More Thoughts from NOLS

Today was the first day in which we hiked without the instructors and I was a Leader of the day. My group did amazing! We were the last group to leave and the first to arrive at camp. It felt very rewarding to hear the feedback from my group as well. They said that I was an excellent leader today and that I set the foundation for success, as well as noting that I just seem to have a strong leadership presence. I love hearing feedback from people because it brings to my attention the things that I can work on, as well as the things that I am already doing well. Some of the group has already started to countdown the number of days remaining and the thought of returning to the “front-country” gives me chills.

We came across many bushes of berries during our hike this afternoon. Instead of bending down to pick them like everyone else, I sat down with my pack and started munching. I was immediately hit with a wave of nostalgia as I remembered the times I would do the same in strawberry fields as a child. Here I was sweaty, dirty and tired. This wasn’t me. Or was it? I soon realized that that was why I was here because maybe I didn’t know myself or my capabilities as well as I thought I did. And maybe it didn’t’ matter that I didn’t like being dirty and sweaty because I knew or hoped that it would all be worth it in the end.

Today I climbed a waterfall, by choice. It was just a regular ol’ day out in the Fitzpatrick wilderness with my NOLS group. Waking up early, greeted by luminous alpine glow cascading over the Wind River Mountains, gathering all of our possessions into our packs, cooking breakfast, and traveling on foot off trail about 4 miles to our next destination. Yes today was ordinary, and yet extraordinary due to our location. So anyway, during our four mile jaunt to camp today we came upon bomber falls, a gorgeous land feature streaming from bomber lake, aptly named for the crashed bomber perched adjacent. We took a break by the falls to catch our breath, and despite our exhaustion my friend and I, along with our instructor chose to try and get up to the top of the falls. After twenty arduous minutes scaling boulders and crossing slippery rocks, with my friends and I helping each other along the way, we made it. There I sat, perched high above the world. Peace washed over me, and the buzz of my mind fell silent as I welcomed my new companions; an incredible view, the roar of a waterfall, and the sweet taste of wild raspberries. This is bliss. In the front country there are not opportunities like this. I can truthfully say, I’ve never felt so alive.

Today has been characterized by reflection for me. My ISGE (Independent Student Group Expedition) group and I set out yesterday, and have had a great time so far. It feels so empowering to know how far we’ve come, originally neophytes to the splendor and potential danger that is American wilderness, we now stand independent and safe, a well-oiled machine. Yet along with the confidence and pride that comes with our new set of abilities and newly adopted ethics, I find myself in an almost preeminent state of mourning for what is to come, and what is to be lost. Tomorrow is our last day in the Shoshone National Forest, and after that we’ll be flung straight back into front country life. A piece of me longs for the comforts of technology and “civilization”, although a larger piece yearns for something simpler. I have a newfound appreciation for this quiet and beautiful world around me, there are rare treasures here unattainable anywhere else. I already treasure so many moments, and know that my feet will take me back here again someday, whether to this wilderness, or in response to another area’s calling. This experience has been one of a kind, and I will forever carry these lessons forward with me, optimistically pursuing new challenges in my life. 

Today we had our second re-ration of food. This day was very hectic as we sorted food and supplies we would need for the last 6 days of our journey in the Wind River Range. The days have been long but for some reason, this day was short, too short for my liking because there was so much more we could have done. Everyone has grown closer by this point and we all can relate to each other. What an amazing group of people we have on the GAP semester program.

Today we hiked to Upper Philips Lake and set up camp. After camp was set up, a couple of us started dinner and I went fishing. I was fishing for about an hour before I caught a good sized whitefish. We cooked it up and after everything was cleaned up we made a Leave No Trace (LNT) fire. It was a very nice night to just hang out around the fire with friends and tell stories and just enjoy being out in the woods with no cars, lights, noise, or any other distractions of the front country. The stars were so amazing the past couple of night. It was great to just sit and think about life.

One day was an optional hike day- some chose to stay at camp for a layover day, while others chose to tackle a peak. We left by 6:30 and trekked the quickest yet, to the base of the mountain. We took on endless boulders and saw elk prance across to the woods along the way. Once at the base of the mountain, we all looked up. It was completely 4th class terrain. Some of us a little nervous, others not, but we all helped each other start our ascent. It seemed like we were within literal reach when the instructors determined the last few feet as too dangerous. I was proud of us all that day because instead of feeling as that mountain defeated us, we all had decided that we wanted to give a peak another go the next day. We didn’t want to give up.

Today we hiked to Ink Wells Lake.  My group was the first to get there so we had to scout for a campsite and kitchen.  We decided to sleep on a dried up pond and use the top of the big mound next to the camp as our kitchen.   Once everyone arrived, including our instructors, we had a few medical classes and pretend scenarios.  I learned a lot during the classes today and feel prepared if anything were to happen.  Later that night, my group made cake for dinner and almost died of sweetness overload.  We had our last evening meeting together before Independent Student Guided Expedition (ISGE), so we made a bonfire on the top of our kitchen and the instructors.

Today I woke up and knew it was going to be a great day! I ate breakfast on top of a mountain and hiked while the sun came up. I saw absolutely amazing reflection pools while the sun rose over our group. It was a 4.5 mile hike and it was all off trail which made it take longer than normal. The hiking through the sun-kissed trees and boulder fields made it all worth it. At the end of the day, I made some delicious cheesy pasta before I went to bed. It was an extremely exhausting day but one of the best so far.

Today, we had to traverse treacherous terrain for a few miles, climbing along the sides of ridges and cautiously walking down the other side. After some more hiking we came to our last challenge, the ridge! It wasn’t too hard but it was steep. Climbing was fun for me and it gave me an energy boost. We walked for a few more miles until we reached the meadow where we camped. Thankfully the night was peaceful and the pizza was delicious. It was another memorable day.

Today my hiking group ran into some unexpected obstacles. It was the first day we went on our daily hike independent of the instructors. Midway through the day, my group of five split up when two of our members backtracked to retrieve one of their jackets. After a while, the three of us remaining realized that the other two were lost. We were able to remain calm and organize ourselves into a two people search party with 1 person left to stay with the packs. The search party was sure to take what they needed. After a few hours of looking we found our lost group members and reunited. Because it was pretty late in the day, we decided to set up camp close by. For the first time, we set up bear hangs to preserve our food from the ground and critters that would like to eat it. We cooked and set up our tent. This day showed me how people can pull together and handle themselves well in situations of panic. I’m really proud of my hiking group and I have a new found confidence in my own abilities and skills.

Today was a day I will remember for the rest of my life! Today I learned what not to do in the wilderness. When walking from our campsite to our next location we stopped on top of a boulder field to take a picture. I had a fabulous idea to remove my jacket for the picture. We then moved to our next breaking spot. At this point I realized that I left my jacket. Without thinking, I rushed to make a decision to go back and get my jacket by myself. My group urged me to bring someone else so I chose a student to come with me. We both were very overconfident, saying we knew exactly how to get there and back. We left without extra layers, food, or water thinking we would be back shortly. We actually made it to the jacket in about 15 minutes. It was the return trip that was the difficult part. To be frank, we got very lost. We had absolutely no idea where we were and after 30 minutes of being lost we decided to go back to where we found the jacket. That didn’t last long because as we were walking we saw a bear. With hoarse voices, we decided to hide under a rock instead of running the risk of sounding intimidating if we tried to scare it away. I can honestly say it was the most terrifying moment of my entire life. We hid under the rock and the bear continued to wander off. After 10 minutes of not hearing the bear, we continued our hike to the original spot. During this walk, we ran across some water. Both of us being extremely thirsty at this point, realized we had nothing to drink it with or purify it with. We searched for anything that could hold water until I realized that I was holding a rain jacket. I turned the jacket inside out and put the hood of the jacket under the running water. We realized that the student I asked to come with me had a UV pen in their packet the whole time. Something to purify the water with! We purified the water and dunked our faces in the hood and it will always be the most delicious water I’ve ever had. At this point, things started to look up for us. In the distance, we heard a faint call, cooooeyy! I realized the feeling of hope and it reenergized my body. After hours of walking aimlessly through the wilderness, we were sprinting in the direction of the sound. We had been stranded in the woods for 5 hours when we finally reunited with our group. For the rest of my life, I will always prepare for the worst situations possible and truly understand the power of hope!

Today I peaked a summit and it was one of the most intense experiences of my life. It was an intensity of both the mind and body. This was part of my group’s independent expedition and as such we had started the day late without the structure the instructors provided. However we had a goal and we set a blazing fast pace uphill to get to the base of the mountain we would be peaking. The pace made up for the lost time but came at a cost. At least for me, my energy felt completely drained when we arrived at the base. On top of that, rain was coming down fast and hard. I began to think there was no way I was going to the top of this mountain. But then one of my group members started the same pace as before up the incline. Even though I would not match this pace, I followed suit putting one foot in front of the other, and with my goal in sight. Even though my feet ached and it was raining, I made it to that peak. I learned that you can always push harder. You can always go further. And most importantly, you can achieve the seemingly impossible.

Today is the first day of our ISGE experience (Independent Student Group Expedition) and my group traveled about 5 miles. It was a great hike and we all had a ton of fun. We spent our breaks sitting next to giant blueberry bushes, where we all enjoyed our share of berries. Tonight we are camping along a beautiful lake called Upper Phillips Lake. It is a breathtaking sight to look out over its beautiful water as we set up our camp and kitchen. Today was a perfect day and I can’t wait to continue on our ISGE adventure.

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