On January 27th our expedition groups departed the HMI campus and headed out to the Utah Canyons. The bus ride from Colorado to Utah was silent, due to the fact that none of us knew each other quite well yet, which made us all wonder what the next eleven days were going to be like. Though it was scary to venture off to a new place with eleven new people, nerves were shortly lifted and laughter filled the remainder of the time. Food was the main conversation topic for the majority of the trip as we lived off of lots of cheese, peanut butter, and the occasional veggie. The best meal that we made would have to have been the “brownies.” These were not traditional brownies and could be seen as brownie soup due to their non-traditional consistency, but we quickly discovered that everything tastes better in the backcountry and greatly appreciated our rare desert. Near the middle of the trip, we had a long and difficult day of hiking. Eight miles on a dirt road sounds easy until you actually have to do it. We arrived to our campsite late but as we got there we were able to witness the most magnificent sight we had ever seen. The sunset was visible to the west, and to the east the sky was pitch black save for the moon rising in sync with the sun lowering. Not only did we get the opportunity to experience the simultaneous sunset and moonrise that night, but later we had the opportunity to see the lunar eclipse. Near the end of the expedition, our group sat down for Circle to wrap up the day, and were greeted by a ten second long shooting star that every single person in the expedition group had the opportunity to enjoy. Our expedition group also got to enjoy a walk through ice-cold water on one of our hiking days. Through long days we were able to form bonds that will last a lifetime. This expedition was an amazing, unforgettable experience that leaves us connected to not only one another, but also the canyons.
Our crew of 13 had a great time in Jacobs Chair and Cheesebox area, with Coco and Timbah as our fearless leaders! We trekked through the desert, scaled canyon walls, discovered ancient caves, and climbed our way through slot canyons. The sunrises and sunsets bookended each day at the various beautiful campsites where we came to rest our tired bodies. Each night we gathered together for Circle, often distracted by the incredible clarity of the stars or moon. There, we would connect, share, listen, laugh, dance, and leave Circle with a greater appreciation for each other every time. If you were to have encountered our group in the desert, you probably would have seen us orienting the map, laughing about funny mishaps, reciting Vines, storm-proofing the area (very important), dawning our finest clothes (or ground cloths) for our fashion show, making pizza, eating hot chocolate powder, drinking matte, or simply gazing at the beautiful scenery around us. It was a crew of 13 best friends that returned on the bus February 6th, all ready to take on HMI, and the showers.
Wowza, what a trip! Semester 40 went to the stunning region of Bear’s Ears, in the canyons of Utah. Our expedition group took a route around Jacobs Chair, an imposing piece of rock that looks decidedly like a bench or a shoe depending on the viewing angle. In the first half of our trek, we explored the area around Long Canyon as we navigated along it. On the third day, we took a much needed break from hauling our packs. During that rest day, we did a short hike up a nearby mesa where expansive views of Cowboy Canyon, Gravel Canyon, and Aztec Butte, (along with a windy study hall) greeted us. Many long hiking days followed that, filled with games and conversation on the trail, and great food (pizza, cheesy hashbrowns, noodles with peanut sauce, cheesy pesto bagels, and brownie scramble—we ate quite extravagantly). We experienced relatively mild weather throughout the trip, which lead to a constant bombardment of beautiful views of vast stretches of buttes, mesas, canyons, pinion pines, juniper bushes, and redrock. Relatively mild weather until the last day that is. We had decided to sleep out under the stars (which were usually stunning) as an expedition group, despite reservations about some ominous cloud. It is the desert, we figured, it hardly rains. Lo and behold, we awoke at midnight to the start of a downpour. We had set up our tarps ahead of time as a precaution though, so we still had a dry spot to scurry to, fortunately! It is hard to overstate the impact of the bonding experiences, such as that one, had on our expedition group. Despite only having been together for 11 days, it feels as if we have known everyone for months if not years.
Eleven kids, eleven days, eleven packs, one canyon. We drove to our trailhead after a six hour drive of nonstop music, our first real bonding experience. We all discovered our collective love for the song Big Fish by Vince Staples. As the road thinned out, the terrain became new, alien. To a canyon newcomer, it truly feels like you are on Mars. As the sun set, bright red and orange hues reflected on the mesas and butes that stick out of the flat landscape like towers. The first night, as we made cheesy mac, it seemed to be written in the stars that food would be the sacred, twelfth member of our expedition group. Many of our best memories revolve around group kitchen nights (when we all cooked together) and extra treats from the instructor team during Circle (scrambled brownies, to be exact). During one of our layover days, we had an elaborate pizza party that started at 4:00 with the assembly of the dough. Taught by the stars of the Great British Baking Show, Petunia Flower-Garden, Jacques, and Julia Child (the instructors in disguise), we were shown how to make pizza dough in the backcountry. After the dough was made, we basked in the warm Utah sun, dough bags inside of our shirts to allow them to rise (our dough “babies”), doing homework and braiding hair. Once the dough had risen and sun went down, we set up the group kitchen and made some of the best pizza we have ever had. Slathered in tomato sauce, vegetables, all kinds of dairy and non-dairy cheese, we feasted as though we had never eaten before. Our night was not truly complete until we made scrambled brownies: a backcountry concoction consisting of partially cooked brownie mix and water. Bellies full and kitchens cleaned, we lay together on the slickrock, watching the brilliant stars. Nights were some of the most memorable parts of expedition. We all shared vulnerable, silly, and reflective moments under the Utah sky. The last night, we even slept outside, staying outside of our tarps even as it started raining. Driving out of the canyons in our bus, we experienced a truly cyclic moment, as the instructors turned on Big Fish by Vince Staples one more time.
On January 27th we loaded up the trailer with our backpacks then hopped into the van for the 8 hour drive to the canyons in southeastern Utah. It was an exciting moment to finally be at HMI and leaving for our first expedition. Our first days in the backcountry were long hiking days with many classes in between but they were also full of fun games and stories. The first half of our trip was in preparation for “mesa day” which would be the day where we would ascend a 300 foot mesa then hike 7 miles along a road and then later that day descend the mesa is a different spot. Mesa day was one of the most intense days of the course because it physically takes a lot to hike that much while keeping a strong metal state. This day really brought us together as a group because for a good chunk of the day while we were ascending and descending we hiked together rather than in two hiking groups. Once we got to the top of the mesa we took time to capture the view which was absolutely stunning. We were able to see the canyon we had just hiked along, the mesas that were beside us and the mountains in the background. The descent off the mesa was also an exciting time. We ended up having to do it in the dark with headlamps and a couple pack passes along the way. Once we were off the mesa we still had to hike more to our actual campsite and find water which can be tricky in the canyons. As we were hiking to our campsite we walked into a pothole full of water and decided we were going to camp there for the night. We all gathered together and just looked up at the clear sky where we could see hundreds of stars, which was an amazing end to our day. That night we all slept out under the stars and felt proud of what we had accomplished. Our evening Circle topic was a six word story which was a powerful and rewarding way for us to reflect on what we had just done together. The rest of our expedition was also very exciting and full of more stories as we became closer. But mesa day is something that we’ll all remember when we think back to HMI in a couple of months.