“One never reaches home,’ she said. ‘But where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.” Our time has come and gone, as last week the tight-knit Gap 2016 family said our inevitable, but nonetheless difficult goodbyes. Some students and instructors stayed in South America, while others returned home, all readying themselves for the next adventure. And while the home that we created in the last 80 days amongst the mountains of Colorado, Wingate walls of the desert southwest, and wild wind-swept valleys of Patagonia will dissipate as quickly and suddenly as they formed, the paths have been established. Like a kind of social, communal neuroplasticity, we have been invariably altered by the other individuals that built and fostered this home. So while the band is no longer together, the music it made rings on.
[OK, enough waxing poetic, lets talk about climbing]
The last two weeks of our time in Patagonia was spent at a small estancia in the shadow of Piedra Parada, or Standing
Rock. It is a land, like much of Patagonia that is in transition. Neighbors are still distant and travel on horseback is still common, but signs of modernity are creeping in. Generators drone and decked-out camper vans with solar arrays line the banks of the Chubut River. Estancias that formerly subsisted by running cattle and sheep, now rent campsites to climbers and kayakers, in addition to their lineal professions. It is an ideal setting not only to climb, but also to examine how a place comes to embrace a new identity and economic driver, a theme that we have examined throughout Gap.
Most days we walked into a dramatic canyon lined with towering rock walls of seemingly endless climbing routes. In the afternoons, we waded in the Chubut River on the edge of camp, cooked dinner among an international cadre of climbers, and named and befriended the numerous dogs and cats that wandered the Estancia (Stumpy, GriGri and Buttons 1 and 2). In other words, we made it home. Needless to say, this was the most luxurious point of our journey, with sunny weather, 14-hours of daylight, bathrooms and showers at the campground, and incredibly fun and well-equipped sport climbing. But an easily overlooked part of its luxury was its simplicity, in which most evenings you could find students in hammocks or on makeshift benches chatting and reading books (by the end of the course, the book swapping market was humming).
And while every student on the course led sport climbs and built and cleaned anchors in our time in Piedra Parada, it was the authentic community built around simplicity that resonated throughout almost every student’s Full Circle reflection (a closing piece of writing aimed at verbalizing the impact of the Gap experience). And so I want to return to the concept of home. As Robert Frost says, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Yes, we were captive to the community, the home, of Gap 2016, but as we all return home from this incredible journey, we will carry with us the knowledge that through simplicity, kindness, and acceptance we can create a home wherever we are.