After a week of solo adventures and visits from adjunct teachers Will Wamaru and former Mountain Classroom instructor Chris Farrell, this update from Mountain Classroom includes two blog posts: Solo Reflections from Camden '21 and North Wash Canyoneering by Cameron '22. Enjoy!
Camden '21: Solo Reflections
It was the morning before we headed off to solo. I awoke at around 7:05ish along with my cooking partner, Nate. We arose from our sleep to the constant steady beep…beep…beep of someone’s wrist watch striking 7:00 am. When we finally managed to unzip our bags and crawl out of the three person tent and into the cool morning air, it was around 7:10-7:15. All bundled up in my fleece pants, Patagonia jacket and my heavy down, Nate and I flicked on the propane as I spun a lighter between my fingers while pulling down the ignition. In an instant the lighter's tiny spark grew into a raging blue flame that would later serve as our stove top.
Putting the lighter down, I moved towards the dish taco (essentially a hammock for putting clean dishes in) that was strung up alongside the nearby bench. From there I grabbed a sharp knife and a lime green cutting board that wagged in the wind like a newborn pup. Setting them down on a nearby table, I headed to the trailer along with Nate to grab the food bag we had prepared days before as well as a few extra stuff we fetched from roadkill. At the table I peeled a white and red onion and began chopping them up along with some fresh red peppers bought from the local Honey’s grocery store. Coating a pan in oil, I threw in the veggies and tossed it on the stove. Soon after I shook on some paprika, salt, pepper and some chipotle seasoning for some added flavor. Once that was done I cooked up some pre-chopped-potatoes-in-a-bag while Nate was preparing some left over bacon and baked beans. After the delicious breakfast Nate and I cooked, which for most of us the last full/real meal we would have in days, we began packing our bags for our solo adventures.
The packing mostly consisted of jamming our bags full of clothes and trying to fit 10 liters of water in very tight spaces. Some of us were lucky enough to score the 6 liter drams, which were much more convenient. After packing, we climbed into Deb once more, all preparing our minds for the first day of solo. When I awoke from my thoughts Deb had already left our campsite and was far along an unfamiliar road. As Deb stepped into rocky terrain once more and into yet another dusty path, an ever so faint fear ran through our collective minds as memories of Deb’s broken battery experiences rolled into our thoughts. The nerves passed as we pulled into a barren lot at Wire Grass Canyon that housed only dry clumps of sand and loose rocks. Surrounded by wind eroded mountains and cliffs of sandstone, we stepped into the unknown. Quinn and Erica guided us along a path that had been carved into the rock by time, showing us the way to our spots in silence. Of course this was all after we were properly prepped and finished with our ceremony. When the time came for me to diverge from the group I climbed into my spot, enclosed in a plane of gravel and stone. I chose a nice wind and river formed cave as my new solo home, providing excellent shielding from the sun’s unforgiving inferno. My humble homestead consisted of a one person Crazy Creek Brand tarp that we all independently set up between our two hiking poles using a few knots we learned along the way: the clove hitch and the slip knot. All of which was surrounded by towering canyon walls, some 100-120 feet or so. After pitching my tarp I ate my lunch of Oreo cookies and granola bars while enjoying my new base. Tasty!
After the first night alone in a canyon, I awoke to the sounds of what seemed to be the honking of what the group predicts was a raven. However, I cannot say for sure as I remained nestled in between the layers of my sleeping bag and tarp which secluded me from the outside world. It was around 7:00 am when the honks overcame my sleeping chambers and I remained inside until almost noon. During which I retired back to my slumber. Dreams of back home flooded the mind with the occasional mountain group dream warped in-between playings of finishing with my friend and camping amongst the night stars at my pond. Once I awoke I took to contemplation. Questions regarding graduation and other various personal internal dialog filled my mind. Others took to running around their camp sights and writing in their notebooks. As I sat upon the rocks in solitude, I thought of my Proctor experience and how far I have come. I thought of what seemed like only yesterday I was a freshman, as curious about my future as I was nervous about starting a new school. I thought about all the amazing classes I was fortunate to take, like AP Computer Science (APCS), Engineering, Wood Shop and the Forge. I pondered about all the other classes I wish I could still take like Studio Art or Photography. I thought about my friends and all of the shenanigans we got up to; Building the Proctor Minecraft server during APCS, going to the Wise with my sister before classes, unhitching my dock and using it as a raft to fish the middle of my pond while blasting the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song, and hanging out in the tech center and playing endless rounds of Super Hot VR with Spencer. I remembered orientation getting absolutely soaked when it poured and having a blast. I then thought about just the other night, when rain covered the sky and filled our tarps with puddles. This made me think about time, how fast it seemed to fly by; how little of it we truly have. I came to realize that every passing second is an opportunity to better oneself, to evolve. That every second is more precious than gold and that we should cherish it, the good and the hard. For when we look back on it, these moments we are experiencing now may in fact be the best moments of our lives. They may be in the end what defines us.
After a cool two nights or so alone in my thoughts, Solo concluded and the group reunited with cheers, laughter and tears of joy. Many of us relearned how much we love the company of others as we happily walked the path back to the bus, ready to take on the next adventure.
Cameron '22: Capitol Reef and Canyoneering
With pure joy and excitement to see each other again after being alone on Solo for three days, we loaded Deb and were off to what we called Boy Scout Land. In the bus we all reminisced and relived our Solo experiences; the highs and the lows. Many of us loved the time alone, but others, specifically Emily and I, counted down the time till we were all back together. There were many mentions of our food, as pounds of peanut butter, pasta, bagels, carrots, and clementines did the trick for all but one. Nate, who decided to fast during Solo, came back to the bus ravenous, as he had spent the last three days watching the food he bought. As we laughed at the stories each told, we listened to music and began the drive.
When we pulled into camp, we were immediately in awe by the grass field that abutted our site. With much time spent in the desert this term, grass is not something we see too often. After we set up camp, many of us ran around playing soccer, throwing a football, and simply enjoying time back together as a group. Following dinner, we cleaned up, and prepared for a special evening meeting. Each night we have evening meeting, a time where we are all together sharing the group journal entry, appreciations, ownerships, resolving conflict, and much more. In the past month, I have valued the hour or so every day as I have bonded with my group mates in a more vulnerable state, learned conflict resolution skills, had a time for general reflection, as well as practicing giving and reviewing both positive and constructive feedback. One aspect of evening meeting is pulling a Chaos Card from the deck that has been around longer than I’ve been alive. Chaos Cards are a deck filled with challenges, surprises, and special events for the group. Just prior to our Solo departure, we pulled the Chaos Card that stated, “Write an appreciation for every group member”. As a unit, we decided that this activity would be great to complete over Solo as we had plenty of time to ponder about what we wanted to write. Knowing the special addition to evening meeting was in-store, I anxiously awaited the start. One by one we went around the circle reading what we had written. By the end of appreciations, the joy and happiness in every smile radiated throughout the group, giving us exactly what we all needed.
The next morning was dreaded as we were losing a member of our group. Baxter, Camden, and I produced breakfast sandwiches with fried eggs, leftover bagels, and toppings. We all sat around the picnic table embracing the last moments with the group of ten students that began this journey together. Not shorty after, Tyler departed for the airport, as his pre-existing back injury caused too much pain to continue with the physically demanding program. While Quinn was dropping Tyler off, Erica began a lesson on the correlation between gender stereotypes and the outdoor industry. The lesson was eye opening for all, allowing us to see and discuss the struggles that predisposed stereotypes cause for individuals that may not follow such standards. Upon, Quinn and Deb’s return, the group began a much needed and overdue bus and trailer blow out. After hours of cleaning, Deb and the trailer were sparkling clean. The following day we headed out to Capitol Reef National Park!
Throughout Mountain Classroom, we have learned so much academically, but just as important, a plethora of life skills: specifically how to go with the flow. Putting the life skill to the test this week, our original plan of heading straight to North Wash was altered due to the weather forecast. As rain was predicted, and canyoneering being unsafe with slippery rocks, we decided to go half way and land in Capitol Reef National Park. Along the way we listened to a podcast furthering and reiterating information regarding the controversy over the reduction of Escalante National Monument. During the podcast we were taught the differences between national parks and monuments. With greater restrictions and crowds of people, national parks tend to have greater levels of maintenance and man made elements, whereas monuments lack both restrictions and traffic flow allowing the landscape to be more natural. This was extremely relevant and prominent as we pulled into Capitol Reef. After some campground confusion, we finally were escorted by the volunteer campsite monitor to the group location. We were yet again in awe by the abundance of grass and trees. This campsite though offered something we have yet to see. On the left, we abutted a fruit orchard, and to the right you could find the home to three horses. Knowing that our canyoneering adventure began the next morning, we all went to bed filled with anticipation and excitement.
With an early morning, Quinn and Erica held a lesson on repelling techniques. After the conclusion of our lesson we headed to Old School Canyon. After a short walk we made it to our first repel. Looking down, many of us beamed with excitement, while others filled with nerves. Trusting the system, one by one we placed our weight in the harness, widened our stances for stability, and slowly lowered ourselves to the shelf below. When the ropes were thrown down and all eleven of us were together again, we followed the canyon, leading us to the last and final repel. The second cliff posed greater challenges as it started with maneuvering a rock, followed by a section of walking our feet down the face, and finishing with a free hanging lower. Through the experiences on Mountain Classroom I have been gifted the opportunity to participate in activities that push me outside my comfort zone and into the area where growth occurs. Through the first day of canyoneering, I was able to watch myself place more trust in the ropes and become increasingly comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, my fear of heights didn’t dissipate, but I can speak for all when I say our drive to overcome fears and obstacles was apparent. The next day it may have been rainy, but we did not let it get the best of us. With morning Zumba lead by Camden we danced until we couldn’t any longer. Erica followed Zumba, with an exciting rely race that tapped into our competitive nature. This was not any relay race though, with the mission to collect all desert animal adaptation cards across the way, we each completed our turn using different animal strides. We were able to learn how species have adapted to the rough lifestyle and climate of desert living. After class we took a short drive to a hike within the park. After one mile we made it to the natural bridge, enjoying both the view and our quinoa bowls for lunch. After the hike, we continued on and made our way to North Wash.
After almost getting stuck in the sand, we arrived at our campground and started scouting where we wanted to place our tents. As we walked past a few other sites we were shocked when a couple told us they were Proctor parents! We have come to learn that we live in a small world! The next morning we woke up nice and early, as the canyoneering trip was planned to take eight hours. After a short hike we arrived at the first repel in Blarney Canyon. Eager to start the adventure, Nate went down first. Once we were all down, we walked over and took a look at our next obstacle. With an inexperienced eye, I was confused where we were going because I saw no way down. I was shocked when Quinn informed us that we were going to squeeze ourselves through a small crack using stemming. Stemming is when you use opposing forces with your feet, back, and hands to shimmy your way through the tight slots maintaining three points of contact at all times. When we were all through we continued on, facing many locations where stemming was necessary, two repels, and three down climbs. Down climbs are similar to repels, but without ropes and using our stemming skills instead. Not going to lie, the down climbs were quite scary! By the end we were all physically drained, but decided that we were eager to head to Moab. Since it was already late afternoon, Quinn and Erica informed us that if we wanted to leave we had to be out of camp in one hour. With cooking, cleaning, and tent disassembling needing to take place we all pitched in and got the job done. We are now off to Moab for our climbing camp!