Our group’s expedition started with meeting the newest member of our short-term community, Rob Backlund. Rob is a former HMI science teacher who returned to lead our expedition through the northern Sawatch Range around Homestake Peak. From the beginning our group had a knack for hilarious and over-the-top laughter that ensued at just about every moment. Most of the time, we traveled around with skins on our skis through a wide variety of terrain, from wooded paths to wide open drainages. These days of travel were filled with singing; sometimes we even got the lyrics right, and not once did we finish an entire song. About halfway through our expedition, the weather turned to snow, making tasks like cooking meals a bit more difficult. The storm didn’t let up until the last full day, around 6 days later. On this day, we took advantage of the sun and blue sky to ski laps on a great slope covered in 8-12 inches of fresh snow, making the skiing (and the falling) incredibly fun. On the last day, we woke up at 4 AM and saw a beautiful sunrise over the mountains across the valley as we skied back to the road, tired and satisfied with a fantastic expedition.
How can one group go above and beyond expectations, have a boatload of fun, and be really really attractive all while holed up inside of giant mounds of snow? The answer is David Clark-Barol and associates’ expedition group. The first part of our week out near Homestake Peak looked like the typical high-functioning expedition group’s backcountry experience: shredding gnar, summiting mountains with ease, and building quigloo sites that put the Ritz-Carlton to shame. However, halfway through the trip some inclement weather blindsided our group, forcing the team to be restrained to their snow mansions, to which we said “Bring it on, clouds!” and proceeded to have the most fun that has probably ever been had by anyone anywhere. Games, music, and great conversation filled the second half of the expedition, where the winds were so powerful they almost felt as strong as the bond our group had to natural world. The universe then decided that it would bestow upon us two days of warm weather to cap things off, and even though the baby blue skies were not as present as we would have hoped the squad powered through and took to the slopes like champions. As for meals, teenagers were given full autonomy in the kitchen area and therefore delicious creations were invented that could only be the making of those who still have a remaining spark of childhood wonder within them. Namely Snickerdillas, a combination of butter (both peanut and normal), tortillas, and Snickers bars which served as breakfast for the handsome boys’ quigloo and dessert for many other less rational congregations of people. We left just as we came, far too early and swift as the wind, leaving behind only wonderful memories. A good time was had by all.
The first day of second expedition started off beautifully for Peter’s group: the sun was out and everyone was skiing in their base layers. The terrain quickly became steep for those who were pulling the eighty-pound sleds, so everyone else helped push from behind as we pressed on and came to our first campsite by 4:00. We dug out the kitchen and each of our campsites, and for the first two nights slept under tarps with the snow dug out from underneath. On the second day of the trip, we skied up to our next campsite and mounded our first quigloos! After skiing up an extremely steep hill we were at the top of the ridge below Mount Zion; we turned around and saw the entire Sawatch range behind us which made the whole trip worth it. For the next four nights, we stayed in the quigloos that we built, which was a very interesting experience. When we got cold, we shoveled, and at the end of the day we were so exhausted that we were asleep by 9:00! By day four, the boys had almost run out of cheese, as they had been eating about one and a half bags a day (when we were only rationed about one per day) and came around to the other quigloo groups asking to trade beans for cheese; the girls ended up giving them Snickers and hot chocolate for their vegetables and their onion. On the last night at our first campsite, we went on a night ski and had circle on a ridge with glow-sticks and a view of Leadville. Our group summited Mount Zion four times in traversing across to our next campsite in Buckeye Gulch. The days at our second quigloo site included laps through the pow on our local ski run, about thirty feet away from our campsite, and an attempted summit of Buckeye Peak. At the second site, the wind began to blow and did not stop until the morning we left. On our last night, we watched the sun set over Leadville below us and the Sawatch range beyond, and reflected on the trip.
Between tremendous winds above treeline, touring up the sides of ski slopes with huge sleds, and the incredible panoramic views of the Sawatch Range, second expedition was truly a remarkable experience for Josh’s expedition group. Being above treeline in the Mosquito Range for almost the entire expedition with constant winds posed some awesome challenges for our quigloo groups. One night we cooked macaroni with unmelted cheese in it because the pan would just not stay warm. Yum! We did some awesome skiing in our quigloos’ backyards, and one day we did some gnarly ski runs, writing a poem after each one. “Best English class ever!” said the group. We went out with a bang, climbing the 13,600 foot Finback Knob on our last day. When we got to the top, the winds were around 70 mph. It felt like we were at the summit of Everest! On the final night, we watched an incredible, glowing sunset over Mount Massive, as we sat in our kitchens eating all the leftover food we had carried with us throughout expedition. Overall, it was an awesome experience! Who knew that sleeping in 15 degree temperatures could be so fun?
Carrie’s expedition group spent the last 10 days skiing, shoveling, and laughing in the Mt. Zion area, travelling from Buckeye Gulch to Tennessee Park. For the first two nights, we slept in tarps dug into snow, enough to protect us from the elements, but not very warm. The next day we skied up to our next campsite and mounded huge piles of snow, then skied back to our tarps before returning uphill the next morning to hollow out the piles into quigloos, the much warmer shelters we would stay in for the next four nights. While we were staying there, we explored the ridge above our campsite and summited Mt. Zion, with amazing views of Leadville and the taller mountain ranges around us. To reach our next quigloo site, we planned on making the trip in one day, staying in tarps rather than returning to our previous campsite as we waited for our quigloo mounds to harden overnight. When we woke up that morning, there was four inches of new snow on the ground, and when we reached the ridge the wind was blowing snow and making it difficult to stay upright on our skis. After a long, cold traverse along the ridge and a break in the trees on the far side, we continued uphill only to find more wind and dangerously steep terrain. We turned around to our previous campsite, following a more protected route below the ridge, and arrived after a final uphill to cook a long-awaited dinner. The next day, we followed a shorter route to an alternate campsite and arrived with enough time to mound and hollow our quigloos the same day and build a communal kitchen for all the student quigloo groups, complete with snow benches and counters. For our last two days, we spent most of each morning skiing, then ate a hot lunch and had classes in the afternoon, such a history class on water in the West and various leadership activities. We skied out early the next morning with light sleds but many experiences we never could have expected when we began.