Over the course of second expedition, we were given the opportunity to rejuvenate from our busy lives at HMI, which typically took the form of afternoon naps after a long, strenuous hiking day. The sun’s shadows danced upon the faces of the canyons, as the strong rays warmed the air. We sought out the few shady spots we could find to provide us with a refuge from the sun, a safe place to rest our tired bodies. Though we did more than just sleep for 16 days! Our group hiked in and out of canyons, covering about 80 miles of land (so our naps were well deserved)! The temperature in the canyons was heavily dependent on the sun. As the sun rose over the horizon, we began to strip off our puffy jacket and pants and change into shorts for the sweltering day we knew was ahead. Though each evening around five, the sun dove behind the canyon walls, a great relief from the heat, but leaving us with a significant drop in the temperature. Luckily, we were able to cuddle up in our sleeping bags with a warm hot drink, and drift off to sleep under a blanket of stars.
Each evening during Circle, stars lit up the clear night sky, so bright due to the lack of light pollution and clouds in Bears Ears. We had never seen the stars so bright and visible, we could see each constellation from the Seven Sisters and the Big Dipper One to Orion’s Belt–three stars boldly lighting up the night sky. One night, we hiked up to a natural arch on the top of one of the canyons. We sat directly under the arch for an hour and a half using the light of the full moon to see. In that moment, we felt so grounded in nature and connected with the surrounding landscape.
It is not easy to describe the canyons. Before second expedition, we all had our individual expectations and impressions of what we were diving into, though, none of us fully knew what we were going to experience. The most accurate description we were told was that it will look like Mars, and it was easy to feel as if we were in an alien landscape. The whole landscape colored an incredible red, always changing as the sun went up and down, strange microorganisms coating the landscape, incredibly beautiful plants emerging from impossible cracks in the rock. This might be an explanation for why, on our first hike, we walked about a quarter of a mile per hour. We could not help but be distracted by our incredible environment.
Our first night we slept under a gigantic arch, like nothing any of us had seen before. It was so beautiful, it softened the blow of being unable to easily find water at our campsite, something we never had an issue with in the mountains. Our next hike we continued down the canyon, which seemed to snake on forever. We saw Anasazi ruins for the first time. We also got to know each other, playing games all 6 miles. The first two days were not the only highlights: we had an 11 hour hiking day due to our inability to find a way down from a cliff. We hiked nearly 14 miles in one day, though no one would complain about it because the incredible views distracted us from our screaming feet and aching backs. Every night we had Circle, where we learned a little bit more about each other under a moon so big, it felt like you could jump up and grab it. The days were filled with singing, games and a whole lot of accents. It was an amazing 17 days and went incredibly smoothly. Now back to snow and morning AMX!
Our group took on a rather challenging route, exploring a new canyon that HMI students had never been to before, hiking over 50 miles in the second half of our trip. We started hiking in Little Grand Canyon. We spent the first half of the trip hiking across fields orange dust, junipers, prickly pear, and sage brush. Everyday felt like a push, but that’s what made it exciting! We slept under the stars with our tarp mates and cooked on the edges of cliffs overlooking massive canyons. We held nature nugget festivals with ours truly, Hayden Shea, and explored the slot canyons (taking many selfies along the way).
On the last day of hiking before re-ration, we went a little crazy in the canyon. Spontaneous breaks to paint our faces with mud and ponder how we were to find a way out. That night we found out that Grace was to be leaving our expedition group due to an injury. The next day at re-ration, we also lost Sanjana and Katie to illnesses, and found out that Bianca’s injuries had prevented her from joining us for the second half. Our group quickly became two tarp groups, a total of seven students and two instructors. We named constellations after our expedition buddies. Their presence was missed terribly.
However, our group was resilient and we pushed forward to conquer the next leg of our trip. The second half of expedition was almost entirely off trail. We elected Lily as our student expedition leader (SEL), and we started Independent Student Travel. Hiking in silence, our days consisted of 8-11 miles off trail. We spent our days wandering upon mesas and through canyons. Clara and Andrew met up with us for Halloween and sprinkled our campsite with candy! (Shout out to our awesome I-TEAM!) We hit some spectacular campsites on slick rock, and worked to finish up all our remaining school work. Nights consisted of group kitchens (Gritchens) and being together under the stars. The last day of our trip, we shared what we wanted to take back with us to campus. It was a perfect way to end our last expedition with HMI. The canyons will be missed.
We wake up to the harsh sound of our wristwatch alarms going off in unison. Frost covers our sleeping bags. This is not the first time we have woken up but the 4th. We have all put 6 alarms ten minutes apart just for these situations. We realize that we just barely have enough time to make breakfast. “Ahhh, we’ll just make cereal” Jared yawns. We go back to sleep. Ten minutes later we are in the same situation. I love these cook rotations. Like every other day, our tarp scurries and manages to be five minutes late (which earned us a “delta” on timeliness). The girls, who were miraculously always early, frowned. We start to hike.
There are three types of hiking groups. The first one charges forward with the goal to get to the next campsite as fast as possible. Rather than talking, huffs and puffs dominate the sound of this group. I tended to lead this way, getting to the campsite fast is always satisfying. The second type is more imaginary. This hiking group is characterized by not going too slow or too fast, is purely efficient and never gets lost. If it wasn’t for the few days that the advisors led, I wouldn’t even know this type existed. The third type, extremely fun on certain days, takes its time. A packs-off break is taken every 25 minutes and a suggested 10 minute break can turn into 30. You never really know what to expect. This should only be tried on easy days. We all learned this very early first expedition when we walked 6 miles in 12 hours.
Today, we hiked type 3. Chants, laughs and jokes filled the day. Jared rapped in the background; Ochan leaded cheers and Isabelle carefully looked after us to make sure everybody was taken care of in her role as Expedition Leader. We continue the lightheartedness of the day throughout dinner. Cooking is always a mess but brings out the best laughs. The night continues and we finally come to the decision that we should go to sleep. Of course, we stay up 2 hours longer. Sleep tight.
Our first day of IST (Independent Student Travel), we decided to implement an hour of silence each day on trail to think about where we are and become more aware of our surroundings. This allowed everyone to breathe in nature and have our eyes wander and scope out beauty. Towards the end of this hour, we stumbled upon the most magnificent sight we have seen in our lives. We had to bushwhack for 15 minutes in this grove of shrubbery and as we emerged, this patch of 20 cottonwoods laid ahead. The wind started to blow large gusts in their direction. As the wind howled, the leaves fell. We stood in silence, looking as the leaves made their way towards the ground and into our hands. The sky was a light shade of blue, with no fluffy white clouds to accompany it. The yellow and green leaves seem to float, contrasting the blue sky. It was the most satisfying moment in the entire trip. We could have extended our last break by a short single minute and have missed this scene. We were so lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time. It was a magical moment, one that we will remember for the rest of our lives. That image is ingrained in our minds, and will be forever.