day. The excitement for the impending summit was more than palpable and before we knew it, we began to pick our way through a large, uphill, boulder field. After crossing the boulder field, we continued up the mountain for about an hour, where the terrain was grassy but rather steep. Just after reaching tree line, we took a break and participated in a quick lesson on how to properly climb through rock fields. We thencontinued our ascent. The rest of the journey up consisted of many slow and ginger steps up this mountain of rocks, and one false summit. The false summit was a bit of a blow to all of us because after gaining about 1,200 feet of elevation, you get pretty excited when you think you have made it to the top. Despite the false summit and tough journey, all 15 of us made it to the top. Looking out over all the land we had traveled in the last 6 days of our expedition, the entire mountaintop felt as if it were brimming with pride. We had come so far that we couldn’t see where we started, and at this time we really had a full grasp of how far we had truly come. Before coming down the mountain we sang the national anthem and many other songs, and we took in the land, and we laughed, and breathed and lived. The other two expedition groups also successfully summited peaks and had similarly awe-inspiring experiences.

For many of us, this expedition into the wilderness was the first time we spent living in nature. Although this was a major challenge and it took us out of our comfort zone, we learned valuable information about the world and ourselves. During our trip, we took different classes about sense of place, communication, and wilderness survival. We read  The Parable of Sadhuand In Favor of Rootlessness which delved into moral ethics, the importance of finding new perspectives, and various other important life lessons. In addition to these classes and readings, we held deep meaningful conversations and discussions about philosophical topics and life. After taking these classes and holding these discussions, we actually put the lessons we learned into place. When a small tent is your shelter and you are cooking and living with two other people, it is a necessity to have great communication in order to function. By having to navigate in the wilderness and hike through difficult terrain, we were put far outside of our comfort zones, which taught us much about ourselves. In a way, this expedition was a microcosm of our lives; we faced unexpected challenges and adversity, we faced the challenge of communicating and connecting with new people, and in the end, we had to make tough decisions. Overall, this expedition was filled with challenges, growth, and fun.

After expedition was over, we arrived back on campus and began the de-issuing process. Group gear such as tents, pots, and stoves were cleaned and put in their proper places. We took a break from de-issuing for a delicious lunch of some much-needed hamburgers, salad, and ice cream. After being in the wilderness for 8 days, many of us were starved for ice cream, and mountain-loads of it were consumed. De-issuing continued for a couple hours, and after we presented Libbey with our sparkling-clean bowls we were finally allowed to shower. It felt great to wash away 8 days of sweat and grime. We had a few hours of free time before dinner, and many people spent it contacting friends and family. After dinner, we drove through Leadville to watch the 4th of July fireworks. While waiting for the sun to set, people hula-hooped, played Frisbee, threw footballs, and ate brownies. Eventually, we settled into our seats and watched the fireworks, which looked stunning against the backdrop of the mountains. We got back to HMI after the fireworks and everyone was exhausted. Having running water to brush our teeth and being able to sleep in a real bed felt like great luxuries. Overall, the day was a great way to end our expedition.

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