We have been back on campus for a few days now, having returned from our second expedition skiing in the mountains of Leadville. We are relishing the luxury of wood-burning stoves, beds, and hot showers! The winter trips were, of course, really darn hard—temperatures were cold and building quigloos was laborious. That said, the experience was satisfying in a way that few other opportunities could be. Let us enlighten you on one of the most amazing experiences we’ve ever had.
A highlight for Expedition Group A included a ski tour up and down Homestake Peak. We had great weather for the day—lots of sunshine and a nice breeze. After a long climb, we reached the top where, all bundled up, we shared a special moment as a team. Each of us shouted the name of someone we wanted to dedicate the climb to. It was pretty moving—standing at the top of a 13,000 foot mountain thinking about all the people that really care about us at home and helped us to reach that point. Of course, what goes up must come down, and after enjoying the summit for a bit, we made tons of telemark turns on the way down! Other highlights of our expedition included building a ski jump at camp, crowd-surfing one of our instructors, and cooking breakfast for dinner!
Like the other expedition groups, Group B built some serious quigloos. If you don’t know what that is, we’ll tell you! Instead of building an igloo out of blocks of ice and snow, we build big caves after making giant mounds of snow! After piling up a whole bunch of snow in an afternoon, we let those mounds settle overnight. The next day, we go back with all of our gear and start forming our living spaces. We dig in from the top of the mound and from the front, bottom of the mound. Eventually, we meet up in a tunnel in the middle of the quigloo. When that happens, we know it’s really time to start shoveling. We’ll carve out huge amounts of snow as we begin shaping our quiqloos into that rounded shape, giving ourselves enough space to sit, stand, and lie down. While it seemed weird to us too, this living in the snow idea, we actually liked it a lot. Not to mention, the snow keeps us really warm and cozy at night!
Expedition Group C had a special team of instructors and apprentices—all math people! Instructor alter-egos took over on hiking days, we celebrated birthdays (that weren’t really real birthdays) with cake, we built sculptures of dragons out of snow, girls wore fake mustaches, we played soccer in the snow, and we all wore “Mathlete”-style 3D glasses with the lenses removed for the duration of the expedition. Seeing as our second-to-last day of expedition was “Pi Day,” it was quite pertinent that we eat pie. Blueberry pie, of course! Skiing out of the backcountry on our last day in a big group, in funny costumes, pulling sleds, and carrying big backpacks under the ski lifts at Ski Cooper was bittersweet for certain.
While Group C made up birthdays to celebrate in the field, Group D actually did celebrate a birthday—Abigail Costigan’s 17th! The group made the day a special one from the beginning—the boys on the trip made Abigail a special birthday chocolate-chip, Nutella-topped pancake for breakfast. Each of the members of the group wrote Abigail a birthday card and presented her with gifts throughout the day. Her tarp group gave her a Spiderman necklace while the rest of the expedition gave her a cardholder (to organize the cards we all wrote, of course!). We then we went out for a great ski tour in some fresh powder. The best part of our day was our beacon search practice session. We went out searching for a beacon that our instructors buried for us. Instead of unearthing a human body in an avalanche situation, we unearthed Snickers Ice Cream Bars…YUM! Our circle that evening was particularly special as we all shared poems that we had written during an earlier English class—a lovely end to an exciting day full of surprises.
Group E had the chance to grow extremely close as a group and learned more than we ever thought possible in such a short time. From building sturdy, roomy snow shelters to avoiding avalanche terrain and staying safe, to keeping a positive mental attitude even when it was in the negative temperatures and pancakes weren’t cooking properly (!), we feel like we came down from the mountains better and more self-sufficient people.
While we came back exhausted and are luxuriating in the creature comforts of campus now, we’re definitely proud of what we’ve accomplished. After all, who else gets to spend 11 days living in and exploring Leadville’s mountains on skis?