HMI Gap 2015: Back from the first wilderness expedition

Yesterday, we returned from 14 days in the backcountry. This was the longest that many of us had been in the field. Together we backpacked, hiked, and rock climbed to success! For most of the trip, the weather was impeccable: lots of sun, no mosquitos, and clear, starry nights. Four members of the group were able to summit Mount Massive with their heavy packs on Day Two, climbing up and over the main summit of Massive toward North Massive, and then descending down to a beautiful alpine lake. That night, in both exhaustion and contentment, we watched an amazing Super Blood Moon eclipse. We hiked about 50 miles, stopping to climb on high alpine crags for four days. We celebrated a birthday, sang a lot of songs, played fun games such as “big booty” and “bity bity bop,” and improved our repertoire of backcountry cooking. The ambitious route pushed us to challenge ourselves physically, mentally, and as a group, which ultimately set a foundation of solid backcountry skills and a more cohesive team. At the end of the expedition, we attempted a few independent student travel days. During those days we fortified our group bond and gained a bigger appreciation for our navigation skills and the challenges of groupthink.


On this trip we started the rock climbing curriculum. Our instructors, Chris and Becca, began teaching us the basics of safe rock climbing procedures. We learned to belay, rappel, place gear and practiced several movement techniques that will help us progress throughout the semester. Another very important part of rock climbing that we learned about was the lingo. An example comes from Jackie Tyson: “I was climbing up this V4 boulder and I had the most heinous time. I got to this crack and I lay-backed, then had to pull through to a chicken wing. I climbed higher and then hit this bomber jug, which helped me summit that sick granite slab.” As a group we all have different levels of experience rock climbing but we are all able to push ourselves toward our personal goals. We are having a lot of fun learning about climbing and each other through this process.

While in the field, we read a series of essays for the environmental studies portion of the semester. These essays included, The Trouble with Wilderness by William Cronon, Thinking Like a Mountain by Aldo Leopold, Freedom and Wilderness by Edward Abbey and The Wilderness Letter by Wallace Stegner. We discussed these readings while examining differing viewpoints on what wilderness really is. Through this we were able to examine our own values about wilderness and our connection to nature. We also did a really cool journaling activity inspired by the Leopold reading. This activity involved putting ourselves in a natural object’s shoes, pushing us to examine that object’s identity and inherent value and reminding us that we were visitors in the places that we were travelling.

We are now back in Leadville, showered, laundered and well fed. Tomorrow, we depart for the canyons and sandstone towers surrounding Moab, Utah. There, we will focus our time and efforts on the rock climbing curriculum and several community service projects. We will work with the Forest Service up in the La Sals to do climber impact surveys around Mill Creek and the Brumley crags, participate in an Adopt-a-Crag for the Castleton Campground on October 17th, and then spend ten days working with Front Range Climbing Stewards to build and maintain a trail up to Castleton Tower (which hopefully we will all be able to climb to the top of!). We will also be taking a Wilderness First Aid course through Wilderness Medicine of Utah. This will give us a basic understanding of first aid procedures and techniques. Having this certification will be another step toward independence for the group. We are looking forward to everything Moab will offer. Now onto good food and good vibes. See you all soon!

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