Two months ago, a group of ten Proctor students and two instructors arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada to launch Proctor’s winter Mountain Classroom program during what would be the most challenging months of the Covid-19 global pandemic. The past eight weeks have been nothing short of life-changing for those ten students. Read about their final independent student group expedition through the eyes of Ayla below.
With Mountain Classroom coming to an end it was finally time for our long anticipated independent student group expedition, or ISGE. Our group came together and collectively used the skills we have learned to plan an expedition completely on our own without the help of Quinn and Erica. We got to choose our destination, and then had to plan out every detail from meal planning to permit regulations. A lot of work went into this expedition and we were all super pumped to gain some more independence. We started off our ISGE adventure with the stars twinkling in the dark night sky and the moon shining bright for our 5:30 AM departure from the cabin. We all packed DEB (our bus) and hit the road listening to some chill music.
Most of us fell asleep, but some of us were lucky enough to watch the sun rise out the back window turning the sky a magical orange. We drove for a little while before pulling over at a Walmart parking lot to cook up a quick breakfast. With Meg and I as cooks we whipped up some yummy eggs and sausage before hitting the road again. We listened to lots of music, and of course some Harry Potter, throughout our 7ish hour drive to Joshua Tree National Park! We pulled into our campsite, Indian Cove, with the sun shining bright in the bluebird sky. We all agreed this campsite ranks high on our list of best campsites, nestled between huge rock boulders with a dope view of the surrounding desert. That afternoon consisted of tanning in the sun and finishing up the last of our homework. We had our final discussion for Quinn’s class and capped off the day with Quinoa bowls for dinner.
I woke up around 8 with the sun shining and Meg screaming, “Good morning Joshua Tree!” Hank and Sasha cooked us eggs for breakfast and then we hopped on the bus and headed to our water cache. In preparation for our expedition, we had to stash some water along the trail to grab and utilize the next day. We hiked about three miles on the Boy-scout Trail which winded through the beautiful Joshua Tree forest. As Quinn said, it truly feels like you are in a Dr. Seuss book. We could even make out the snow-capped mountains poking out in the distance. Griffin, Tahg, and I played a heated game of GHOST, stopping along the way to imitate the silly shapes of the Joshua Trees. Back on the bus we ate noodle bowls for lunch on our way to the Barker Damn trail. Unfortunately due to the drought in California the damn was empty, but it was still cool to check out. After that we booked it to a viewpoint called Keys Viewpoint which overlooks Coachella Valley. It was insanely beautiful but so windy I swear I almost blew away. After that we went back to camp to do some more preparation for our expedition. We divided up our group gear and organized our backpacks. For dinner we had pad Thai and then evening meeting!
Sasha and I were LODs for an exciting start to the backcountry portion of ISGE. We woke up around 7:30 and had sausage and grits prepared by chefs Oscar and Paul. We then packed everything onto the bus and drove about 20 minutes to the trailhead where we said goodbye to Quinn and Erica. Our long awaited full independence was finally here. With big smiles we started off on the trail. It was extremely hot and we were all sweaty as we trekked along the sand covered path. The scenery was SO cool. Joshua trees dotted the landscape which the path winded through and the mountains poked out in the distance. We were all booking it and it took us a few miles to realize that we had in fact taken a wrong turn! We stopped on the side of the trail to scope out the situation. Sasha and I hiked out to the closest viewpoint and asked a guy for some help with directions. Luckily, we realized that we had only gone a little out of the way and ended up only adding a mile or so to our hike. Because our group is so athletic and talented we finished the hike with the sun still bright in the sky.
We got to scout out a good place to set up camp and found the perfect spot on the side of the trail with plenty of space to set up our tents and kitchen area. Some of us stayed behind to set up camp while others hiked another mile to grab our water stash. To our horror our water stash was no where near adequate for the ten of us for three days, so we all came together to budget out all our water for the trip. In the evening many of us climbed up a big boulder hill to watch the sunset/moonrise. We watched as a plane, or a witch as Sasha claimed, flew directly over the moon which was huge in the dark sky. The sunset was insane and we were all happy to be together. We ate pasta and chicken for dinner, using as little water as possible! That night we all piled into one tent to hangout, most of us conked out before 9!
Many of us woke up to see the sunrise on our first full day of ISGE. We had sausage and hash browns for breakfast before packing up and hiking about a mile to meet Quinn and Erica for our day hike. Our LODs, Hank and Paul, led us on a fun hike on the Willow Hole Trail which was about three miles. At the end of that trail we continued on a one mile boulder scramble to OB-YO-YO valley. In the valley we found an abandoned hut that apparently once housed an outlaw! The hut was filled with notes from previous visitors who even left a can of beans. We scrambled back to the trail where we had left our backpacks, and hiked back to our campsite. Quinn and Erica generously gave us five liters of water because we were all a little thirsty to say the least. We were pooped when we finished the day and I curled up with Meg to take a nap. In order to conserve water we had sausage and hashbrowns again for dinner! Yum! That night the moon was insanely bright, illuminating the entire sky so we didn’t even have to wear headlamps. We all hiked up on the hill again to look at it. The park looked so magical at night under the moonlight!
We woke up to the wind blowing through camp as we packed our bags and headed out. Our LODs, Cassidy and Oscar, absolutely crushed it as we blew down the trail towards Deb. We completed our four mile hike super fast and were all overjoyed when we finally made it back to the bus. It honestly felt really cool to have fully completed our independent expedition. I thought it was especially impressive that we had done all the navigation by ourselves and never got seriously lost. Back at camp we had Thanksgiving for lunch and then drove into town to try and find showers. Unfortunately, due to COVID there were no real showers open so we headed back to camp to rinse off under our water droms. That evening we drove to the Cholla Cactus Garden to watch the sunset which was super awesome, and we only had a few cactus casualties! The sunset behind the mountains was gorgeous and we drove back to camp in the dark listening to some music. We had fried rice for dinner which was yummy and then hit the sack.
We woke up to the sun beating onto our faces, and we were all in super good moods. Meg and I were cooks again and made yummy eggs and potatoes. After that we walked about half an hour to the opening of a cave! We strapped our headlamps onto our helmets and Quinn led us into the abyss. The cave was extremely tight and we had to crawl through small crevices. At one point we all turned off our headlamps and it was pitch dark! We found a little pool of water in the cave where Oscar and I decided to baptize Meg. With a few too many rat jokes we headed back out of the cave and into the sunshine. We ate sandwiches for lunch, and then booked it to a fun day hike called Hidden Valley. This one mile loop surrounded a really pretty Joshua Tree forest with pretty views on either side. We all relaxed on some boulders at the end of the trail, and one lady passing by said we looked like an album cover. On the way back to camp we stopped to pickup some group snacks at the grocery store and many of us played football in the parking lot! Back at the campsite Meg and I made some bomb rice bowls for dinner. We had a nice fire for evening meeting and then went to bed.
Today we had a sleep in until 8:30 but many of us woke up earlier to enjoy the sunshine. We had yogurt and granola for breakfast prepared by our cooks Hank and Sasha. We then had some chill time to journal and hangout in the sun. Around 10 we walked to a climbing spot in the campsite next to ours. Quinn and Erica set up three climbs for us to enjoy: mild, medium and spicy. I braved the spicy one first with Meg as my belayer and Oscar on backup belay. Rock climbing has definitely been one of my highlights from mountain and I think we have all noticed our skills increase since the first day. We all rotated through the climbs as the sun baked our faces, some of us got a little too much sun! After climbing we headed back to camp and took showers under the droms again. We had more time to journal and then went to the grocery store to do one final shop and get some ice cream! Finally we headed back to Keys Point to watch the sunset and have a picnic of Gyros. The sunset was magical over the mountains and we indulged in a fun game called, “knock a rock off a rock with a rock.”
Sadly ISGE has come to an end and we are all anticipating our flights home in a few days. It is definitely a bittersweet goodbye as our Mountain term winds to an end. Our group has become so close and it is going to be an adjustment to be apart after being together.