The day began at 6:30 AM with Zach and I waking up to finish our RAD Plans. The morning was a bit crazy and hectic as there were a plethora of tiny items that had to be addressed before the instructors left to go on their hike. During this hectic spell, Eric managed to cook up a spectacular breakfast cake consisting of cornmeal, brown sugar, and cheese. Quite sugary and filling, just the way I preferred my breakfasts in the wilderness.
At 11 AM, the instructors bid us all adieu and began their hike. Once the instructors were out of sight, the group was overcome with an aura of childlike craziness, with everyone shouting all communication in their finest European accents (this was a theme throughout the trip, but became normal speaking voice on ISGE) and letting their own inner kid take over. Certain people even found it necessary to remove most outer layers of clothing in order to hike in their skivvies. That's the effect 26 days in the wilderness has on some folks.
My group departed for our expedition at 12:37 PM, beginning a 4 mile hike. The first part was tough, an 800 foot climb over one and a half miles to the top of a saddle. As we approached the top, dark clouds began to assemble overhead. This is not a particularly good omen at 11,000 feet...you become an organic lightning rod. But our emotions of concern at the clouds were met with and equal dose of breathtaking amazement not only the view of the valley below us, but because it began to snow. In August. And they were big, thick snow pellets too, not that flurry crap you might get on a 35 degree day in the East. An aura of relaxing calm and delight came over me as I reveled in the beauty of the big white pellets and the vast valley below us, boasting a river, lush green meadows, and jagged brown peaks to both sides.
We thoroughly quickened the pace to get down to a more reasonable altitude in case the storm decided to become electrical. At our first and only packs off break, the group vibe was tremendous. Everyone was extremely happy to be where they were at right at that moment, taking awe in the view around us and enjoying one another's company. Can you even ask for anything more in any given moment life? To just be happy in the moment, whatever it brings?
Not 45 minutes later, we were at our X: A lovely, slightly slanted, grassy plain overlooking a wildflower-laden river. We delighted in the large mountains to our East and West as well, and it seemed to heighten the feeling of awe built into the surrounding landscape. The day was over at 3:15 PM! This fact excited the whole group and after setting up camp, we retreated to our various desired recreational activities. Some read, some found a quiet spot to sit and think, and some went down to the river for a dip. I partook in all three activities, though my dip in the river was more of an opportunity to rinse off the dirt tan line which had consumed both of my knees. As dark brown as they were, I might as well have been tanning at the Equator for weeks, ready to burst forth with all manner of skin malady. Zach and Noah took advantage of the river to dunk themselves in a 3 foot deep pool of extremely chilly water. Their expressions did not convey a terribly great amount of joy upon being surrounded by frigid mountain H2O. Understandable.
The two poolmen also took it upon themselves to make dinner, a filling, two pot combination of rice, beans, and cheese. CHILI! This was another staple of our diet, and each bite was full of scrumptious, stomach pleasing goodness. Zach made Mazzerbars once again for lunch tomorrow (or dessert for those whom the temptation of The Mazzerbar was just too great). During this entire process, the group sat together and joked around like old friends. It felt like we were just a group of people out for 3 day camping trip, which was marvelous as for the last 25 days, we'd been camping, but also in school as well. This trip was merely camping and fun.
At this point, I had been wearing my new hat for some time, completely forgetting that it adorned my skull. Earlier in the day, we found what appeared to be an old gallon ice cream bucket lying in the field near our desired kitchen. Following the principles of Leave No Trace, we picked it up. Then I put it on my head. I don't really remember why. I think because I was feeling quite silly and putting that ice cream bucket on my head was the epitome of silliness at that moment. :)
Just as the night seemed to be winding down, Zach looked at the mountain behind us, its summit rising steeply nearly 600 feet from our position. He proclaimed that we should conduct a peak ascent. All the boys looked at each other for about 5 seconds before telepathically agreeing. The 7 of us dashed up the hillside towards the mountain. Lily decided to stay and relax...not a bad decision given the amount of effort we were about to put forth.
We attacked the mountain ferociously, a "mountain man" feeling descending over us. We were galloping in the wilderness with a singular goal in mind: To conquer this silly mound of dirt. It was begging us. I felt about 8 years old, the entire landscape as my playground. We hiked up one way at first which proved to be too steep. I took a different way down and stumbled upon a much more gradual ascent, and yelled for others to join me. We bounded up the side of the mountain, shouting and yelling any jolly thoughts that came to mind. Some of us made it to the summit and some of us didn't, but both groups were treated to a startling sunset as it descended behind other mountains in our view. The orange border that forms like a pixel-width border around a mountain when the sun is setting behind it provides a wonderfully accentuated view of how lovely a place really is.
We raced down just as we raced up, the mountain our version of a McDonald's playplace. Sleep came quite easily that night, the quick 4 mile hike mixed with a peak ascent our gateway to rest. But the night would not end without a farcical nuzzle from nature to make sure we really all were happy to be here and that it wasn't just good circumstances that let us put on a show. My tent had a broken zipper on the fly, but we didn't fully realize this until the zipper came off while trying to close the fly for the night. An hour and much ingenuity later, we were finally able to go to sleep. Using some pliers, we got the zipper back onto its track, able to zip down about 3/4 of the fly. Then, Noah sewed on a buckle which, more or less, kept the other 1/4 of the fly together. If it had poured, we would have gotten a bit wet, but it didn't and we didn't. Just a good, fun, lovely day to be alive.
Day 1 of our Independent Expedition was the best day of the whole course. The great group vibe, teamwork, scrumptious food, spontaneous silliness, and sheer fun all combined together into a day I'll never forget. Many other days were similarly amazing, but this one took the cake.