HMI Gap: Inchworms, Salad Bowl, and Gray Jays

Student reflections from a 14-day backpacking trip through the Sawatch Range near Leadville, CO. 

Written by Emma Barker and Ruby Platt

“F-Trek 1” (short for “Fall Wilderness & Conservation Semester in the American West”) returned from our adventure in the Sawatch just two days ago. Among the 14 days packed full of wonderful memories, there are a few that truly stand out.

A day that turned out to be indicative of our expedition was when we travelled from Timberline Lake to Virginia Lake via the Continental Divide. It was a tough day of navigation with lots of bushwhacking to get to the ridgeline. Through several wrong turns and accidental ascents, our group supported each other and stayed incredibly positive. Finally, we scrambled up a steep boulder field and looked out at the Pacific watershed. It was a true mountaintop feeling. We threw a couple of snowballs at our instructors from a snowfield and made our way along the Divide, all feeling a bit giddy and more than a little tired. We ended our day by inchworm-switchbacking down a steep gravel slope into the bowl of pristine, blue-green Virginia Lake.

During the program orientation, our group made a goal to plan one special event for each expedition. In the Sawatch, we decided to play “Salad Bowl,” a charades-like competition played in rounds between two teams, in which we discovered the competitive side of our group. If you had dropped in on the scene, you would have witnessed one of our members acting out a “Gray Jay in dismay” from underneath a Tyvek ground tarp, another member twisting her ankle in a valiant effort to convey her clue, and another communicating “Sugar Loafin’ Campground” (where we held our orientation) through wild arm gestures. The game ended with the losing team performing an improv skit using clues from the game. It was a night full of belly laughs, capped off by stargazing while drinking hot chocolate. We all felt incredibly lucky to be with great people in such a spectacular place.

Yesterday, we left for Moab, Utah and the next phase of our adventure, looking forward to a new landscape and more opportunities to get to know each other better.