HMI Gap: The Final Expedition

Rosa and Amelia are here to talk about our last expedition together. As a culmination of everything we’ve learned about living in the backcountry this semester, the students worked together to plan one final trek, led by our fearless Student Expedition Leaders, Nora and Sophia. This expedition was an opportunity for the nine of us to work together, practice independence, and put our backcountry skills to the test- without the I Team’s constant presence and input that we had always had up until this point.

A lot happened in the couple of days before the trek- we debriefed from the ice fields, planned the route and our rations, and finished our first aid classes, all while some of us went through an unfortunate – but brief – sickness (We were “plagued by the dead”, as Lily would say). Despite this mild chaos, we also got to enjoy some incredible meals from Meals (Amelia), including homemade pasta and delicious crepes. We also had a lovely movie night and a walk to the beach to see the sunset and the rising of the full moon.

On the first morning of the expedition, we finished up the last of our first aid classes and ate lunch before Luis drove us to the same point we finished our first expedition from. The original plan was to start hiking that day, but a few of us were still feeling mildly plagued, so we spent the night at the entrance campground, where the students and the I Team went our separate ways (all the way to different sides of the campground). We enjoyed an early dinner, evening meeting, and an enthralling polar bear story from Lily before heading off to our mids for a full night of sleep.

The next day, we had a slower morning, which gave us time to make biscuits and pancakes to celebrate Easter (and our survival of the Puma that supposedly walks past the campground every night!). We met briefly with the I Team before heading out, who introduced some final projects to think about during the expedition. Afterward, the nine of us really began our journey by traveling 9 km back over the same route we took on the first trek- just the opposite way. Despite how heavy our packs were, the walk was filled with laughter, conversation, and the joy of being together. When we got to camp, we enjoyed some personal time while Lydia hid candy-filled Nalgene’s for a Leave No Trace easter egg hunt. During our search, we were happy to find Laila, too, who was no longer plagued and hiked in with Steph to rejoin the group before dinner.

Hut day, hut day, say that it’s hut day! The next morning, we suited up with Amelia’s colorful zinc and started the trek up the pass that would mark the first section of our 15 km hike. At the top, we enjoyed an incredible view of Lago Verde, as well as some biscuits that the I Team had placed on the path for us, the perfect show of their love and support from afar. We occupied our time on the way down the pass with songs sung together- loud, a little bit off-key, and perfect. The rest of the hike was windy and pebbly, and we reached Juan’s first hut just as darkness fell across the valley. With sore feet and tired bodies, that night I was grateful for the warm fire in the woodstove and the walls that I felt so protected by as we all fell asleep.

We woke up to the light, intermittent pattering of hail on the rooftop. Solo day! One of the integral aspects of HMI Gap’s final Student-Led Expedition is a 24 hour solo spent in the wilderness. This time is meant for personal time and reflection about the semester, especially in the form of “Full Circles”.  Syd described Full Circles to us as “love letters to HMI”. In them, students attempt to tell their stories, to answer the question, “What did HMI do for you?”. This question feels huge and almost impossible to answer completely, but it was an opportunity for reflection on the beautiful experience we shared together, and we did our best to be truthful and thorough as we sat in our sleeping bags all day, spread out in the woods surrounding the hut. Because of the inclement weather, students were given the option to return to the hut in the evening, which many of us ended up doing. Kudos to Amelia and Laila for sticking it out! Even though it was a little shorter than originally planned, the solo was important for us all and I am so grateful to have experienced it.

On our fourth day of exped, most of us woke up inside of Juan’s first hut but for the two soloists (including yours truly) who stayed outside all night, they walked into a warm hut with freshly made backcountry cinnamon rolls. After we were packed we set off for the second hut. This day was full of navigation and rain. We decided as a group that we were going to stay the night in the bosque so we could get to the hut the next day. We spent valuable time together under the group tarp and went to bed early for the inevitable early rise the next day. 

The next day was challenging and was another test of our path-finding abilities. There were many slips, tumbles, and falls taken. (No one was injured) After walking for a while we discussed finding the path and descending down to the hut. After an incredible save and finding of the path by Kosi we made it to the second hut ready for a class led by Rosa, a fire, and pizza night. 

On the sixth day of the exped, my true love gave to me two river crossings. We put in the work and walked past our X in the bosque. Once we woke up wet ready to walk to our last X of our HMI experience. This day proved to be our toughest yet. Our brave Leaders Of the Day led us through the bosque yet again while it was rainy and cloudy. With many ups and downs, this hiking day ended with our headlamps on walking down a steep rocky hill. We ended our final nights in mids with the true Patagonia experience of losing a stake in the middle of the night because of the wind.

In the morning we did our last holler before hiking and we were off. Our objective: get to the road at 2 pm and prove to Luis we could be timely and professional. We were there by 1 pm instead. We finished this exped holding hands and walking through the thorny rosehip bushes singing Maggie Roger’s “Alaska.” Then we waited for Luis. We ate butter tortillas and some kept a watchful eye on the road. As our saviors Luis and Amelia (not the student (aka me)) pulled up they were blasting bops. Our last exped ended with hugs and singing and I couldn’t have thought of any way it could end better. 

All in all this exped gave us the opportunity to test our abilities in planning and executing a full backpacking trip. We were met with many difficulties but overcame them every time and it could not have been with a better group. 

Signing out,

– Amelia and Rosa

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