ST19-Dan’s Group-1st Exped-Collegiates-Headshot-C Hildebrand-2

Catherine Hildebrand

From Cheese and Cornfields to Milk Powdered Mountains

Allendale High School

Allendale, Michigan


A soft pastel colored sunset filled the sky, gradually fading as the sun descended over the horizon. The mountains held a soft pink hue that slowly turned into a regal midnight until there was nothing left but the darkness. As we waited, our evening entertainment of bats flew across the increasingly moonlit sky with sounds of fragile clapping. As we finished our seventh night of our first expedition, I marveled at the spotlights of Buena Vista. It was in that moment I realized that no matter where I went, how many mountains I struggled to get over, or how many aspen groves I ambled through, the panorama of the dazzling lights in the city below us gave me a feeling of contentment and relaxation that I had been yearning for.

The morning before that memorable night, my tent mates and I had woken up to our 6 a.m. alarm shivering and miserable. After lamenting for 45 minutes and preparing our breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate mix, we were ready to head out following a period of four layover days. It was a truly painful thing to do, for Pine Creek had given us so many memories. Talks up in Photo Safari about future road trips and even the worst recorded dinner of pasta and raw onions couldn’t take away my happiness associated with this particular paradise. However, as connected as everyone seemed to be to each other, I still felt like an outsider. An afternoon day hike had been overflowed with an intense east and west coast debate that I had nothing to contribute, coming from the midwest. I had been convinced that because I had never tasted Seoul Tofu in Los Angeles or experienced the miracle of New Hampshire maple syrup, I might not ever belong in this group. I had discovered my home in Allendale and Madison and was satisfied with my strong friendships that I had worked so hard to build over the years. I couldn’t imagine them getting weaker by the day while only some here flourished. Even with these thoughts on my mind, I trudged our nine miles to Harvard Lakes constantly wondering if I was missing opportunities because of an internal problem I couldn’t seem to overcome.

Two weeks later, I stood nervously perched on a rock surrounded by a crystal blue alpine lake, snow cascading from the ruby red and black cliffs. Towering lodgepole pine trees had hidden it from view and even from the knowledge of our instructors. I stood, staring at the clear water, and it back at me. I could hear the shouts and cheers of my friends egging me on for I was the last to jump. When I finally took the leap of faith and emerged from the ripples that I had created, I could feel the happiness, excitement, and confidence I felt for myself but also from everyone around me. After meandering back to the ledge, I sat feeling the sun on my legs and the water dripping from my hair letting my mind wander as far away as the mountains in the distance. I thought back to the lights of Buena Vista and my insecurity of being so close yet so far away from where I assumed I belonged. Still, in that watery afternoon I finally realized that all the turmoil and struggles, walking over talus and stumbling down steep cliffs, had forever connected me to my now, life long friends. I had taken a chance on a possibility in my decision to come to High Mountain Institute, not knowing in the end if it would be worth it. Yet in that moment, soaking up the sun, hearing the slow breathing of my friends around me, I could finally tell I had a community of people who would endlessly support me and a world beyond that I would most definitely need it in.

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