Gap: The Last Expedition

Written by Hazel, S-Trek 2

We began our last expedition by “running” Fry Canyon– a deep slot canyon with a required repel.  It was a gorgeous day, and we were excited to be walking again after a couple of weeks of skiing and climbing. Fry Canyon rappel is thirty feet into a pool of water, which we had to swim across to get out of the canyon. It was a breathtaking experience, both because of the cold and the views! We then hiked back to our van, the ATB (all-terrain bus), and drove to where we would begin our backpacking. The next day we hiked and camped at a beautiful sandstone bench (how the layers of sandstone in the canyons are often referred to) about halfway down the canyon. We stayed at that campsite for three nights, and took a day hike up what we called the “birthday cake.” It was long and hot, but the view from the top was so worth it. We could see all across the four corner region–from the deep canyons of Bears Ears across to the Abajo, Henry, and La Sal Mountain Ranges that popped up in each direction. The next day we ran Cowboy Canyon, which required five or six rappels and lots of swimming and wading through pools of water. We also learned how to do a meat anchor, which is when there isn’t a bolt (gear that is drilled into the sandstone) to rappel off of, so you rappel off the weight of members of the group. It is daunting at first and then truly impressive to trust the collective weight of our team members to hold you up. Hazel, Ethan, and Michael had a great time watching the rest of the group go down and hearing the gasps when they touched the cold water. 

On the fourth day, we began our Student Planned Expedition. Throughout the first half of Jacob’s Chair we took time to go over maps, Route and Description or “RAD” plans, first aid curriculum, and emergency procedures so we were prepared in case something were to go wrong. That morning our I-team said goodbye, wished us luck, and we began! We split into two different hiking groups and spent the next couple of days doing lots of technical scrambling over and under boulders. At times it included taking packs off, hoisting them with ropes, and army crawling under large boulders. On the third day of our SPE, it took us over nine hours to go two and a half miles because of the difficult terrain. We were exhausted, but it was definitely a day that bonded the group! The rest of the trip included lots of silly events such as a wedding between Courtney and Chaney in which everyone wore tarps as fancy clothing, everyone practicing their golf swings with trekking poles, and a spontaneous game of tag across the slick rock. Our final day of SPE was six miles on a flat road, but after being used to technical sections, we overestimated how long it would take us, and we ended up getting to our campsite and meeting the I-team three hours early. 

After a brief reunion with our instructors, we went directly into our solos. We were placed spaced out along the canyon and had twenty-four hours alone to nap, journal, and reflect on our HMI experience. We also worked on our PEEPs (Personal Environmental Ethics Projects) and our Full Circles, which are reflections we share on our last night together. Highlights of solos included Virginia waking up to a lizard running across her face, a snake slithering next to Ethan while he slept, Chaney traversing a boulder, Hazel taking apart and putting back together one of our stoves, and Courtney sleeping eighteen of the twenty-four hours of solo. 

We then came back together and had a potluck dinner with a banana nut cake for dessert for our last backcountry meal as a group. We were happy to be together, and our last night was full of love and laughter. The next morning we hiked the five miles back to the van and began our drive back to Leadville. The ending of the last expedition was bittersweet, but we were happy to end our time together in such a beautiful place with great friends.