HMI Gap: Alpine Ridges, Golden Aspens, and Rock Climbing!

Rock Climbing Group (F-Rock)

Our semester began at the Inn the Clouds Hostel in Leadville Colorado. We began bonding through games, short hikes, and laughter. All too quickly our days went from the luxury of heated rooms and mattresses to sleeping bags underneath a four person tent that rattled with the nightly wind.

Our first day on the Sawatch Expedition began with a short hike to Timberline Lake. As we all got settled and finished cooking our first meal in the backcountry, we continued our tradition in coming together as a community through a practice we call Circle. Our Leader of the Day (LOD) posed a single question to be answered by the group. These questions ranged from ‘what is something you are proud of?’ to ‘if you were a clothing item, what would be your wash and care instructions?’  After circle we stayed up late sharing memories of home and excitement of the semester to come. 

HMI Gap, golden aspens, fall foliage, sawatch mountains, backpacking, rock climbing and conservation

The next day we ventured off trail to Virginia Lake where Grace, one of our instructors, spent the better part of the evening fishing. Unfortunately for us, no one had fresh fish for dinner. Our next day we woke up to the below-freezing air, and the big 600 foot ascent in front of us. Before heading out, we discussed our different frameworks in the environmental ethics debate and learned that over the course of the semester we will be tasked to eventually develop our own set of environmental ethics.

Once we were all warmed up, we split up into three groups and huffed and puffed up to the ridge–the altitude plaguing those from the concrete jungles. Once at the top, we slowly made our way down the ridge to our next campsite at Hagerman Lake. We spent two nights at Hagerman Lake. The extra time in our schedule—a “layover” day—meant we could learn how to bake backcountry pizza, climb at a nearby boulder field, play plenty of games and enjoy shooting stars as they streaked across the sky.

HMI Gap, sawatch mountains, alpine ridge, rock climbing and conservation

Over the next 3 days, we hiked a total of 21 miles. In those days we enjoyed watching the aspen leaves turn gold. The perfect fall weather made the steep inclines on trail a bit easier to ascend. During our hiking breaks and in the flat sections we kept the conversations lively!  On our last official day of backpacking many of us chose to wake up before the sun to attempt an off trail ridge summit of Mt.Elbert—Colorado’s highest fourteener. Upon reaching a high alpine saddle and getting lambasted by 50 mph gusts, we decided to bail on our summit attempt for risk management reasons. While initially disappointing to leave the summit behind, once we were down below treeline and back in the the golden aspens, our tired legs were soothed to have a whole free afternoon to hang out by the river at our final camping site–Monitor Rock.

The next 2 days were spent “learning the ropes” of rock climbing, power screaming our way through ab workouts led by Laria, Eli and Haley, and making some epic meals (cheesy stuffed crust backcountry pizza, anyone?) We spent our last night in the field re-enacting our favorite memories from the expedition. The next morning, we packed our bags and boarded the bus with dirt ladened faces, and headed back to HMI’s campus ready for our first showers in 10 days. Now, with full bellies and hair smelling of fresh shampoo, we are excited to enter our next journey into the desert of Moab, Utah.