Gap: Eating Brownies In the Canyons

Part 1 Written by Ellie and Jonah and Part 2 by Georgia 

S Trek 1

Canyons: Part 1

Our first expedition in the canyons of Utah (near Moab) brought us lots of sun, rappelling, and brownie scramble. Very unlike our last expedition in Leadville, we spent most days in shorts and a t-shirt. For the first three days, we were in Moab doing trail work with a local company. This trail work involved covering up off-road Jeep tracks in order to preserve the area surrounding the Jeep path and to discourage other drivers from going off-road. While doing this trail work, our project leaders, Andy and Jack, filled us in on current environmental issues such as the Bears Ears controversy.

After full days of raking, shoveling, and collecting debris, we would return to our beloved front country campsite, Windwhistle Campground. It was so lovely that our veteran instructor Miles said it was the nicest front country campsite he had ever seen, and he has seen a lot of them. Front country camping is very popular among our group because we get to use the Coleman stoves, which are much more efficient than our backcountry stoves. Our time at Windwhistle was capped off with a sunset excursion to Needle Point, a viewpoint recommended to us by Jack.  We took in the most beautiful sunset any of us have ever seen. 

After three days in Moab, we loaded up our van and drove about two hours to our trailhead near Cheesebox Canyon and Jacob’s Chair. Our first day of hiking was quite strenuous considering we had full food bags and full droms (our vessels for storing water–they are 10 liters and full droms can weigh up to 20 pounds). Fortunately, it was only two miles to our campsite. This campsite would be home for three nights–which was very exciting for us because it meant three full days to cut down on food weight. In those three days, we learned the basics of rappelling by practicing on some nearby rock faces. Using these newly acquired skills, we hiked up Fry Canyon and then “dropped it”. We repelled into a slot canyon inside of Fry Canyon. It was about a 30 feet drop followed by a little swim in some freezing water. It was, undeniably, one of the coolest moments of the semester. Another part of our three-day stint at this campsite was learning how to log sightings of the endangered Pinyon Jay species that is native to the area. This is a project we will carry through into our next expedition. 

Our next adventure was the celebrated solo tradition. We all were dropped off in our own areas (all pretty spaced out but still within shouting distance). We got to spend 24 hours completely alone. One goal of the solo was to give us all time to work on our Personal Environmental Ethics Presentation (the PEEP) and our Full Circle (a presentation given on the last night to reflect and celebrate one’s experience within the group). After our solo time, we reunited and broke our silence with a group scream and then an exuberant game of Little Sally Walker. We then hiked about 7 miles to our next campsite. 

The next day was another push day–lots of distance to cover with some tricky navigation. We made it to our campsite just in time for dinner. That night our cook group had the breakthrough idea to fry our rice and bean burritos, which was truly a game-changer. 

We spent a layover day at this campsite. Unfortunately, it rained that whole night and continued to rain all through the day. Luckily, we found shelter in a cave which enabled us to have a very lazy day lounging around in our sleeping bags staring out at the canyon and Jacob’s Chair. We had some first aid classes and our culminating environmental studies discussion. 

Following a day very full of rest, we set out on our first independent student travel day. This meant we hiked separately from our instructor team (an exciting preview of what the last few days of our next expedition will be like). The hike was short, and we made it to camp before noon. We spent the afternoon working on ration plans with our new cook groups for the upcoming expedition. We had an early night, as we had a very early wake-up the next day. We had to be up at 5:30 AM so that we could hike out, make it to the van, drive to Blanding, and be ration shopping by 8:00 AM. After ration shopping, we got back in the van and drove all the way to Grand Junction, CO for our second dose of the vaccine. Though we spent hours in a very toasty van, we had a pretty delightful day capped off by a van dance party. Now, we are enjoying the luxuries of front country camping. This time, we even have cabins, showers, and a group pavilion. Our last 10 days were very enjoyable, and we cannot wait to start all over again now that we are clean and recharged.

Canyons: Part 2

After much planning and preparation, we headed into our final expedition in the canyons. During the first days, we presented our Personal Environmental Ethics Projects to the group. We spent the semester doing readings and classes on various topics regarding the environment, and this was our chance to put together our thoughts and what we would be taking from those classes into the future. With excitement for Independent Student Travel and with our intrepid student leaders, “Darkness” (Nick and Claire), we also quickly wrapped up our first aid curriculum and said goodbye to our beloved Instructor Team on the third morning of the expedition before heading out on our own. 

Excited jitters and plans for the rest of the expedition filled the air as we hiked together, the past semester filling us with confidence that we would have a great time together. Along with logging the Pinyon Jays Birds that we heard or saw along the way, we also passed many cows grazing and attempted to befriend many of them. During some of the early layover days, we painted our nails and had dance parties. We listened to music in camp and during dinner every night, with a playlist made before we left. 

Approximately halfway through exped, we took on Mesa Day, where we ascended Darkness Mesa, hiked seven miles along the top of it, and descended all in the same day! Everyone had boxed Mac and Cheese that night. After Mesa Day, we had 2 layover days in camp. We spent one walking through a slot canyon nearby, and the second resting and hanging out with one another. As we hiked to our last backcountry campsite, excitement skyrocketed for the last night. 

We had been carrying energy drinks (or your drink of choice) for the trip for a celebration on the last night. After dinner, we opened them, and the night began with a sunset dance party. We had a small fire, a long game of Paranoia, and lots of caffeine along the way. People started tapping out at midnight, but some of the more wired people made it through the night. That morning, we hiked the final two miles to our van, where the I-Team surprised us with root beer floats and a fun reunion. I don’t know if any of us expected our last expedition to be what it was, but I’m glad that it was. It was the perfect culmination to the semester, even if I’ll be sad to see everyone go.