Group A began their third and final expedition with a long, energetic, and fun-filled bus ride that took us all the way to Fry Canyon. Our whole crew spent the first exciting night together, in sight of the highway, where one tarp group was given an unexpected surprise: an unconventional, two-sided tarp as opposed to a 4-sided pyramid. We also met a cute, loving dog named “Group Gear” that had wandered through camp and become our mascot. The next few days consisted of short (but beautiful) hikes, first aid classes, and check-ins with our expedition advisors. We first realized that we had “Baby Deer Syndrome” when slippery mud pits got the best of everyone, especially Dave. However, with the brave help of the I-Team (Liz, Sunshine, and Arthur), we were able to get back on our feet and sailing smoothly.
On day 4, with confidence in their work, the instructors sent us off on our first day of Independent Student Travel (IST). We confidently crushed the 8-mile route under the guidance of Corey and, with a bit of help, trapped our “X” (our final destination) for the night. On day 5, a layover day, our skills were put to the test when Sunshine “rolled his ankle” and insisted that the students treat him. Even though there was no real injury, Sunshine’s stellar acting and muscular ankles provided the group with a challenge. We also participated in a sense-of-place class, where we were all encouraged to run through the canyons like little children and explore to our heart’s content. Day 6 was arguably the best day of the trip. We all had to wade through cold water, climb over daunting boulders, and crawl through “cheeky little holes”—and we all had an unbelievably fun time doing it.
After a few days with very little food, two more of which were IST, the buses came in sight on re-ration day. We finally arrived at the buses, gratefully accepting the bounty of cheese, prank messages, and clothes that didn’t smell. Day 10 seemed to raise the bar even higher than day 6 did, when the I-Team decided that the whole group would participate in a night hike. So, instead of finishing our layover day, we packed up camp at 2:00 pm and hiked out of the canyon. Once on the mesa, everybody cooked their delicious dinners and, after encounters with Jerusalem Beetles (look them up, they are freaky), waited for the moon to rise. Once under the light of the full moon, we set out again along the mesa for a few hours until settling into camp at 10 PM.
On our final night, after two more days of IST, we experienced the bitter-sweet reality of the end of our trip. We slept in sight of the buses, but had to wait until the next morning to book it for Leadville. Being the last night, we all slept outside (no tarps) to enjoy the stars, but were rudely awakened (at 4:00 AM) by torrential winds and rain that brought everybody screaming out of their sleeping bags. We scrambled frantically to set up our tarps and, with partial success, tucked ourselves in for the last hour of sleep. Finally, we awoke at 5:30 AM and Patrick, our brave SEL (Student Expedition Leader), led us home through the first snow of the trip. Throughout the entire trip, we all had a great time learning new skills, embracing our independence, and exploring a whole new world.
Group B’s expedition started with a long bus ride full of loud singing before we pulled into our first campsite at Comb Wash near the Arches National Park. We had a night of assimilation into the backcountry at a designated campground we shared with another group, who we decided to prank late into the night. The next morning, we drove to a gravel crossing and hiked to our “X.” Once we did our very first pack pass down to where we wanted to camp, we set up our tarps and decided to explore the bottom of the canyon. We walked through the canyon, and even found a set of petroglyphs carved into the rock by ancient Puebloans, depicting many different things including bighorn sheep, people, and birds. This first day backpacking set the tone for the whole trip—one of exploration and discovery, and having a great time throughout. We spent the next two weeks looping around Jacobs Chair, a landmark we saw very close up, but also from many miles away throughout the trip. After two hiking days, we started to move into Independent Student Travel (IST) where we would hike without any instructors and do everything independently from morning to night, including making plans and navigation.
A highlight was when lowered into a slot canyon, found ancient ruins, and spent days clambering over and under boulders. Throughout the trip, our “girl gang” overcame many challenges and had lots of group kitchens and a few times sleeping under the stars. We had beautiful weather—after a little bit of drizzle, it was hot and sunny until the very last morning, where we had a crazy wind and snow storm. We spent days on trail shouting songs and chants, and had a lot of dance parties late into the night on the slick rock we became good friends with. Without any rivers or lakes, we relied on secluded potholes for our water, which was occasionally murky and needed to be strained. We had everything from deep bonding nights to celebrating birthdays.
After 2 weeks of a very successful trip, we climbed onto our bus and hunkered down for the ride back with a few boxes of cookies, a platter of fruit, and five pints of ice cream. We finished the way we started—screaming songs, laughing, and ready for whatever comes next.
At the start of this expedition, Group C found itself in an alien environment. Waking up on sand rather than pine needles, we emerged into the cloudy first day in Utah. We then explored this foreign landscape for the first time arriving at camp later that day. We took in the dark red mesas as we hunkered down, the rain popping off our tarp. Wondering if the rain would ever stop we went to bed and continued our exploration the following day. Using mesas we nicknamed the Butterfly, Battleship, and the Mermaid Tail, we walked towards our next camp, still infatuated with the world we were just dropped into. This was the underlying theme for all of us, a fascination for the unknown and an unquenchable thirst to explore. We wanted to push our own limits, and use each other as support systems when we need the help. This was the way we all proceeded for the next two weeks. Diving in head first into whatever challenge was thrown our way, and finding a way to laugh and smile through it all.
This new and extraordinary expedition began with a long car ride to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station about 2 hours from Moab, Utah. Group D had an exquisite playlist that was about 6 hours long, curated by our very own exped companion Ben Turok. After running out of our own music one of our I-team members, Annie, played some country music, not knowing it would be our theme music for the fourteen days to come. After this last taste of civilization we spent the next two weeks exploring the Fish and Owl Canyons, seeing astonishing views like Nevills Arch. Highlights included a first aid course spread over the five days leading up to Independent Student Travel. As we hiked for the first time by ourselves, testing the waters and setting our own boundaries, we learned about each individual that made up our expedition group. We laughed and played games and hiked in the scorching heat of the canyons. We missed our mountains from back home but learned to love this new environment; as we had done in our other expeditions, we made it our home. On day 6 we climbed a 13 foot stretch to leave our canyon and made our way to re-ration, and eventually to Bullet Canyon for the final stretch.
We slept under the stars on the cool rock of the mesa, taking in the biggest sky we had ever seen. Without a mountain in sight we were able to see the most amazing sunsets and sunrises from the comfort of our sleeping bags. Comfort took a whole new meaning when we found out our water sources were no longer streams but instead puddles. Until you see a group of people huddled over a puddle yelling “it’s not murky! I repeat, it’s not murky!” you don’t know what true relief is. We visited ruins and The Perfect Kiva in Bullet Canyon. We saw pictographs of hands on walls and people from a time that some of us didn’t even know existed. During our entire trip our fearless and amazing student leader was Perrin. She took charge like no one else and made it one of the most incredible trips we have ever been on. The car ride back started at 6:00 AM and included some very sleepy and cold passengers, and a tremendous blizzard around us.
After a long drive filled with country music (the only radio station we could get) and podcasts, we were eager to start our two week trek through the canyons. The first week was spent mostly on getting into the swing of things and getting accustomed to the new landscape and learning basic first aid to prepare us for Independent Student Travel. We were all pleasantly surprised with the southern Utah weather, where we had mostly blue skies and warm weather. We would wake up every morning to a pink sunrise and rocks that glowed in the sunlight. After a hearty meal that usually involved granola and the occasional fried bagel, we would pack up and move to our next “X.” One of the hardest challenges of the expedition was finding water, and some campsites we would settle for a puddle. An average hiking day would last about four hours and consist of singing “American Pie” and “Hey There Delilah,” or playing a trail game. After getting to camp and setting up the tarps, usually two or three classes would take place as well as a sunny study hall while sitting on a nearby rock. Dinner would take place soon afterwards, always consisting of carbs, carbs, and more carbs (and of course some sort of veggie). Circle would end the night, where the Leader of the Day would provide a prompt and everyone would answer while passing around the Power Object. At this point the sun was down and our sleeping bags invited us in to read and journal and go to bed, eager to repeat it all again the next day.