Semester 48: 1st Expedition

Written by: Anna, Alex, Henri, Sadie, & Sydney

Group A: There are many things I will never forget about this expedition. Mostly, I will never forget the juxtaposition of many beautiful moments with some uncomfortable ones. I think an example that perfectly highlights this contradictory feeling is Circle, a nightly community ritual that occurs on expedition. Circle, as the names suggests, is a time when the whole expedition group gathers around in a circle and talks about our lives, how we are feeling in the moment, and the experiences we have faced in the past. Every night, the question that you answer at Circle is  different, but each question that was asked on this expedition helped people peel layers off of themselves. In these moments, we got to know one another on a whole different level and in a wonderful state of vulnerability. These moments were incredible, but that’s not to say they weren’t uncomfortable.  Even though these moments were full of discomfort and required bravery, there was something about the way the stars painted the night sky above us and a singular headlamp reflected off of our faces from the middle of our circle that made these moments unlike anything I have experienced before. In these moments, I was able to return to what truly mattered to me. In these moments I was struck by the power of true connection both with the people around me and with the natural world. 

Group B: This first expedition that I embarked upon with HMI is one that will forever live in my memory. Shortly after arriving on HMI’s campus, I met the eight other students whom I would live with for two weeks in the desert. We developed incredibly strong friendships that were fortified by both our excitement and our nerves for the upcoming journey. Naturally, we were nervous…we had 13 days of backpacking through canyons, over plains and drainages, and around mesas ahead of us. As the saying goes, “the days felt like weeks and the weeks felt like days”—this quote couldn’t have proven more true. During our expedition, it felt like we were becoming one with the desert, and yet suddenly, once we looked up from our nature-inspired readings, we were on the bus, headed home. We accomplished and experienced so much during our time in Utah: melting (and burning) snow, lugging ourselves out of our sleeping bags to wait for our toes to thaw, hiking for miles as we laughed and played games, cooking delicious dinners, and living through moments of sheer bliss as we gazed at the vast and majestic Gravel Canyon. I will not lie, some moments were hard. I like to think I have a pretty high tolerance for the discomfort sometimes found in backpacking, but I swiftly realized that nature can be more formidable than I had previously thought. In the desert in winter, I felt the cold creep into my bones, holding me as I tried to fall asleep and settling in until we began our hike the next day. Though cold and tired, my tarp group and I always made the nights memorable with giggle-infused bathroom runs and meaningful conversation—our friendships will last a lifetime. One would assume that chilly days and colder nights would elicit bad temperaments from a group of teenagers, but it couldn’t have put less of a damper on our time. I think I can speak for my expedition group when I say that we were so profoundly grateful to be in the desert of Utah, learning about the Indigenous peoples of that land, and growing in respect for the people and place. We tried to understand, as much as we could, the preciousness of the land we were visiting. At our trip’s end, I walked alone back to the bus in what is known as a “solo” (Don’t worry! Our trip leaders were nearby!). On my solo walk, I felt somber. I was sad to leave Utah and the incredible experience of our expedition, but I also felt very fulfilled by all that I had seen, said, and savored—the end felt right.

Group C: One of the many beautiful aspects of camping in and around the canyons for two weeks is the constant vulnerability. Although it sounds like a downside, being vulnerable with my expedition group allowed me to create unbreakable bonds. At home, these bonds would take an entire school year to develop, but on expedition, it only took 12 days. We climbed into an amazing slot canyon and witnessed the most stunning views. We shivered in our sleeping bags and got blisters everywhere. Through it all, the magic of expedition shone through. A countless number of belly laughs and heart wrenching reflection questions helped shift how I view the world and how I view myself. This first expedition was the perfect storm of growth and adversity, and all of its joys and hardships led to an intense feeling of contentment. It stands as one of the best experiences of my life. If nothing else, this expedition taught me that only in the backcountry, when vulnerability is at its peak, is it possible to start with a random group of highschool students and end with life long friends. I will forever thank HMI for this once in a lifetime opportunity and am ecstatic to start my journey on campus and on the second expedition.  

Group D: Group D is back on campus after a chilly, beautiful, fun-filled expedition to the canyons of Utah! We spent 12 days backpacking through the Jacob’s Chair region of South-Eastern Utah. We started out by learning backpacking basics: how to sleep outside, purify water, and stay warm during frigid mornings. We also learned to cook some of the best meals ever on backcountry stoves using only a pot, a frybake, and our trusty spatulas. As the trip went on, the weather warmed up, and we took in beautiful, sweeping views of slot canyons, juniper trees, and the Henry mountains. We pushed ourselves physically by climbing in and out of canyons and by walking with all our possessions on our backs. We had fun playing countless crazy games and eating a whole lot of ‘lami (salami) and mystery meat. Along the way, we also took plenty of breaks to complete some light homework and to hear some lessons, but to be honest, it didn’t feel like school at all. On one memorable day, we climbed to the top of a mesa and carried our packs for 11 sunny miles, laughing the whole way.  Our group became incredibly close during the early mornings and starry nights. We learned to lean on each other in tough times and to celebrate each other in good ones. During the last few nights, all eight students laid our sleeping bags together and slept next to each other under the stars. I will carry that memory with me for a long time to come. Group D is excited to be back home in Leadville, but we will miss the incredible scenery and good memories of the canyons. And if anyone’s up for a game of Bob the Weasel, the best camp game known to humankind, just let us know!

Group E: One of the most memorable and transformative days of our expedition was “Mesa Day,” the long-awaited 10 mile hike up and down a huge, mountainous landmass. The seemingly unconquerable plateaus surrounded us throughout the entirety of our trip, and it still doesn’t feel real that we traveled the length of one. On “Mesa Day,” we woke up at 5:00 A.M. It was frigid. We distracted ourselves by taking turns listing the delicacies of civilization: Hot showers. Toilets. Beds. Roofs. Apple juice. Thai food. I ate a cold, hard bagel for breakfast (we had already packed our stove) and created a chant out of forced optimism. “M-E-S-A! Mangoes love Mesa Day!” Our group was called the Mangoes (an inside joke too complicated and probably unfunny to explain). The walk to the bottom of the Mesa was silent so that we could take time to mentally prepare for the day and bask in the sunrise. The impending task felt unreal to me, especially because I was already feeling out of breath when we paused at the bottom of the Mesa. Someone urged us to turn around and I quite literally lost my breath at the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. A colorful display just for us. The sun continued to rise as we climbed. The way up the Mesa was steep and perilous—my backpack seemingly worked against me, pulling me backwards and slowing me down. With time, I learned to use my resources. I learned which rocks I could trust and which I couldn’t. I used a trekking pole and held the hands of my peers when necessary. My peers coped with the journey by singing Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. My nerves prevented me from participating, but it was comforting to know I was traveling with such a lively crew. I smiled to myself but prioritized the task at hand: I would celebrate once I reached the top of the Mesa. And celebrate I did. I hopped and skipped and danced around, excitedly embracing my peers. The view was breathtaking. I felt on top of the world. It was the sunrise of my life. The accomplishment of my life. I was so elated I invented a new word for what I was feeling: Expracious. Feeling free and filled with purpose—living out a dream you didn’t know you had, seeing yourself in a new light. “M-E-S-A! MANGOES LOVE MESA DAY!” We certainly did, and we still had the rest of the day ahead of us.

For more photos from Semester 48’s 1st Expedition, check out our Flickr album!

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