Semester 46: First Expedition

Written by: Rabbit, Tate, Sienna, Maya, and Brody

Group A: On Friday, January 29th, Barrett, Dylan, and Brenna leaned over the front row of seats on the short bus, beaming at 10 new eager faces, and thus began Group A’s expedition to Jacob’s Chair! That very evening, the students set up their tarps for the first time just as the dense grey clouds opened up over them. Between the wind, snow, rain, and cheerfully eaten bowls of peanut butter on pasta, that evening was a harsh beginning for many. The sleet and the cold were followed by a splendid sunrise the next morning. Spirits rose as the group walked along the road, stumbling under the heavy packs that can be expected from a bunch of first-time backpack packers. Travelling around Found Mesa for a few days, the crew of strangers quickly gravitated towards one another’s similarities, as they shared moonlit circles, whisper-light meals, and canyon explorations. But soon the expedition ventured off of the comfort of a dirt road, and the speedy, social hiking days became more technical as they wound twisting paths through the forests of crypto. At the halfway point, students descended into Gravel Canyon, the smooth slickrock walls rising to obscure more of the sky with each step. But as soon as the canyon surrounded the group, they made it up the other side, using conversations and sturdy supporting hands to help everyone up the technical hike. With Gravel Canyon and half of the exped behind them, the sweaty group of teenagers and instructors took every moment to heart. They drank in the nightly stars, the array of colors on the horizon, and each fit of laughter. The camping lifestyle was a breeze at this point, so students focused on their classwork and the towering rocky surroundings over the following days. On the final layover day, a few folks ventured into the cool, echoey depths of Cowboy Canyon, only to emerge from it’s splendor to a dinner of fresh backcountry pizza. Sadly, a few cool mornings later the bus, a mere white splotch on the horizon, came into view. This marked the last stretch of trail before the parking lot. The students enjoyed this final leg of their journey in reflective silence. With hearts full of love for the grimy faces around them, minds full of excitement for a shower and a Chipotle lunch, and a few eyes full of happy tears, Group A boarded the bus at last. This marked the end of the stunning expedition in the red rock canyons and mesas.

Group B, led by Libbey, Blake, Sam, and Amy, traveled through Gravel, Cheesebox, and White Canyons. The group started and ended hiking with views of Jacob’s Chair, completing several canyon crossings. The many photographers in the group had no shortage of artistic inspiration: the colorful and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, the native plants of the area, and the sheer faces of canyons and mesas alike. On layover days, Group B enjoyed exploring deeper into canyons with our daypacks, ‘ramen bombs,’ and making up games together. There were several encounters with mice, which led to the loss of some tortillas and cheese. Despite this, our culinary experimentation was not discouraged; students and faculty enjoyed pizza made from scratch, monkey bread, brownie scramble, sweet calzones, and ‘dessert couscous’. Throughout the expedition, Leaders of the Day (LODs) proved their newfound navigational skills by leading their student groups through the desert and “trapping the X”. Group cohesion and morale grew through deep conversations and singing the Spongebob Squarepants theme song. Near the end of the expedition, the group hiked on a dirt road that hugged Found Mesa – they moved quickly without worrying about trampling the cryptobiotic soil, and group bonds were strengthened by carrying on conversations walking side-by-side. All in all, Group B had an incredible adventure in Utah! 

Group C, led by Dylan, Jessi, and Kienen journeyed in Gravel Canyon, Found Mesa and Jacob’s Chair. In the early nights of Gravel Canyon, tarp groups got to peak out of their tents at the crystal-clear night sky as if somebody pried the canyon open just for them. Every night was filled with beautiful sunsets, stargazing, and pika rituals. Their pika rituals echoed “CHOOMKA” through the canyons all the way back to Leadville. The hikes were just as eventful, with the game of “word murder” always going on the trail. One of the best murders was done by Luly when they got Henry to say calzone. A particularly fun day was when the Instructor Team (I-Team) surprised the group with an exploration down a slot canyon. The group went down into Cowboy Canyon by a hand line, where they got to explore, climb, laugh, and sunbathe. Later that day, a few tarp groups either made naan bread or ate peanut butter for dinner. The peanut butter and cheese were necessities for the group. The I- Team especially craved cheese, trading with every tarp group for more. In the end we gave kudos to Tommy, the bus, for getting the group to and from Southern Utah safely without breaking down… we love you Tommy!

Group D was led by Garry, Alex, Joanie, and Leslie. On the ninth day of the group’s trip, they ascended and descended a mesa. They woke up early this morning, so early that it was still pitch black outside. They prepared breakfast to fuel them for the day and made a hardy lunch that they would later eat atop the mesa. Once breakfast was eaten, the groups backed up their gear, put their packs on, and met for a morning circle. After the circle was done, the hiking day began. Although the morning was cold, the group was told by their I-team, “be bold, start cold.” A bit worrisome at first, but a good piece of advice as the hiking quickly warmed us up. Getting to the mesa was easy enough. Over the past eight days, the group was in good shape and completed that task quickly; however, ascending the mesa was a whole different story. The adults went ahead to set up the hand rope while the students waited behind. When they were ready, students began to climb over the rocks and make their way to the hand rope, all while carrying their heavy packs. Once they made it to the hand rope, they took their packs off and used the rope to make it over a ledge. Luckily, the I-team was also there to lend a hand. Once they made it up the hand rope, their packs were passed up to them, and they carefully made their way up the rest of the mesa. Once the whole group made it to the top of the mesa, they were split into smaller hiking groups led by the day’s student leader. The hike atop the mesa was long but not too challenging since it was all along a dirt road. Once the two groups met up on the other side of the mesa, it was time to make the descent together. It was steep and scarier for some than others, but everyone made their way down the steep landscape. Once they made it to the bottom, it was time to walk the rest of the way to the next campsite, and that would complete the group’s ten-mile mesa day hike!

Group E, led by Hayden, Sam, Gus, and Nadia, navigated around Long Canyon and Jacob’s chair. The expedition revolved around Hayden’s stuffed dinosaur “Earl” as the mascot. They had a birthday party for him with funfetti cake, and a dinosaur egg full of watermelon trolli gummies. Speaking of food, the boys tarp group somehow received extra cheese, so cheesy pasta with vegetables and salami was a staple dinner. Conversely, the I-Team ran low on food, and in return for hash browns, Hayden cooked the girls tarp groups delicious backcountry pizzas. With leftover dough, they ate cinnamon rolls to fuel up for the 10.5 mile mesa day. This long day ended with a descent down a wall using a handline. They had many of these “geologic challenges” when navigating the slot canyon, one of everyone’s favorite days. Along with hiking, they also bonded through playing games. Animal master was one of their favorites, and the moo-off endings were always hilarious. The end of our expedition went out with a bang with a fashion show featuring La chiquita bonita, Big Debris, Mom & Dad, and more.