Last blogs from NOLS

Today was my first day being leader of the day. Leader of the day consists of getting prepped about the hiking day the day before everybody else and then write a detailed travel plan about it and present it to your hiking group. Over the course of the hike, the leader of the day may initiate breaks, map reading and other things to help the group get to their destination. My group of three took off and I was excited to lead, but as the day progressed I found that it was harder than I expected. It was the toughest terrain that we have done so far, my ankle was bothering me and it rained so I couldn’t keep up with the group. There was a moment I thought I wasn’t going to make it to camp and realized that if I pushed though I knew I could do it. The feeling of finally making it to camp, was unlike anything I have felt before. I had pushed through the day and I felt so accomplished. It made me realize that no matter how hard something will seem at the time, if you push through, it can be really rewarding.

During today’s 5 mile hike, we almost got lost early on, but I made sure we checked the maps a lot and thankfully prevented it. We had a pretty cool campsite, but we had to walk a while to find water. Everybody is going to sleep early because we are exhausted. Tomorrow is another 5 mile day so it will be nice to get some good sleep.

Layover days are a rare occasion and sleeping in is even more rare. I got up at 8:15am to cook hash browns and make hot drinks on this frosty morning. They were so good! With a 1:00 presentation time and a few touch up, everyone is feeling a sense of nervousness. The clock slowly ticks away and the time finally comes. Volunteers are asked to go and only the sound of crickets fill the air, literally! A few seconds pass and I decide to break the ice and share my research project with our small group. It started off a little difficult but go easier as I began to talk. Right as I finished the next hand flies up and the ball keeps rolling as the rest of the group finishes up. The final moment is here, turn in time. Papers in, pens and pencils down. We’re done with our first college project!

Today we made it to Emerald Lake! We hiked 6 miles uphill today to make it to the mountain lake that will serve as our home for the next 2 days. It was absolutely worth it! The lake is appropriately named and is a gorgeous green color. It was the perfect scene to greet us after an exhausting day. Our trail criss-crossed up the mountain to a meadow and lake surrounded by mountain peaks. The elevation gain also meant a pick up in wind speed which we learned the hard way after having to chase a sleeping pad that was blown into the lake. Good thing it was shallow. We were all happy that we got a layover day the next day so we had more time to enjoy the view and rest.

Today we hiked 5 miles in what used to be a forest. In the last year, it had burned to the ground. at one point, we walked through a field covered in ash. It was pitch black and it got all over everything. My lips are black from it so are my hands and forearms. It’s sad because the forest fires in the region are a product of global warming. Because of the warm winters, the pine beetles have flourished, leaving their larvae inside pine trees and killing them. This leaves a massive amount of dead trees, making a hot spot for forest fires to start and spread  easily.

Today was a challenge. After meeting up with the group and spending a layover day together, we went our separate again to climb over a rocky pass and continue on. My group was the first to reach our campsite – usually a moment of relief but today was different. At first we welcomed the rain – refreshing during a long hike – then, as the clouds covered the sun and we stopped to scout for camp spots, we wished it would pass. It didn’t and flat ground was not easy to find. Hope kept me going though: hot drinks and warm sleeping bags would be in our future. This future would have to be delayed though as the zipper to our tent had broken by the wind in the morning. There was a moment of cheer – snow – a few small flakes at first, then heavier clumps. As I ran around to get warm, my mind was filled with the refrains of Christmas songs, which made me feel warm as I remembered the coziness of the season. Then I was cold. I couldn’t zip my rain coat or put my mittens on so I had to ask a friend to do it for me. Eventually, there was relief. In the tent of our camp mates, my cook group and I took refuge. We shed wet layers and recovered that hope we had so firmly held on to earlier. Dexterity returned and with it came smiles and jokes and the familiar comfort of sharing each others company. Our tent was repaired, we ate couscous and pumpkin seeds, laid out sleeping bags and settled in. We’re capable of a lot. Good Night Wyoming.

We had just strolled in from our 5 mile hike, unpacked our gear, and set up our tent. Everyone was tired and hungry, our stomachs growling for food. I vigorously flipped through the NOLS cookbook searching for something to make. Pasta: no, potatoes: no, sausage: no. I didn’t want the same dinner we had been having. Finally it hit me: we should have pancakes. I started the pancake mix. I mixed white and wheat flour, powdered milk and baking powder in a plastic bag and began to add purified water. In addition to a little spice, we added a pinch of cinnamon and clumps of brown sugar. after the mix was ready, we realized we had accidentally doubled the powdered milk and baking powder. No turning back now though. We were hungry and ready to dig in. We fired up the fry bake ad threw some butter on top. We turned the bag of batter upside down, slowly letting the batter ooze onto the pan. It sizzled and formed into a golden circle. Anxiously awaiting the outcome of the dinner, we all stared, mouths watering. We flipped the pancake and dropped the first one into my food bowl. I sprinkled some brown sugar on top and took a bite. I was in heaven. This was the best pancake I had ever eaten. No lie. It was warm, overwhelming my mouth with such a rich filling taste. After a long day, this had been my most rewarding meal yet. I couldn’t wait to make more pancakes!

“Who wants to trade for some gummy bears?” Those words sounded so weird,. Gummy bears?Even the thought of a treat like that sounded weird. My group of 4 was hiking and we came across 3 backpackers coming the opposite way on the trail. It was just exciting to see other people on the trail and they had gummy bears, my favorite! We all looked at each other, realizing we didn’t have much to trade with. All we really had was the remnants of 13 blocks of cheese that we were given at re-ration. When we told them what we had, they got so excited, and we were just as excited to get rid of it. So I took off my pack and gave them an entire block, 1 pounds worth. They were surprised to see how much cheese we were giving them, they decided to give us more than just gummy bears. They gave us chocolate, oreos and gatorade packets too. With both groups content, we parted ways and wished them luck. At the first break after the trade, we ate the chocolate and the oreos. I don’t remember oreos tasting so good, and I was so happy. It was an experience I will never forget.

Today was one of our most challenging days of the expedition so far. Even though it was the toughest hike, it was without a doubt the most beautiful. We hiked about 8.3 miles at the highest elevation yet, 11,600 feet above sea level. Our goal was to traverse along a plateau and this is where the beautiful part came in. When we reached the top, we could see literally every mountain range for miles. We had the opportunity to hike 4 miles along this plateau at the highest elevation experiencing all of these beautiful sights. No pictures or writing can do justice to the images we saw. For many of us, this will be a huge motivator for the rest of the expedition.

Two morning ago I was hating life. It had rained the night before so when I woke up, everything was frozen and so bitterly cold that I just wanted to sit on the ground and not move ( which I didn’t do).  Along with that, I felt like I had strained my back which started to hurt after 5 minutes with the pack on (which soon went away). I also popped my knee again, thinking I may have re-torn my meniscus (which I didn’t) On top of all of that I was leader of the day for our longest day yet, 9 miles. The day started off good and bad because we took the trail on the wrong side of the creek. There were logs and overgrown plants throughout the game trail and I was having a great time hopping over them. The rest of my group, not so much. I started to worry if we would make it to camp that night because we were moving so slowly as other members were dealing with their own sore and strained muscles. After hiking many miles, we started to ascend  a peak, even though the group was weary. When we got to the top, all of our moods changed. We were on top of the world and had a 360 view for miles! It was amazing and even though we still had some miles to go, we powered through it and made it to camp. from there, everything started to get better and I put that experience in my bank account to save for another time. I was really proud of everyone and their effort was something to be noted.

We stumbled into camp just before sundown, beaten, bloody, dirty, tired.My group had finished a 10-miler that turned into a 13-miler after we got lost and spent several extra hours bush-whacking up the side of a mountain. We weren’t the only group to get lost either. They went 4 miles out of their way and then bush-whacked their way over a mountain too. The instructors were glad to see that we navigated our way back and how we dealt with uncertainty and adversity. As we learn this skill, it gives us the ability to rise above our circumstances and so what needs to be done.

Today was one of the most adrenaline filled days for everybody. It was the last full day of being in the mountains and we are all getting picked up early the next morning. Everyone leaves the campsite singing their favorite songs that they want to listen to when we get back to our ipods. It was roughly a four hour hike to get to the pick up spot. It was the fastest four hours, now that my body has adjusted to the mileage. The worst part about leaving is that I have finally got into the groove of  hiking and living in the mountains. It was an awesome day, seeing a bunch of roaming cows and hearing coyotes at night. The most exciting part about being finished, aside from talking to my family, is goig back and telling everyone about the amazing and difficult experience I just accomplished: living in the wilderness for 3 weeks.

Today was the official end to our three week adventure, we got prepped the day before about waking up early and being ready for the bus to pick us up. I was the first person in camp to get up, boiling water for coffee. It was a cold morning, colder than I thought it would be for lower elevation than we were used to.The tent and the ground had frost all over them but it was a beautiful morning. As I walked the 300 yards to the kitchen with my packed bag, my headlamp shined on the frost and gave the impression of twinkling stars on a calm lake. When I got to the kitchen, I started up the stove and put on water I had preset the night before. All that was left was the waiting. Waiting for the water to boil, for the rest of camp to wake, and for the bus to arrive and take us back. It was slow at first, then morning seemed to explode with the first ray of light. The waiter boiled, the bus arrived and the people rushed over; and within 20 minutes we had all eaten, packed the bus and left the Absarokas. What we learned in those mountains though, will stay within us all forever.

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