Semester 36: First Expedition

Expedition Group A spent the last two weeks hiking in the Jacob’s Chair region of Utah. The initial plan for the trip was to make a full circumnavigation of Found Mesa and Gravel Canyon, by way of dropping into canyons, scrambling through them, climbing out, and traversing along mesa tops. However, we had to make a few route changes due to a lot more snow than expected and a truly unique challenge that came before our group. One of our friends slipped on ice one morning and ended up injuring her leg while the nearest road was nine miles away. With her unable to walk our only option was to carry her out for an emergency evacuation. Our instructors Josh and Andrew came up with a brilliant design where we suspended a chair off of our tent poles and carried her between two hikers. So for nine long, slow miles we took thirty minute shifts on the “chairlift” as we called it and successfully made it all the way to the road in one day without any issues. Even though we never would have wished for one of our friends to be evacuated, we were able to go with the flow and appreciate our surroundings. Our unexpected detour led us to a new campsite up on the mesa, and from there we got to go on a day hike where we saw petrified wood with every step. The mesa also offered us an extremely scenic spot to have a geology lesson on the very rocks we were looking at. While there were other moments that we’ll never forget on the trip, none of them challenged us as a group, and brought us closer together than the evacuation. Working together is what I’ve found HMI to be all about.

Jacobs Chair, greasy hair, whisperlight repair, and musical fanfare; Group B’s expedition was a combo platter of  laughter, challenge and—most important—learning. Our days were packed (literally and metaphorically) with treks through canyons, discussions about desert plants and stages of group development, backcountry baking, and loads of games. On our last day, we embarked on a crazy adventure into the boulder-filled White Canyon. When we made the decision to venture through the canyon instead of taking an easier route by road, we had no idea what we were in for. We skidded across huge floating ice pieces; squeezed under, over and in between colossal boulders; and tiptoed along the edges of snowy cliffs. We finally ascended out of the canyon, just as the sun began to set over the snow-capped mesas. We had only covered 3 miles of terrain, but had hiked for seven tough hours. That was when the fun began though: our destination was still a mile away! We unpacked our headlamps and hiked on. It was quite a scene; a cluster of clumsy, tired heads, lit up by LEDheadlamps, tramping into the night, singing “Hey Jude” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Needless to say, we took approached the challenge head-on and made the day enjoyable.

Shooting stars, dips in canyons, and copious cacti only begin to describe Expedition Group C’s trip through the Jacob’s Chair region and the Cheese Box. For some of us, this expedition was the first time backpacking and we could not have wished for a better trip; the group was incredible and the canyons were even more beautiful. We started our trip by staying next to Gravel Canyon and we spent the majority of the day running through the canyon’s mazes. We then moved to Cowboy Canyon where we had a layover day to explore and jump into classes. Throughout the next few days we continued to move around the Jacob’s Chair, which included climbing mesas and diving into the surrounding canyons. Every night, before circle, we all gathered around to look up at all the stars, and we saw at least five shooting stars per night. On the sixth day we hiked out of the Jacob’s Chair area and went to Fry Canyon to re-ration all of our food, which was pretty much consisted of adding 50 more delicious pounds of cheese and butter. After re-ration, we went down Fry Canyon, and stayed at one of our favorite campsites because we had running water and we were able to repel into the Anasazi ruins for English class. We then kept going along the canyon until we hit White Canyon; we started off by having to lower packs into the canyon (we thought that was going to be the hardest part). When we reached the bottom we all were surrounded by joy since our eyes were drawn to the running water to wash our hair in, but little did we know that the river would soon become our greatest challenge of the day. We spent the whole day crossing the river which quickly became icy cold; we had fallen in so many times that we couldn’t stop laughing over the loss of feeling in our toes and how crazy we were for thinking the river would be simply a place to wash our hair. We eventually had to climb out of the canyon in the dark, which resulted in trying to avoid LOTS of cacti, but by the end we all agreed that it was definitely one of our favorite memories. We wrapped up the trip by migrating past Jacob’s Chair again, and left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for getting to know so many incredible people and see so many indescribable things.

During first expedition, the days blurred together with an overwhelming sense of fun, challenge, and growth.  The fun came from our extensive laughter and open-minded spirits. Every day Expedition Group D found something to be happy about, something that uplifted the experience even when the weather tried to dampen it. The challenge was a test of our flexibility due to the snow and the change of plans that came with it. For example, the first day of expedition our group hiked for thirty minutes moving slowly toward the mouth of the canyon that was miles away. The conditions slowed us down so much that we had to take an entirely different route and explore Kane Gulch. This was just the beginning of the numerous changes made on our expedition, and in turn we increased our flexibility. This also ties in with the growth that occurred on the trip. The entire group grew in skill of course, but also grew from within. We learned how to put aside personal struggles for the betterment of the group and realized the impact one individual’s work, spirit, personality, and presence has on everyone else. We knew that individuals contribute to the group in a major way but the expedition served as proof in such an intimate way. The growth continued as we explored Anasazi ruins. One of the highlights during the trip was sitting near the ruins with the group, staring at the canyon’s silhouette against the star filled sky and thinking about how at the same time of year the Anasazi people saw the same silhouette against the constellations as we did. This really resonated with us and will continue to touch us every day.

Expedition Group E had an amazing experince on our journey from Bullet Canyon to Kane Gulch. After our singalong-filled eight-hour bus ride we were the first group to reach the canyons. After our last stop at a gas station everyone began mentally preparing to not shower for two weeks. Although we were nervous, we were in the capable hands of Whitney, Jacob, and Katie, our trip leaders. The jaw-dropping views from both in the canyons and on top of the mesas made our first miles of the expedition worth it. By day we explored the canyons in search of ruins. Climbing down into the Kivas was an experience like no other, and it was amazing to have context to our history readings about the Pueblos. By night we cooked incredible pasta-with-red-sauce-dinners that would leave even professional eaters full. Following our magnificent dinners was Circle, where the bond of our expedition group was forever strengthened and friendships that will never be broken were forged. Almost like a lullaby, Whitney’s joyful laughs filled the canyons with a warmth that carried us through even the frigid nights. With that, our heads hit the makeshift pillows and that was it until morning.

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