Our group started off the trip with a short drive to our trailhead. After organizing our group gear, we began the ski to our first campsite. It took awhile for us to get use to the weight of our backpacks and sleds. We made it to our first camp in a couple of hours and began setting up our tarps and building our kitchen out of snow. The next day we woke up and skied to our next camp site where we mounded snow for our quigloos then returned to our first camp site. On the third day we dug out our quigloos and settled down for the next three days. On a typical layover day we woke up around 7:30 to cook breakfast and get ready for the day. Most mornings were spent on ski tours around Homestake Peak. We would skin up a slope then take the skins off of our skis and enjoy some nice snowy turns, getting back to camp just in time for a hot lunch! In the afternoons we would have class and free time to complete homework or play games. Starting around 4:00 each evening we began cooking appetizers and our dinner. After eating, everyone met up for Circle where we talked about the plan for the next day and answered the daily Circle question, which could range from silly to serious to inspiring. Most nights we were given some free time for a students-only Circle after the initial Circle. On the last full day of our trip we had the chance to summit Homestake Peak. It was a very warm day and the group felt extremely accomplished when we made it to the top!
After preparing for the trip and getting all of our food we were ready to get on the road. We got into the van, and sat for the fifteen minute drive to the trailhead leading us into the backcountry. We got our skis and skins on and headed up to our first campsite, where, nestled in the trees, we dug into the snow, then put a tarp above us for a comfortable first night. From there we made breakfast, and hit the trail again, going up to our first quigloo site. We mounded snow, and left it to harden overnight. The following day we hollowed out the mound of snow, and created a roomy four-person space to sleep that protected us from the harsh weather outside. We stayed at two of these quigloo sites during the trip. A typical day at a quigloo site included a luxurious 7:15am wake up and some breakfast. We then would get all ready, and so some laps on a nearby hill. Then we would come back to the site for a late lunch, and do some homework. Then we might have a discussion-based class on a reading. An interdisciplinary theme that we discussed throughout the trip was water in the west, whether that be in math, history or science. In math we learned about mathematical models, and wrote a response on if we think these models are useful for tracking water. In history we read about the progression of westward movement, and how water had an affect on the migration. One piece of the reading was a chapter of the book Cadillac Desert which is one of the staple pieces of literature covering the American West. In science we learned more about snow, and studied our snow homes—specifically how temperature is different in, and outside of the quigloos. At our last campsite, on the last morning we woke up extra early and watched the sun slip over the mountain ranges, and light up the sky with incredible hues of orange, yellow and red. We got everything packed away, and, with mixed feelings, made our last descent down to the van for the quick ride back to HMI.
As we were the last group to leave campus we said our final goodbyes among an empty Who’s Hall. After a short drive to our trailhead, we prepared our packs, skis, and sleds for our first leg of the expedition. We embarked with all of our gear and food for the entire expedition starting with the steepest hill of the entire trip. We landed at our tarp site a few hours after and went to work digging out sites to place our tarps. After we were done, we got dinner cooking in our new snow kitchens to finish out the day. The next day we woke up early to get up to our quigloo site. After a couple hours of skinning, we arrived on site and began building up large, round snowpiles which in turn were dug out into quigloos the next day. After spending all day digging out our quigloo sites, including snow kitchens, a meditation chamber, and a cozy, round family table, we got into our sleeping bags a bit earlier. The following three days were filled with plenty of ski hills, classes, and (mock) avalanche rescues. Then, we were thrown into the midst of a raging snowstorm and spent the entire time cooking, reading, and talking together bundled in sleeping bags and jackets all crowded into the same quigloo. After the three days were up, we picked up our packs and sleds, covered up our kitchens and sites with snow, and traversed across Zion ridge to our second and final quigloo. We mounded our quigloos upon arrival and slept that night in tarps. The next day after mounding we had a bit of chill time until dinner. The final days of our trip were spent skiing the massive ski hill right below our quigloos, engaging in class discussions, and writing of all kinds. Our group seemed to become a little closer everyday. Every inside joke, or ineffable moment gave us a sense of togetherness, until we became truly inseparable. Everyone in our group got along perfectly, if we ever were found arguing or “yelling” it was undoubtedly a joke as we never became truly upset with each other. Every night was filled with laughs and hugs. On the last night, as we sat in our final Circle, we all expressed the sentiment of dread to return to “the real world.” It seemed that what we found on that trip was irreplaceable and as we said on that last night, it was hard to leave an experience that was so perfect. However, we will always have the fantastic memories and accomplishments to remember and draw from.
This expedition was off to a much smoother start than the first: with all of us already comfortable both with each other and our backcountry skills, the learning curve was definitely not as steep. We all still had to do some adjusting to dragging heavy sleds uphill on skis, especially when the sleds kept breaking, but luckily we were all in the same boat! We reached our first campsite with enough time to dig out our tarp space and build ourselves a “Gretchen” (a group kitchen!). After the night in the tarps, we headed out early the next morning to mound quigloos at the next site, which was well-sheltered below the treeline and had a beautiful view of the Sawatch mountain range. The group spent a few peaceful days there, ski touring, melting snow for water (pine needle tea was a big hit), and holding our own Olympics with events ranging from limbo to ninja—a good time was had by all. The day after the Olympics, we all headed off to our second campsite to mound more snow, after which we would return to our old site to let the snow harden. Upon arrival, several members of the group had doubts about our ability to survive in the intense wind above the treeline, but we persevered and were productive enough that we finished the majority of the quigloo carving by the end of the day. The next day we returned to our new homes, ready to make it work. And we did! After the first day, the wind was noticeably calmer, and the sun was out almost every day. We enjoyed a couple of days of combined ski touring and classes, honing our expedition behavior, learning about Gender and Leadership, and writing poetry for English Class. On our last full day, we decided to take advantage of the cornice our camp was built into, and filmed a music video for “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen (in between skiing and sledding down the hill right next to our quigloo, of course). That night we hosted our final Circle under the spectacular stars, and everyone was sad to be leaving such a unique place. But on this expedition, everyone had people they had missed and were excited to see again, so the next morning we packed up our bags, collapsed a quigloo, and headed down the mountain eager to return to our home at HMI. We made it back to HMI in time for lunch, and spent the rest of the day de-issuing, sharing stories with everyone on campus, and reflecting on the incredible experience had by everyone on the trip.
We left campus on Wednesday with our skis, backpacks and sleds all packed up, ready for our ten-day expedition. We drove to the gravel pit site and started skinning to our first campsite. The first two nights, we slept in tarps that covered a huge hole we had dug out to sleep in. We skied to our first quigloo site to shovel snow into mounds. The next day, we skied back to the site with all of our gear to dig out our first quigloo and camped there for three nights, taking trips to prepare for the building of our next quigloo. On the fourth morning, we did a little bit of skiing and had a class on avalanche safety. The fifth day was our second mounding day. Temperatures dropped with the cloudy sky and snow fell for almost the entire day. We finished mounding quickly and got back to camp. The next day was the day we summited Homestake. We left camp early and headed up the eastern ridge of the mountain. The wind and cloudy conditions prevented the group from skinning all the way up, so near the top everyone took off their skis and we boot packed it the rest of the way to the peak. Everyone was extremely excited about summiting Homestake and we stayed on top for a couple minutes to take pictures and rehydrate. We then walked down to our skis and skied the rest of the way down the mountain. When we got down, we ran into Group A at their mounding site and took the time to ski a lap with them. On Friday, we had the option of going skiing or playing some games like volleyball. The next day, we had some classes and ended the night with a fun game of Winter Olympics. The last morning, we packed our sleds for the last time and skied out four miles, back to the bus and to HMI.