The morning and the arrival at the Denver airport was the easy part. Then began the worrying about finding the HMI representative, meeting our new friends, and anticipating the drive to Leadville. We eventually found a goofy and overly-happy person (Jacob, the Humanities teacher at HMI) who asked our names and then told us to hang with the other teenagers who had already arrived. This first meeting, although awkward, was a cool experience. We all came from diverse backgrounds, but, because of the one thing we shared in common, a feeling of companionship was quickly born. The one goal we all shared-to spend our days in the Rocky Mountains- was what brought us all together.
We spent five hours in the airport before the first group of kids were loaded on to a bus for the two and a half hour drive up to HMI. Some of us promptly fell asleep only to wake up an hour later to be completely surrounded by mountains. AND WHAT WONDERFUL MOUNTAINS! They were so beautiful. They soared above us, first covered by trees only to morph into rocks covered by gleaming sheets of snow. We all watched, entranced, as we climbed higher and higher along the road. We passed waterfalls, mountain lakes, and small towns nestled into the foothills.
There were many instances when we might have thought “This is it, we’ve reached the top”, but we would be wrong. For another hour we continued to drive up, until finally entering a quaint, tourist town. We had reached Leadville. About ten more minutes and we drove up to the HMI campus. The first view we had of our temporary new home was of a wood building, mountains reaching up to the heavens behind it, and a woman waiting to greet us. We all piled out, stretching cramped legs and gasping for breath in the thin, Colorado air. We were given a brief tour, shown our cabins, and then sent in to dinner. By eight, there were few of us left who had the energy to lift our feet. That first night we learned about how HMI worked and our schedule for the next several weeks but the most important thing we learned was to DRINKLOTS OF WATER.
Soon after arriving at the HMI campus, we were all split into individual cabins. There are two girl’s cabins and two boy’s cabins, each with three rooms- two bedrooms connected to a central living room. We were surprised to find how comfortable everything was! We have plenty of shelf space for all our clothing, room under our elevated beds for extra storage and in the main room a table, chairs, a whiteboard and a wood burning stove. Luckily, it hasn’t gotten cold enough to use the stove. The only thing missing are bathrooms, which are outside just twenty feet down a path. They are fully equipped with not only toilets but showers and lockers as well. We each had our own cabin meeting last night, going over some general rules and playing a few fun, getting to know you games as well. Thursday morning is our first cabin inspection, so we all have to be well organized and clean; whichever cabin does the best in inspection wins a prize! Some cabins are planning on possibly making a poem or performing a song, just to sway the inspector a little in their favor… All around, everything here and especially the living quarters have exceeded expectations. Not only that, but both in our cabin groups and outside of them we are all really beginning to learn about one another and bond. Even after the very first night, one girl spoke up. “Guys,” she said, “I think we are all going to be really happy here”. And I think everyone agrees. I certainly do.
Our mornings here at HMI start bright and early as we all throw on our puffy jackets and hiking boots and head out for morning exercise. As were all still getting acclimated to Leadville’s altitude, we have been walking around the mile loop; however, to make it interesting, we do a little speed dating, asking questions like “What is your ideal breakfast?” or “If you had six months and unlimited money, what would you do?”
Our second full day spent at HMI was filled with packing, organizing, rationing and of course anticipation for our first wilderness expedition. After a filling breakfast of pancakes, students were split into three different expedition groups. A nervous excitement was in the air as we began to lay out all of our gear that would be our only possessions for the next ten days. Students and instructors worked alongside each other to carefully decide what was going in our packs, and what could ultimately stay behind. As groups moved into the food rationing portion of the day, a sigh of relief could almost be heard as we realized that our packs were only going to get lighter as the expedition goes on. Our time here at HMI, like the space in our packs, is finite. As it stands now, our “window of opportunity” is wide open. We all can make for an incredible summer however each day the window closes just a little bit. Going into our first expedition with this in mind, we can see that our peers are already trying new things and even testing their comfort zones. Our time here together in Leadville may be limited, but possibilities are infinite.
If you were to walk around campus in between classes you would likely see a group of students playing guitar on the benches and some others kicking around a hacky sack. You would probably find some kids at the slack line by the creek, trying to perfect their 360 degree jump and others just trying not to fall. You would find some others in the climbing gym, mapping out a new route and maybe even attempting a “dyno”. We have even set up a hammock on the back deck, so that we can admire the breathtaking Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, two of the tallest mountains in Colorado that sit right in our backyard.
The third night of the Summer Term, after a long day of expedition preparation, we gathered in a circle around a bonfire. We took some silent time to reflect upon our expectations and fears, before we head out on our first expedition. On a slip of paper, we wrote down our biggest fear about the summer to come and what may lie ahead. We placed these in a hat and drew out an unknown friend’s note, reading it aloud. It was now that many of us realized that we were not alone in our anxieties and helped to strengthen our bond. Yes, we are going to have to struggle up a 13,000 foot mountain with a fifty pound backpack, but we are going to struggle together. Yes, we are going to have to eat the food we cook ourselves, no matter how burnt it is, but we are going to eat together. We then tossed our fears into the fire, watched them burn, and started fresh together. As we embark upon this Summer Term we are constantly reminding ourselves to “Be here now” and to savor every moment that we have at HMI and to really live in the present.