Monday, November 2, 2015

Fall Trek 2015 Reflections

Wilderness & Civilization
Fall Trek 2015

Entry 1: Gunnar & Lauren
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Dinner time was the coziest time. One of my favorite things about being in the wilderness is living each day by the minute and relying solely on yourself and your immediate community, including all aspects of the landscape, to keep you jiving. For me, balanced meals and sustenance are an exciting part of all of this. Since we were assigned the very first evening’s meal, we decided to pack in about 4 pounds of vegetables-each- so as to best revitalize and prepare our lovely backcountry family. We were both very pleased to have dropped those pounds and satisfy our peers early on!
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    Photo courtesy of The Hiker Formerly Known as Chance
“Those two out there are Pilot and Index, and just to the right is The Thunderer in the Lamar Valley. Then if you look out way over that way…”
“…That is Electric Peak!”
“ **** yes!”
I was very stoked to recognize my summer playground from the top of our layover-day adventure, Chalice Peak. Sitting at 11,153 feet on this bluebird day, my body and mind struck by altitude giddiness, I was reassured by our guide, Tim, that the mountains which I was gazing upon were those that are a part of me in the sense that I had grown in their presence just a few weeks earlier. We saw The Thunderer, the Tetons, and Electric Peak. We spent four hours up on top of Chalice. I had never before hiked to a summit so high. It was the perfect way to bask in the glory of our landscape and take time to soak in the first 36 hours of our trek.

Entry 2: Tessa Leake and Ryan Morgan

The fall trek into the Beartooth Wilderness largely revolved around water. Not only was it a place to refill our water bottles and take in a nice view, but it also served as a hub for the alpine wildlife and a place of serenity for all of us to soak in the experience. This photograph features Diaphanous Lake on Lakes Plateau in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. The crystal clear waters reflected the scene above it perfectly so it appeared as if we were seeing two the landscape that  spread out before. Water was an integral part of our trek into the Beartooth Wilderness. Reaching this lake in particular was a momentous
occasion for us as it signified the top of Lakes Plateau, which we had taken the whole day to climb up. The waters of the lake renewed everyone¹s energy and replaced weariness with a sense of excitement.

This lake is Lake Dreary; a lake that several of us hiked to on our lay-over day. We were not the only ones drawn to the water; Clark¹s Nutcrackers could be seen frantically but gracefully searching for food over the water, while a flock of ducks paddled around the lake as a safe haven from predators. and Yellowstone Cutthroat prowled the shore line, occasionally rising to the surface to gulp down a fly.


>This photograph gives a little sneak peak as to why we backpack, for the serenity that only an alpine lake can provide. We reached Jordan Lake on the fifth day and were graced with this incredible sunset. As the sun sank over the mountains, the sky turned fantastic shades of pink and blue. Every minute brought about a different scene as the lighting changed and the sun slowly disappeared. It was hard to believe that this was the beginning of our school year, and exciting to know that the semester would be laced with even more time in the backcountry.

 This stream illustrates all the life that the bodies of water we experienced housed. We saw a trout that had braved the swim all the way up this stream from the lake to reside in a little alcove underneath the bank of the creek. While walking along it, we also got to see a muskrat swimming around in the water and quickly dart into its shelter when our shadows surprised it. Even the smallest areas of water such as a creek or a stream are teeming with life, and these two creatures were just a few that we got to observe.

This photograph was taken at the end of the trek near Woodbine trailhead. We hiked in silence down the trail next to the river, hearing nothing but the rushing water. The path of the river is unchanged; the incessant current goes where it needs to go, as did we that morning. It was time for us to return to civilization, though we would have been happy to permanently reside in the woods. The river carried us downstream and took us where we needed to go at the time, but the current of the water is hard to resist, and we will be drawn back eventually.

Entry 3: Carly Stinson, Camille Kintzele

The season of fall is a time for reflection. It is the end of a cycle, but also the beginning of a new one. For our fall trek to the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness we did a loop that took us up onto the Beartooth Plateau. Since we were disconnected from our lives in the city, the simplicity of our days allowed us time to observe the changes around us. Since this area was so untouched, we were able to see the natural cycles that have been occurring over and over before our time.
Often summer is the season when we get out and hike, when everything is obviously full of life. The meadows are full of colorful flowers. Glacier lilies popping up right after the snow melts or mountain shooting-star flowers blooming. Venturing out in the fall made identifying plants often more difficult because they couldn’t be identified by their flowers. As colder weather approaches, we were able to see the plants begin to decompose. This was rewarding because it allowed us to observe and appreciate the less distinctive features of plants. As we increase our knowledge of the plants and animals, we increase our understanding of how the ecology of the area works.
By experiencing some of the cycles in nature, we were able to understand some of the cycles in our own lives. On night five of the trek, the sun went down over the stillness of Pinchot Lake. The sun had already set on us, but we could still watch by the water’s edge as the mountains lit up and the clouds with color. The sunset reminded us that each day the sun will rise and set, just like it has for millions of years. It is a reminder that sometimes we look too far in the future and do not take time to enjoy the moment that we are in. Being in the Wilderness allows us to slow down and focus on the things that are really important in life. Suddenly our cellphones and hot showers don’t seem as important as we remember them.
Each time we go into the Wilderness, we get a deeper connection to the landscape, ourselves, and the people around us. We return to civilization refreshed. As we grow, the Wilderness often remains the same, but we are able to understand and appreciate it differently. Going into the Wilderness is an opportunity to drop the baggage we carry around and hit reset in our own lives. We remember to focus on what is important to us. Like Wilderness, each time a cycle restarts we become rejuvenated and more full of life.
We are excited to observe the changes from the cycles both in nature and our lives

Andrew Thomas and Lizzie Dahler watch the sun set at Pinchot Lake

Pinedrops would be recognizeable by its yellow bells, but they had turned reddish brown in preparation for fall.

Tiny in comparison, Jackson Holte looks out on the mountains

Wounded Man Lake

All of Group 1 in a meadow near the top of Jordan pass

Entry 4:  ZoĆ« Leake and Andrew C.
Plugging In
I am looking out across this lake at a peak with two small glaciers and the oldest exposed rock in North America. The Absaroka Beartooths are supposedly one of the wildest places in Montana, and have been my home for the last five days. As I look out at the water and the peaks and the most beautifully rich blue sky dusted with white clouds, I consider myself privileged to be in this place in this moment.
Fresh cold mountain air fills my lungs and I know what it feels like to breathe. Unpolluted by man and society, my lungs are no longer struggling for air, no longer constricted by emissions. Yes, I can actually breathe. With each breath I can hear the loud sounds of the city dying; the city lights no longer giving light to the night, with no polluted clouds to block the stars. With this “death” of societal morns comes new life.
All I hear is the singing of birds as they wake in the morning, the squirrels squeaking as they chase one another. This loud noise is happening everyday, all around us, and I have been a witness to it. The night is lit up with the stars of the universe, a true light in the dark. With the night comes a new sound – a quiet sound with the nocturnal animals waking to fill the night with life.
As I wander through the mountains, I feel the cool breeze, the earth between my toes. I begin to understand that this is how life has been since before man ruled the earth, and I begin to resent the static-like sounds of the city. It is not the sound of the Earth, spoken through the wind rustling the leaves or a tree falling and a sapling taking its place. or the sound the water makes at alpine lakes as the wind billows tiny waves into boulders.
             I realize I am just like the dirt beneath my feet. Out here I am not a man. I am not a woman. We are of the earth. Our entire being rests on the shoulders of breathable air, clean water, and sustenance. I am humbled by Pink Mountain Heather, which seems to grow effortlessly in a rugged and unforgiving environment while I have spent my whole life struggling to grow in an environment where everything is at my greatest convenience.
            “How near to good is what is WILD!” says Thoreau. Let us be good and let us be wild.


Entry 5: Andrew and Lizzie
The following events have been dramatized to heighten emotions and make Andrew look good.

I stood staring up at the great cylindrical tubes of rice, grains, and crushed beans towering over me. My mouth went dry. My hands started to shake. My right knee itched. I snatched at the plastic bags and started to fill them with random amounts of bean powder, vegetable soup mix, and white rice. My heart stopped pounding and I relaxed, I had the food, the people would be fed. Just as I was about to head to the register a friendly but tired looking good food store employee stopped me and said "sir, you have to put the product number on the bag so we know how to price your dry goods. " I mumbled something and turned back to the silos. It was only then that I realized each one had a label with calories by weight. Oops. It was okay. I had the food, the people would be fed. I quickly scribbled down the product numbers, paid, and fled the good food store.
A group of unsuspecting scholars two days away from doom. 

I hope Andrew got the right food, I want the people to be fed.

I had carried the bag of rice and vegetable soup and bean mix for four long days, hoping every step of that way that it wouldn't tear and desperately waiting for my chance to prove I was the greatest backpacking chef to ever honor the wilderness and civilization program with my presence. The night had come, Lizzie and I squatted by the twin whisper lights as they whispered lightly at the pots of water placed atop them. As the stronger stove brought its contents to a roiling boil I poured the bag of mixed ingredients into the pot. It almost overflowed with dried food and I still had a third of a bag left. My stomach dropped. The calculations were wrong. I could feel my aspirations turning to dust as the muck in the pot bubbled occasionally
The so called “Crunch Wrap Supreme” and a beautiful fresh fish.

Andrew I think you brought too much food.
There was so much diversity in the species around us and so little in our diet. 

Twenty long minutes had passed. At this point the rest of students had gathered around the stoves, their eyes trained greedily on the brown mush. They resembled a pack of wolves, ragged and anxious. Occasionally someone would offer a comment like “ you should stir it” as I was stirring it. Everything started to burn. They rice just wouldn’t soften up. Evan, our guide and guiding light, pointed out that the rice would probably never soften up. What had I done? Had I failed all my new friends? The shame was unbearable.

This is Andrew’s fault.

She had done it, she had mutinied, defected, washed her hands of me, and her betrayal was complete. The pot of rice and beans bubbled and burned as I gazed into it, hoping desperately to find some deeper meaning to all of this. If I couldn’t cook rice and beans in the backcountry what could I do?

We should just eat it.
We spent the trek surrounded by gorgeous scenery.

Just eat it? Could she really be suggesting such a thing? Fine, let them come, let them devour the poison I created with my arrogance and my ill planning. They descended and attacked the pot with spoons, sporks, and forks. They hungrily shoveled the hot brown mess into their mouths and to my amazement some of them smiled. What was happening? They came for seconds and thirds. They had their fill. It was almost as if they didn’t need a five star meal in the backcountry. I heard someone say heartily that they thought it was a 5 out of 10. Maybe a 5 out of 10 is the best kind of backcountry meal. Maybe it matters more who you share a meal with, than what you actually share with them. I looked upon them, no longer wolves, but my friends, happy and healthy, and I smiled. Lizzie looked down at the burnt layer of beans at the bottom of the pot, and then she glanced up at me.
At least we don’t have dish duty tonight.
Amazing chefs Andrew Thomas and Lizzie Dahler both thoroughly enjoyed their time in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. They hope for a future where there is enough wild spaces for everyone to enjoy “delicious” backcountry meals. 

Entry 6: Gabriel Adler and Lauren O’Laughlin

                After spending so much time anticipating the fall trek, it seems surreal that it is already behind us. The weeks leading up to the trek were full of fire belly. Missoula’s sky was clogged with smoke, and it initiated the fear we would be unable to escape it for our fall trek.  In all the chaos, it became obvious that once we finally set out on the trail head our lives wouldn’t slow down for the entirety of the semester.

                One of the best and most sought after parts of going into the wilderness is the ability to escape from society.  It is not always easy to be present in the wildness of the landscapes we traveled through. At times, you just zone out at the heel of the person hiking in front of you. Fish stalked lakes, man made and maintained trails, horse tracks and shoes, and the occasional abandoned trench coat are all reminders of human influence.  However, there were many times we were able to fully appreciate a moment.  As a group, we marveled over the pink skies of the sunset, the clear waters that carved through grassy meadows, the full night sky with subtle streaks of milky way, and the peaks rising up on either side of the valleys we moved through. The lakes seem clearer, the air seems fresher, the fish taste better but everything is relative. Up on the plateau the low hanging lenticular clouds were a reminder of how high we were.

                The days of the week quickly melted away at the foot of the trailhead and all that mattered was where the sun was at in the sky. There was no need for a watch, no appointments, no obligations. The thought of life back home occasionally popped in for a visit but was easily shewed away. With all this static and weight lifted from the mind it was easier to stand comfortably in awe at the world around. On our fall trek it became something of a custom to welcome a new view, or new landscape in with a list of loving appreciation:
                “I love the way the rocks pile at the base of the mountain.”
                “I love the way the river bends.”
                “I love the way the water polishes rocks along the creeks.”

                We learned about ourselves and our landscapes, but also each other. We spent most hours of this trip in our group, from the groggy good morning greetings to evenings spent huddled around a campfire.  We played games, we told stories, and we cooked delicious backcountry meals for each other. Some of us caught their first fish and a few more received their first ‘fish slap’.  In the beginning, we all varied in backpacking experience and had different expectations for what would come of the week.  But in the end, we all came out of this trip closer to each other and with a better personal definition of wilderness. 

Entry 7: Kaitlin Martin and J. Chance

                We participated in the Wilderness and Civilization Fall Trek of 2015 in the Absorka-Beartooth Wilderness with ten other students and two trip leaders.  We started our journey at the West Fork of the Stillwater Trailhead and hiked forty five miles through the wilderness, ending at the Woodbine trailhead.  Over the forty five miles, we spent a day journaling in the golden grasses of Breakneck Meadows, hiked up thousands of feet to the Lakes Plateau, summited Chalice Peak, saw a porcupine, sang around the campfire, yelled about Clark’s Nutcrackers, watched the sky light up at Jordan Lake, slapped each other with fish, and made memories that are bound to last.    

Anticipation for a wilderness experience was shared by all and formed the foundation of our bonds. A five hour car ride enabled new friendships to spark, and older ones to strengthen. By the time our feet hit the trail, we could easily say we were entering a new place together. Conversations waxed and waned as we shared silent admiration for the place we wandered through. Every night became a ritual, as we made camp and set up an epicenter of friendships and conversations around a warm and welcoming camp fire. Social bonds began weaving a web between individuals to make for a strong connection to the entire group.

During downtime and a layover day, individuals sauntered off into their own personal oblivion. What began as an assignment, quickly changed into a personal journey of observations. Forcing our attention to sit, observe, and translate what we were experiencing into our field journals enabled a beauty to radiate through the seemingly simple structures of nature itself. Ink spread across pages attempting to capture these moments of an experience. The act of field journaling directs our attention into deliberate thought and expression with the intent of understanding the natural world. It is a skill that we hope we all continue to exercise and develop. 

            On the Trek, we took our time to appreciate what was around us and reflect on our lives.  But, we also had time to have fun.  As we hiked for hours and hours through the trees and up switchbacks, singing, jokes, and strange dance moves helped us get through the day.  We came up with silly trail names, played pranks, and even slapped each other in the face with fish.  The humor that carried throughout the trip helped our group keep positive even when it got cold and hot, when our feet hurt, and when we didn’t get enough sleep.  It helped us discover each other’s personalities, made us stay in the present, and made our time in the backcountry thoroughly enjoyable.

On the fourth day, one of our field leaders, Tim, decided to lead a group to the summit of Chalice Peak.  There were five who decided to go including us, Tim, Lauren, and Lindsay.  We started off the day by hiking across the plateau, walking over the rolling hills, passing by whitebark pine and little lakes and ponds. As we gained elevation, the vegetation became sparse and the rocks became bigger.  We all wandered up, breathing hard with the thin air, but still in good spirits.  We took our time to pick up small fragment of glittering rocks and look back to appreciate the view sprawling in the distance.  Finally, we scrambled to the top, all in breathless awe.  At 11,200 feet above sea level, we could see our camp below at Woundedman Lake.  We could also see several other lakes that dotted the plateau including the pristine cirque that contained Chalice Lake one thousand feet directly below us.  We gazed upon the immense bulk of Montana’s high point, Granite Peak, and stared into the distance at the faint outline of the Tetons in Wyoming.  Spending four hours at the summit, basking in the sun, all of us sat and looked, reflected and appreciated all of what lay before us.    

Our final descent through the Stillwater Gorge was carried by bittersweet waters. A welcomed rest lay down-valley at the trailhead, but also the end our experience together. The sound of school, work, and relationships crept up to us, invading the wilderness. But, only with the realization that more adventures, both in wild and civil places, await this pack of wildfolk. 

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