Semester 35: Second Expedition

After a sunny three weeks on campus following first expedition, Semester 35 headed out into the Sawatch Mountain Range for the second expedition. Historically this expedition brings snow and cold hands; however, as a whole, Semester 35 was very content with the sun and unseasonably warmer weather characterizing our 10 days in the field. There were a few exceptions, as some groups encountered hail storms while summiting peaks, and one group was surprised with an inch of snow one morning. Overall though, Semester 35 was very lucky to experience benign weather on second expedition. Although some students were disappointed that there wasn’t heavy snowfall, others are holding tightly onto the warm weather as Leadville moves into fall.

The trail work all expedition groups participated in for the first three days of expedition was led by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI). CFI is an organization that works to protect and restore the trails and the routes up to the summits of 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado. Each of the five expedition groups were working at the bases of various mountains in the Sawatch–including La Plata, Massive, and Missouri–under the guidance of CFI leaders. These leaders and the overall vibe of the trail work experience were very relaxed, but the work we did was very taxing. We often woke up around six or seven in the morning and ended our work day at about three after lifting heavy tools and moving rocks throughout the day. While we were working to build check steps (rocks dug into trails in order to slow down the flow of water and prevent erosion) and restoring trails in various ways, we took lots of breaks during the workdays to regain our strength and maintain a high level of efficiency so that we could finish our projects. The check steps were especially difficult because groups of three people would work on moving a boulder from off trail to near the trail, while others would use pick-matics and shovels to dig holes for the rocks. Then, we would move the rocks into holes, filling the surrounding space with smaller rocks that had been smashed with a hammer, and dirt. On either sides of the check steps we would place “gargoyle” rocks, which were large and hard to walk over, so that people would make sure to stay on trail. Trail restoration, on the other hand, required removing rocks from trails and building walls on either side of trails to ensure that hikers don’t damage more of the environment.

It was fun to get to know the CFI workers and interesting to understand their work life and passion for protecting the mountains. Because our trail work was directed at keeping people on trail and away from harming the valuable habitat outside of the designated trail, it is empowering to know that we played a small part in protecting the mountains we spend so much time in.

Many groups were also able to summit various mountains during their expedition. On the fourth day of expedition, Charlie’s group ascended the peak of Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado, standing at 14,443 feet! They woke up at 4:00am to boil water and pack their backpacks for the climb, before leaving at 5:00am. They didn’t see any other hikers on the way up, but just as they began to escape the trees at the base of Mt. Elbert, they did see the sunrise, and took a break from hiking in order to sit in silence and take in the beautiful scenery. After about three more hours of hiking up, equipped with cameras and candy bars, they reached the peak, and were greeted by Ranger, a black lab at the top of the mountain. After a long day comprised of Milky Way Bars, stunning scenery, and strenuous hiking, the group had accomplished something incredible!

Something that really expanded our self-awareness on second expedition was learning about the “Leadership Grid.” This is a life-size graph that we sorted ourselves into based on what types of leaders we considered ourselves to be. The two far ends of the horizontal axes were value-oriented leaders, and people-oriented leaders. The two vertical axes sorted leaders into emotion and logic-driven leaders. The students placed themselves on the grid where they considered themselves to be. Once everyone had placed themselves, each corner of the grid was given a leadership style. The four leadership styles we learned about were Drivers, Relationship Masters, Analyst Architect, and Spontaneous Motivators. Drivers are people who think logically and are able to make quick decisions. Relationship Masters know people well, and look for interpersonal connections when leading. Analyst Architects look to the group for ideas and are good at coming up with their own unique solutions to issues. Spontaneous Motivators are pretty self explanatory–they keep the group energized! Some students were surprised when they heard an explanation of their leadership style, and some moved themselves, or others, based on what they personally thought was most fitting. Overall it was quite a learning experience, and we will have the chance to demonstrate our skills over Family Weekend!

Even though we had a fantastic trip, we are thrilled to be back on campus and ready to start digging back in to frontcountry life!

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