HMI Gap: High Hopes and Hungry Minds

Rock climbing, Rifle Mountain Park, Gap year, Adventure and Conservation

A student’s account of the first two “climbing basecamps” in the Rock Climbing & Conservation Semester.

Written by: Clara Mizock

An excellent second expedition has come to a close. We’ve taken the next step in our climbing progression by diving headfirst into sport climbing and dipping our toes into traditional climbing. 

This leg of our trip kicked off in the sport climbing mecca of Rifle Mountain Park, a slick limestone canyon with a mossy stream running down the center. Our time in Rifle was defined by tricky sport climbs, stunning starwalks in the canyon, and Oreo-stealing raccoons. 

Despite having our own section of a campground, we were displeased to discover that we weren’t alone. We awoke after our first night to a kitchen that had been raided by some midnight marauders: raccoons. Cook groups mourned the loss of Oreos (double-stuffed!), tortillas, and granola bars. One individual, Noah, was specifically targeted, losing his bowl and finding his journal shredded. We were severely shaken up by this attack, yet we persisted. This experience taught us to secure our food exceptionally well by using rocks and benches to sabotage the raccoons’ mission.  

After our evening meetings in Rifle, we started our “night walks” ritual. We’d all walk down the canyon, guided by our headlamps and occasionally the moon, and sit in a shallow cave underneath a crag known as the Project Wall. Sitting in that cave with fun conversations and watching the stars twinkle was a wonderful way to end the day, bonding as a group and learning more about each other and the experiences we’ve had. 

A new addition to our expedition schedule has been going to the grocery store to shop for our own food. All groups were quite ecstatic to be shopping on their own; however, this has had its own learning process. To begin with, it turned out to be more complicated than we expected to plan 8 days of backcountry meals and to stay on budget. This resulted in some groups shopping under and over the budget and picking out some truly interesting food items. They seemed like a good idea…. 

On our final morning in Rifle, we packed into Scott (our 15-passenger van) and headed to Utah. We were awe-struck by the desert landscape, but perhaps even more impressive were the crowds at the grocery store. Managing to stay distanced amid these crowds presented a new and unexpected challenge. After a long day of driving, shopping, and laundry, our spirits were reignited by a jam session inside of Scott. Instructor Brad drove us in a circle around our campsite as we blasted 2000s hits, making us all reminisce of our middle school music tastes and get totally psyched to spend time in our new desert home.

As our bodies start to deteriorate after multiple days of climbing, some rest days were quite necessary. To fill up these days, we did a combination of trail maintenance, lessons, and personal time to give our climbing muscles a break. So far, we’ve done three days of trail work in both Rifle with the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and Moab with Trail Mix. We’ve built staircases out of boulders and erased false “social” trails with rakes and dead trees.

It turns out our “rest days” are still pretty exhausting, so we’ve recently taken a few proper days off from physical activity, briefly turning our course from “F-Rock” to “F-Sit.” These days usually have a later wake-up time and some designated personal time. You could say we’re living in style. These rest days also include special events, such as a group potluck and a celebration of Henry’s 19th birthday. We designated the majority of the afternoon to have some fun birthday activities: eating donuts hung on a string without hands and a Henry-themed jeopardy.

We now begin our trad progression in the mythical Indian Creek with high hopes and hungry minds, ready to climb cracks of sandstone in one of the world’s most famous and sacred climbing locations