HMI Gap: “Today I learned to appreciate the simple things.”

Rock climbing group

Written by Katie Moody and Andrew Vincent

As we unzipped the tent, the snow that lay crusted on the synthetic exterior, accumulated during the frigid night, tumbled onto our heads. While we were boiling some water for breakfast, an instructor trudged through the wet snow to our makeshift kitchen to announce that we would stay put for the day, and wait for a break in the weather to continue on our path through the Sawatch Range. The morning passed with interactive lessons on communication styles and leadership philosophy. Katie perched on her backpack, clutching her hot drink or doing jumping jacks to stay warm. David and Shaw, two of the instructors, introduced an alternative means of warming up called the “boot dance,” which became quite popular. After lunch, the sun finally broke through, and we set off on a walk in the hills above our camp. Thanks to the sun and exercise, the icy feet finally started to thaw. A frozen wonderland stretched before us: white capped pines, a sparkling lake, a mountain ridge, and clear blue sky. After all the miles backpacked burdened by heavy gear, and struggling through the cold and high altitude, the view felt worth the hardships.

If we had to describe our first expedition in one word, it would be ‘humbling.’ During our nine days in the mountains around Leadville, we became comfortable in the backcountry. Our stellar instructors–Hannah, David, and Shaw–taught us to set-up sturdy tents, cook mouthwatering pizzas, navigate through Colorado’s challenging terrain, identifies aspects of the mountain ecosystem, and laid the groundwork for a blossoming community.

Most days we spent backpacking; a designated leader of the day (LOD) helped guide three peers between ‘X’s on the map. Along the way we got to know each other by trading stories, laughs, and goggling over animal footprints. In the evenings we made camp, taking turns setting up tents, cooking dinner, and filling dromedaries in our small tent groups. Our instructors led us in discussions about the value of wilderness, or the benefits of living without our phones.

Scribbled in our journals are the moments that defined this expedition. Driving into Leadville on the first day, our bus filled with exclamations at the massive mountains around us (including aptly named Mt. Massive). There was the night at 11,000 feet, where the pink sunset and full moon awed us into silence. Or the many ‘climbing words of the day’, such as ‘chuffer,’ ‘beta,’ or ‘on sight,’ delivered by the experienced (read: jargon heavy) climbers in our group. Or learning to dig ventilation tunnels into our tents in the middle of the night to prevent asphyxiation by snow.

On our last day, we visited a local climbing site, Monitor Rock, located a few miles outside of Leadville. A variety of routes accommodated both the more hardcore climbers and those who were climbing outside for the first time. In the midst of our excitement to finally climb, Colorado in October, of course being itself, decided to snow on us one last time. As gray clouds and snow began to rush across the valley, our climbing session sadly came to an end. Despite the storm, HMI Gap Director, Becca brought a birthday cake to celebrate the up- and-coming climber, Andrew Vincent’s nineteenth birthday, keeping spirits high.

During our first expedition, we learned to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. After the night of the surprise snowstorm, I wrote in my journal: “Today I learned to appreciate the simple things, like dry socks, and oxygen.” HMI has already exposed us to breathtaking natural environments, challenged us as leaders, climbers, and community members, and created a lot of psyche for what is to come.

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