Today was the first day of independent student travel. Just yesterday, we’d gone up and over Goat Flats then slowly worked our way down the steep side of a mountain to drop into the lake basin of our campsite. It was a long, hard day, and one that I wasn’t sure I could’ve gotten through without the presence of an instructor. I was tired and uncertain so needless to say, an entire hike with just my peers made me rather nervous. I made this clear to some, but kept a positive attitude when it came time for my group to start the hike. Initially, I wasn’t very confident in our navigation skills and my apprehension proved to be valid, as we got lost within the first half hour. As it became clear that none of us were certain of our whereabouts, we paused to construct a plan b. After some deliberation, all were confident in the alternative route, and we began a steep climb towards a saddle we’d hiked past earlier that morning. Due to the ambiguity of the terrain, we set a heading and kept checking our compass as we weaved around dead tree fall, large boulder fields, and other obstacles. After accidently losing much of our elevation, crossing two unmarked streams and stumbling upon a waterfall, my group began to grow frustrated and tired. Tension was high between us four lost, sick, and dehydrated campers. We decided to take a packs-off break to snack and rest our sore feet. A leisurely twenty minutes later, we set off with almonds in our bellies and a newfound determination to reach the top of the mountain. With a good pace and even more importantly, a good attitude we reached our goal after just another forty-five minutes of hiking. The day had been exhausting and we still had a few more miles to go the next day, but in that moment I couldn’t have been more proud of my group. We had all pushed ourselves beyond what we expected from the day and rallied to support each other. Even more than our personal victory of reaching the saddle, I sensed a greater pride and confidence in our ability to deal with adversity. My fears of getting lost came true, but they taught me more than I could have imagined. Together with patience and perseverance we corrected our mistakes and accomplished our objectives.
Today on our second day of ISGE we decided to really push ourselves, and it was great! Today was our “peak” day where we hiked 7 miles AND climbed to the peak of a mountain along the way. It was an insane experience because everyone was so determined and motivated the entire trip. We hiked from our start location to the base of the mountain approximately 2 miles away in the early morning and then quickly climbed to the peak, without our packs. Being on the top of the mountain was a truly breathtaking experience where we could look out in every direction and just see for miles and miles of this amazing area full of cool valleys and treacherous cliff faces. After our peak experience we returned to our packs and continued for another 5 miles to our final “X” where the rest of our group and the instructors would join us the next day. In total today we went just over 9 miles in 7 hours which was truly impressive and I was insanely proud of my group.
We woke up that morning looking at the same things we fell asleep to- black skies, bright stars, and cold temperatures. We were up and moving before the sun even had the chance to appear. We climbed up and over boulders and hoisted ourselves up this mountain using trees as the sun finally woke up. Once we conquered the steep mountain, we realized we had done it all before 8:30 that morning. The four of us turned around together, after reaching our goal of making it to the peak, and we were rewarded with one of the best views yet. We looked over a glowing valley surrounded by fogged mountains and the sound of a nearby waterfall in the distance. There was no chance that day couldn’t be a picture representation of accomplishment from that moment on.
4:30 am—that was the time we had all agreed on the night before. And we couldn’t be late! If we were, we wouldn’t be reproved by the instructors, miss class or even delay another hiking group. It was the second day of our independent student guided expedition, and the consequence for tardiness was worse than it had ever been. Missing the mild early morning weather would keep us from ascending the peak. We were all determined to make it to the top of this highpoint after we’d been sandbagged on our last attempt. Despite this pressure, we ended up leaving camp after the time we wanted to reach the base of our mountain still two miles away. We picked our way across unsteady boulders till we reached Glacier Trail. From there, we all felt nervous about the weather and used this to drive us faster than we’d ever gone. Every step was uphill, leading us gently towards the anticipated peak. Already, I was tired and struggling. As we got closer and closer so did the rain clouds. We cut off the path, threw our packs to the ground, and gathered the necessary items for smaller bags. I glanced at the encroaching storm with apprehension then began to make my way up the slope. We all had an incredible amount of energy and my heart began to beat faster with adrenaline and anticipation rather than shortness of breath. Just then the gusts of wind picked up and sent large drops of rain sideways, pelting my numb fingers and blurring vision. I paused and grimaced against the harsh sky. There was no way of telling how soon the raincloud would pass and I grew anxious about the threats weather offered. But we had almost reached the top! I silently urged myself forward and hoped we would make it safely to the peak. The only obstacle standing between me and my destination was a pile of towering boulders. I clambered up the side of the slippery rocks until finally I hoisted myself over the last one and onto the plateau. As I stood, the rain stopped and the sky began to clear. The entire group had climbed up the mountain! I felt an overwhelming amount of joy and pride not only for myself, but for everyone with me. Individually, we had fought the doubts within ourselves, and as a team we had supported and encouraged one another to accomplish our goal. I will never forget the breathtaking view from the summit or the beautiful bond I felt with my friends on the top of that peak.
Few words have been said around this campfire, but the silence tells a story. A story of the long day and the long journey that is quickly coming to an end. Tired minds, bodies, and souls are collecting the dwindling energy that remains to be given off by the fire. I am satisfied with this night, with this journey, and with myself. I believe that I have grown closer to the group, who I now love, closer to myself, and closer to the Earth. Not so much in the literal sense but, somehow being in the Wyoming wilderness has made me feel closer to the world and its people, as a whole. The stars shine bright like diamonds and the heart’s of those around me glow equally as bright. As my time at the NOLS comes to a close, the fire within me continues to grow.
Silence speaks louder than words in the front country, however wilderness knows no words. Silence is what connects all. Awoken by starlight and the expectancy of leaving our new home, Sunday was an especially sacred day. 15 students and 3 instructors awoke before the sun and departed with the Wind River Mountain wilderness in thick, dark silence. Tents down, bags packed, headlamps aglow, not a word was muttered. A short 40 minute hike on Glacier Trail would bring us to the trail head where civilization and our bus would meet us. We marched separate from one another (all chugging excitedly towards breakfast and showers) leaving about 50 feet in between each of us. I found myself lingering in the mountains, like the stars, with dawn fast approaching. As if every moment of the past 3 weeks had been relived in those 40 minutes of solitude, I felt heavy sorrow mount my back that was now turning on the mountains that were my teachers, guardians, and friends. Without sight of the sun, light spilled over the mountains and splashed the world with peachy love. It was comforting to remember that the sun rose in the front country too, I just couldn’t seem to remember what it looked like. Stepping onto the bus I felt my emotions spill clumsily around my feet that were unfamiliar to anything but the feeling of my own weight. My feet were carried for the first time in a month. My eyes closed. Before I knew it I was walking off the bus at the NOLS Rocky Mountain Branch. We were greeted by the delicious donut, yogurt, bagel, strawberry, and cereal breakfast that had filled all of our dreams the night before and the promise that fueled us out of our tents so early. Though a sweet selection, I couldn’t help but dwell in my bittersweet homecoming to front country. The rest of the afternoon was spent unpacking, cleaning our equipment, and showering for the first time. Reintroduction to ice cream and hamburgers came easily later that night before our official NOLS graduation ceremony, unlike any graduation ceremony I’ve ever been to. We gathered on one of Lander’s luscious public grasses and presented each other our diplomas. Saying goodbye to our instructors was saddening and really put a damper on what we expected to be a joyful evening back home.
I am reminded of my friends back home and the way that we were a family and acted as a unit. We did everything together, told each other almost everything and couldn’t stand to be without someone in our group. That is how we have grown here on the Gap Semester. It makes me feel so good about the rest of the semester. I have had a great time with NOLS and I think every last one of us has grown from this experience. NOLS has taught me that personal growth is a never-ending process.
Today was our last day in the field and it was a little bittersweet to say goodbye. We woke up early this morning and walked the final mile of our hike in silence, watching the sun rise over the mountains for the last time. When we got to the parking lot, we shared a group hug and waited eagerly for the bus to come pick us up. While I’m glad to be back to civilization, I have to admit that I miss the wilderness more than I thought I would. I miss our instructors and the hikes. Though I miss NOLS, I’m excited for the next portion of the semester.
It’s the final morning of our NOLS experience. We got up in complete silence and packed our backpacks one final time. I finished packing quickly and an instructor motions for me to follow him. I do so up to our camp kitchen and bring every food bag down to camp. More silence. People finish their packing and form a circle. When we are all ready, one of the instructors noiselessly begins hiking out towards the trail head. Then, each of us follows suit, one by one, silently back towards civilization. I spend my time reflecting on various experiences throughout the NOLS expedition and before I know it we arrive at our destination. It was a time of reflection and transition that had an almost sacred feel to it. I think it taught me to recognize and respect change as my adventure continues.
Today is the day! Day 25 of our NOLS course. Our group has been through so much, physically and emotionally. We woke up at 5am and packed up our tents, group equipment, and food. We hiked our last mile in silence, reflecting on our course, toward the light marking the trailhead. When our group reached the trailhead, we stood together watching the sunrise, enjoyed a moment to perfectly conclude the NOLS part of our journey.
Peace and serenity are two words I would use to describe the last morning of our NOLS course. We woke up at 5:00 and the birds were up and chirping as we packed bags and checked camp for trash. We had a 45 minute hike down the mountain to the parking lot where the bus would pick us up. As we hiked down the trail, we were asked to do so in complete silence so that we could have moments to ourselves to reflect. I thought about home and the other members of the group and how we function as a family. We all get along and we can relate to each other in different ways. The hike was bittersweet because we would be leaving the wilderness and would be heading back into civilization for the first time in 25 days. We would also have the chance to shower which we were all excited for. When we got on the bus, we all watched the sun rise over the mountain, the orange glow catching us by surprise. We all took pictures as the bus drove away down the dusty dirt road. We got to the NOLS branch and took showers and returned the gear we had rented. I can’t believe that this part of the course has ended but there are many other adventures to come ahead. I am so grateful to have such a wonderful group of classmates to share this experience with.