HMI Gap: Life on First Expedition

Spring Semester in Patagonia

Written by Selena Lee and Alex Fogel

HMI Gap: Backcountry empanadasOur first expedition went faster than we imagined. We are a group of 6 girls who immediately connected through our shared passions for nature and the environment. We had orientation for the first couple of nights in Chile Chico where we learned more about everyone in the group whom we’ll be staying with for the next 80 days and got a basic idea of Patagonia. We were then split into tent/cook groups who we’d be cooking and sharing a tent with for the first expedition. We organised our expedition ration into two piles, one that would be delivered to us mid-way through the expedition. All the food was wrapped in plastic bags — 1 pound per bag — and based on a bulk ration system that allows for creativity and lots of cooking: flour, quinoa, oats, cookies, hummus powder, soy milk powder, cheese, etc. I (Selena), for one, was nervous about cooking, but once we got the hang of it, we started having some delicious gourmet meals like quesadillas, pizza, cinnamon rolls, empanadas and so much more. Food in the backcountry is so much better than you think and cooking in the backcountry is so much more fun and creative.

HMI Gap: Navigating through Parque PatagoniaOur first expedition took us through Parque Patagonia with absolutely stunning landscapes. Apart from hiking for most of our days, we also had a couple of layover days where we stayed in one campsite for 2 or more nights in a row. We got our re-ration on day 9, when most of our food from the first ration is gone and our backpacks were so much lighter! On an average hiking day, we wake up at 7, take down the tent and pack up, have breakfast, go over the route for the day, and start walking by 9:30. We’d walk in two groups, one starting 15 minutes before the other, which enabled us to move more efficiently and have the best trail conversations. Each group has a Leader of the Day (LOD), who manages navigation, breaks, and keeps everyone motivated. Everyone picks at their packed lunch during packs-off breaks and regularly swigs some Sprim (a fruity drink mix so sugary it hurts our teeth — we love it). We finish our route for the day and find a good place to camp around 3:30, set up, enjoy some personal time before cooking dinner. After dinner, usually around 7:30, we might have a Spanish lesson or a discussion about environmental ethics before the start of evening meeting, during which we share stories, play games, and discuss the plan for the next day. Finally, we all do a plank workout for around two minutes (our record is three!) before heading to bed.

Not every day was a hiking day, though. We had four layover days in total, which means we didn’t move our campsite that day. The first two layover days were the first two days of expedition, during which we learned basic backpacking skills like how to set up a tent, purify water, and cook nutritious meals on a single-burner stove. The third layover day was day 10. We slept in, had a Spanish lesson, and went on a short exploratory day hike before cooking lunch. In the afternoon, we reconvened for a group reading of Aldo Leopold’s “The Land Ethic” and then had personal time (PT) until dinner (my tent group made pizza!), which was followed by evening meeting. Our fourth and final layover day was day 13. We hiked up the valley we were camping in until we reached the end, where there was a stunning, bright blue, glacier-fed lake and a beautiful view. We spent some time swimming and hanging out there before walking back down the valley for PT, dinner, an environmental studies debate, and evening meeting. All-in-all, a wholly educational and enjoyable four layover days.

HMI Gap: Spring Semester in PatagoniaPatagonia is for sure one of the most beautiful places I (Selena) have ever seen – even in pictures. Being with a group of like-minded and inspirational individuals makes the experience much more meaningful. I constantly need to remind myself that I am living other people’s dream life, and I cannot express how appreciative I am of that. Sleeping in tents with no settlement – moving our home every night, not knowing where we’ll end up and what we’ll encounter. Listening to the water run in the river at night as we drift to sleep, literally living in the wilderness out of a backpack – how cool and free is that! I’m surrounded by laughter everyday with no distractions. I can finally feel myself living in the moment. I learned so much from this first expedition and I’ve never been more excited for more to come.

One of my (Alex’s) favorite moments was when all six of us girls were sitting together on the grassy bank of a river, enjoying the warm afternoon sun on our faces and the cool river water on our toes after a relaxed hiking day. We were just chatting, dancing and singing and being silly, eating cake scramble (it’s exactly what it sounds like) with our fingers, while surrounded by beautiful mountains with a view of glaciers in the distance and grazing cows in pastures on the other side of the river. One would think that after 16 days in the backcountry, sans indoor plumbing and modern conveniences like showers and laundry and kitchens and phones, that I’d be ready to come back civilization. But every day was filled with moments like these, and so as we were hiking with very light packs toward our pick up spot, I found myself a little bit sad to leave the backcountry and the simple joys that abound there.

Some highlights from the students:
Elise learned how to make pizza in the backcountry and loved it; Katie sat in a glacial river to ice her hips after a long day of hiking with an amazing view and even better company; Lauren swam in the really cold lake on our last layover day and mastered every game we played each night to conclude evening meeting; Deming climbed to the top of mound somewhere between hill and mountain during PT, saw how far we had come, and was amazed. Ultimately, this expedition has been marked by a wonder that is ever-present in breathtakingly beautiful, wild places like Patagonia.

P.S. major shout-out to our instructors: they make everything fun!