Blogs from the end of the expedition

IMG_2434Most days, what we do in 24 hours is about a week’s worth of effort for a student transitioning into college. Wake up, cook breakfast, pack all of your belongings into a 100 liter container, hike to your next home, unpack, build your house, have class, cook dinner, meet for more class, do awesome things, write, sleep. Everything we do is hard, but awesome. Yet the part of the day that stands out the most is right before writing and sleep. After our evening meeting which is full of classes, concerns, information, and appreciations, we sing. Regardless of how long the day was, everyone contributes that voice to at least one song. For the few minutes that we sing, all of the stresses of the day are gone and every member of our group is 100% present.

“Come on guys the storm is brewing.” So far our group has had terrible luck with the weather. It seems as though every day it either hails or snows. See a guy like me from the south has never experienced rain, snow, sleet, and hail all within a 24 hour time span. You know it is going to be a rough morning when the sound of hail is beating down on your tarp tent. You learn quickly that it’s another difficult start to a day. Never experiencing this type of harsh weather conditions in my life I was in for a rude awakening. Going through these tough lessons have made me a better person therefore I learned to embrace the good and persevere through the bad. I’ve had a life changing experience.

What’s better than being able to look up at a dark sky and see a million little stars- that’s what I was wondering while laying down in my sleeping bag looking up at the dark cloudless sky. Every now and then we could even see a shooting star or a satellite orbiting the Earth. I cannot say that the view would magically solve all of our problems or all of our hardships of the day but it did help a little and it made the 7-mile hike of the day worth the effort. The stars also had for effect to bring the group closer together as we would all have to be very close or cuddling to stay warm during the cold nights in the mountains.

Today was our last day of hiking on our NOLS expedition. While being a little sad that the NOLS part of our semester is almost over, I am mainly getting more and more excited to be able to shower and call loved ones. When we all arrived at our last camping site today we started getting ready for our departure by filling out feedback forms on the course and getting group gear organized. The day was mainly full of lasts, like last dinner, last group hug, and last night under the stars. The NOLS expedition definitely brought everyone closer and prepared us for the rest of Gap Semester. Though I don’t believe we will be sleeping in tents anymore, the course taught us how to communicate and live together efficiently 24/7. This definitely was an experience none of us will forget.

IMG_1427                Today was the second day of our independent student group expedition. We had about a 5 ½ mile hike ahead of us. At the beginning of the hike, my cook group collected a lot of blueberries and put them in a baby Nalgene for safe keepings. Halfway through the hike, the idea came to me to have breakfast for dinner- blueberry pancakes. For the rest of the hike it was all our group could think about. Right when we got to our campsite we set to work. We exploded (unpacked) our packs, set up our tent, and then headed to the kitchen. We made the mix and added the blueberries once the batter was in the fry bake. We also added some brown sugar on top while they were cooking. I was the perfect meal after a long hike. The fresh blueberries made them juicy and so delicious. I had no clue that meals could be so nutritious and delicious in the backcountry, but oh boy was I wrong!

On August 25th, we left Red Wing Lake and hiked towards the next campsite located in the meadows above Ross Lake. Our Leader of the Day showed us the route going over the saddle of Whiskey Mountain that we would take. Our energy was high as our group and instructor Jess started walking. We walked on trail over Whiskey Mountain. Going down the mountain, however, we made a wrong turn at a different valley. Only until we walked to the end of that valley did we realize that we were lost. We pulled out the map and GPS in order to determine exactly where we were located. Understanding where we now were, the group decided to separate us from the campsite and the rest of our group. We began our ascent but realized halfway up that it was unsafe for us to continue any further. It was starting to get dark when we understood that we’d have to walk back to the beginning of the valley and find the right trail. Soon enough, we found it, and pulled out our headlamps. We walked in darkness, with our instructor occasionally checking the GPS to make sure we were getting closer to where we needed to be. Suddenly, we saw the headlamps of the other people in our group and started to almost run as we called out to them. In camp we were greeted with hugs, warm drinks, and delicious food. It was clear to see and feel the love and support within the group at that moment. They were relieved that we were all safe and we were relieved to be back with our group.

Today was definitely my favorite day so far. The skies were blue and the sun’s presence was a constant reminder to apply sunscreen (which was a nice change from continuous rain and clouds. Unlike other hiking days, our hiking group of five stopped twice to do some fly fishing! We caught a total of four cut throat trout’s and later fried them up with some salt, butter, and lime powder. I really enjoyed the connectedness I felt to my food and how we humanely inspected the fish and what their diets were. Overall this day reboosted my energy and will be one that I will remember with fond memories.

IMG_1299               We just finished our first day of ISGE (Independent Student Group Expedition). If someone told me 21 days ago that I would be backpacking in the wilderness alone without instructors, I wouldn’t think that I would be ready for it. I was nervous this morning when the instructor team left us, but now looking back at what my ISGE group did today, I am no longer nervous or worried. When we arrived at camp, we unpacked and set up the tents and kitchen immediately. I don’t think any of us had unpacked so efficiently before. When we were cooking dinner all together we took some time to share our appreciations. I was very appreciative of the fact that we were taking such great care of each other. Seeing us care for each other made me feel confident that we will survive without instructors. Although I miss everyone so much, I love my ISGE group.

Today I got to check another thing off my bucket list: Learning how to fly fish! Not only that, but catching my first trout as well! While on a 4-mile hike to our next camping location, my hiking group and I began to cross a bridge over a quick moving river. On our way, another student in my group, spotted a large cutthroat trout swimming under us. The instructor with us at the time, looked at me with a grin and said, “Let’s catch it.” Knowing this would be a great opportunity for me to get my first trout and how excited I had been this trip to go fishing, we decided to stop and go for it. We had time to spare anyways. After setting up the rod, I began walking towards the bridge where the rest of the hiking group was waiting to help spot and point out the trout. I stealthily walked towards the side of the bridge and sent out my fly. I began shaking with excitement as the line got pushed closer and closer to the trout with the current. Finally, the fish spotted it and moved swiftly over to bite down on it. Hard. I jerked up the rod and felt the hook stick. Everyone finally breathed and began cheering as I reeled it in. I couldn’t believe it! It was a beautiful, 15 inch cutthroat trout. I was then taught how to dispatch and prepare the trout for dinner that night. It was a great moment and awesome feeling I will never forget.

At the time of writing, I am sitting on my backpack, having just summited a high peak at Burro Flat. The view from the peak was incredible. I could see the base of a valley opposite to the way we were traveling, distant mountains that we had hiked over just a few days prior, rivers and drainages crackling down hillsides to frigid glacial lakes, the campsite I will camp at when I finish this, and great flat plains far, far away. Previously, my group quit before reaching the halfway point, which just makes me feel all the more accomplished for having climbed this mighty peak.

Plop! My fly hits the water after a nice roll cast. I am with my best friend on the program and we are fishing for brook trout in the ink wells lakes. He had already caught a nice at 12-incher, now it was my turn. After 10 minutes of casting, he heads off to cook his catch. After 30 more minutes of casting it’s starting to get dark, but just then…Slam! Line starts tearing of the reel as I quickly set the hook. Two minutes later I have this fat 9-inch brook trout in my hands. I yell hoorah! Then look down at this fish. I could not eat it. This was the most beautiful trout I had ever caught with vibrant hues of yellow, orange, gold, and blue. I let my fish go, my first ever caught in Wyoming, and it swam towards the sunset.

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