Gap: The Luxuries of Base-camping and the Intricacies of the Canyons

HMI Gap, canyon, backpacking, Bear's Ears, canyoneering, adventure and conservation

Part One: Enjoying Base Camping’s Little Luxuries

Written by: Ky and Pearl

This past week has been exceptional. We feel a lot more connected as a unit and to our environment. There were tons of new and exciting memories made. The I-team helped us get through it all. One of our highlights for the week was being placed in new tent groups and cooking meals together. Coming up with creative meal plans in the backcountry has certainly given us a new perspective on cooking in general and the meaning of food. It makes us want to keep pushing ourselves to have more fun and explore other eating options. We found it exciting to learn the mechanics of working a two-burner camp stove (as opposed to the one-burners we’ve grown accustomed to) and find more versatile methods to use ingredients and spices.

We spent 7 days “base-camping” in Moab and enjoyed the little luxuries of front country life like campfires at night, more kitchen tools and food options, listening to 2000s hits in the van, and sitting in chairs rather than on the ground. We worked 3 days with Trail Mix, a local group that builds and maintains trails on public lands in the area. We had such a blast clearing brush, digging out a path, and moving huge rocks to create a new section of the world-renowned Whole Enchilada mountain biking trail. Through the whole week, both HMI Gap groups collectively created 4000 feet of new trail! Additionally, we also learned about desert ecology and how the lands we worked on are being affected by climate change. While continuing our trail work duties, our group spent two full days of learning how to rock climb and rappel in preparation for our upcoming 15-day canyoneering expedition.

Not only did we all have a fantastic time scrambling up and down the rock face, we were also kept amused by our talented, highly requested improv comedy group (i.e. our peers). Surprisingly, we ran into the HMI Gap Climbing and Conservation Semester who were welcoming and gave helpful advice on rock climbing techniques. 

Our base-camping mini-expedition ended with a night by the fire, eating s’mores, lounging under the stars, laughing, sparking many conversations and stretching the as for long as we could.

Part Two: Thanks, Erosion, for Making The Canyons! 

Written by: Maya and Erin

And again we’re back to the land of wheels and water from faucets after a wonderful two weeks in the Jacob’s Chair area!

We began our expedition at the confluence of White and Fry canyons, and the next 15 days were spent up high on the mesas and down in the canyons between as we completed a wide loop around Found Mesa. 

Unlike on the first expedition, we began this one already familiar with all the basic skills necessary to survive in the wilderness. While this made the transition into backcountry life more familiar, the new environment came with some new procedures for sustaining life and opportunities to try new systems. In the Sawatch, for example, we did not need to fight the tiny army of grainy sand which liked to invade our stove. We also developed a new appreciation for ample water. Each day we had to go on “water missions” to find the potholes hidden in the depths of canyons and drainages. Since these could sometimes take hours, no one was about to take their tea or pasta for granted. The most dramatic new activity, though, was definitely the canyon runs we were able to do in Fry and Gravel canyons. For most of the group, it was our first time rappelling at all. If you are not familiar with rappelling, imagine scaling down the side of a building Mission-Impossible style. In our case, we had helmets, moved at slower speeds, and did not get to play theme music. 

Once we had descended into the deep slot canyons–where we sometimes landed in water–we were in awe of walls just 3 feet across sculpted by millena of erosion. These new skills let us experience some of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes in the world. 

The Utah canyons asked us to think differently about what is usually taken for granted. Texture and pattern in the rock is a constant reminder of the sheer power of wind, water, and time. Ruins perched high on the canyon walls compel you to think about the intertwining nature of people and place, the force of history, and what it means to walk on stolen land. It was amazing to bring these perspectives to discussions on land ethics, conservation, and management, both as a group and with two different service partners, Jack from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Misti from the Bureau of Land Management. Our service time was also made exciting by efforts to keep our food safe from marauding ravens and mice, who claimed many a pound of cheese and granola for their own.

We emerged from the desert ready for some quality showers and time in Moab. We were lucky enough to be joined by HMI Gap’s founders Chris and Becca, and their (adorable) baby Aven for dinner in town, where everyone was able to get their fix of burgers, or, in the case of this post’s writers, lots of delicious veggies. Next stop? Back to (snowy!) Leadville, and then off to continue the adventure in Patagonia. Hasta luego!