We eleven members of Group A started our expedition feeling very excited and a little afraid. We’d been preparing for our trip for a few days and met our group members, but going into the field was going to be an entirely new experience. Fortunately, we were in good hands. Our instructors taught us to use a stove, pitch a tent, and make macaroni and cheese like professionals all by the end of the first day.
By the next morning, we were able to start relaxing and pay attention to the beautiful sky and amazing mountain views. That day, after a challenging climb up to a ridge, we sang songs from The Sound of Music to fit the fields of flowers we hiked through. Day three, the Fourth of July, was a layover day, where we spent time reading about the debate between rootlessness and rootedness, playing games, and enjoying a hail storm in the middle of a sunny afternoon! That evening, we celebrated the Fourth with a backcountry pizza lesson, cake, and glow-sticks.
Every day of the trip we became more confident backpackers and decision makers, especially during our days as LOD’s, or “Leaders of the Day.” Being an LOD meant helping to plan the route to the next campsite, and then getting their group to their destination safely. Throughout the day they have to balance their own decision-making with the opinions of the group, and make sure everyone is hydrated, fed, and having fun. Every person got to be LOD at least once on the trip. At the end of each day, LOD’s received feedback from their peers and had a chance to self-evaluate as well, all with the goal of improving their leadership abilities.
The last full day of our expedition, we left our campsite at 4:30 in the morning to watch the sunrise up on Homestake peak. By 8:00 AM, we were proud to have summited the mountain. We celebrated our victory with candy bars and flew a kite off the top of the 13,200-foot peak, then took half an hour of quiet thought to reflect on a wonderful trip. That night after games, many chose to sleep under the stars to savor our last night out in the wilderness.
Last Saturday our group of 32 split up. Two groups of 11 and one of 10 left campus and headed out for our first expeditions. We unloaded the bus, clipped our waist buckles, tightened straps, and headed out into the woods, 50 pounds on each of our backs. It was a new experience for many of us, and just another day of backpacking for some. We all bonded over learning on that first day, whether it was the best way to put on a pack, or interesting facts about our hiking buddies.
With three miles behind us, and three draining hours later, we breached through the trees into our first camp. We demonstrated our newfound knowledge of setting up our tents, and made our first meal, something we were still a little shaky on. After our stomachs were full of burritos, we sat down, a little confused, for our first evening meeting. Little did we know how important this daily hour-long get-together would become.
As the sun began to plunge behind the Mosquito Range we formed a circle in the center of camp, bug spray wafting through the air, hot drinks in hand. The meeting started with a discussion of our peaks, valleys, and horizons (our highlights and lowlights of the day, and what we were excited for in the future of the expedition). We then shifted into a group game, which quickly became our group’s favorite part of the day. The intense game of Big Booty lasted for 30 minutes. To close our meeting, we held a “Circle.” Our bubbly and competitive attitudes shifted immediately into more serious and contemplative states. In turn we each dug into our emotions and shared our hopes and fears for the expedition. Finally, we laid our exhausted selves to sleep in our tents, and fell into dreams. This first night set the tone for the rest of the evenings, both extremely fun and moving.
Two exhausting days later, full of games of Animal Master and Silent Football, baking lessons, and classes, our whole group headed off for the summit of Bald Eagle Mountain, for it was the Fourth of July. A chilly wind blew on our backs as we reached the Mars-like summit. Leadville was being illuminated only by the purple and orange sky, whose light was slowly fading. We waited silently. Finally, a slow ember rose from the town below us, followed by an almost indistinct “pop.” The fireworks started. We all suddenly burst into laughter and conversations. Eventually games erupted as well. This, I’m sure, was one of the most memorable moments for all the members of our group. But, like all things, the fireworks eventually ended. We transitioned into one of our most meaningful circles. The topic was moments we would never forget. Finally, we all wandered down into the valley, off to our tents, and fell asleep under the silent stars.
Summer Term 2016 at HMI started off about two weeks ago, and we have already learned so much about being in the backcountry as well as vital lessons for life. Before even entering the field, we learned how to pack a backpack correctly, use a Whisperlite stove, and rationed out more than a week’s worth of food. As the expedition continued, we took on more leadership roles, cooking our own meals in tarp groups, taking classes in the field about our role in an expedition group and in nature, and leading daily navigation as Leaders of the Day. Our lessons not only encompassed nature and leadership in our Practices and Principles classes, but we also understood our relationships to the new places we were exploring through science and literature in the Sense of Place classes.
We learned not only came from the classes, but also through our experiences as rookie hikers in a new environment. Expedition Group C proved to be a challenge-seeking, resilient, and supportive group, as we looked for new ways to challenge ourselves and our group members physically and mentally. A few ambitious hikers ventured out for a long trek across the Continental Divide, while others challenged themselves through a tricky day of navigation through heavily wooded areas. While the idea of “challenge by choice” was instrumental in the way we challenged ourselves, we all completed the expedition tougher both mentally and physically, and excited to continue growing on campus with new activities and classes.
Despite many new challenges and experiences in the field, a lot of fun was still to be had. We enjoyed nightly games, long days of conversation during our hikes, and even the first annual HMIFourth of July wiffle ball game in the field. Our instructors added to the fun by surprising us with baked goods when we summited a peak and on Fourth of July. The Fourth of July proved to be one of the most enjoyable days, as being a layover day we were able to learn and play a considerable amount, finishing off the night watching fireworks from Leadville before Circle.
The most vital element of our expedition was the bonding that came with living, learning, eating, and hiking with eight other students and three faculty for eight days. Nightly Circle was a consistent place to ask meaningful questions, give heartfelt responses, and listen intently and respectfully in a safe space. By the end of the expedition, we had all created new yet strong relationships with our peers and instructors. We had all changed for the better in the field, and as a group we bolstered each other up to higher personal heights.