Peak Ascents & Laughter in the Rain: A 10-Day Youth Adventure
From July 17th to the 26th, Summit Adventure instructors Daniel Hiebert and Kristen Narum took five young adults out backpacking on a 10-day adventure leadership course through the Sierra National Forest and Ansel Adams Wilderness. Upon their return to Summit’s base at the end of their trip, I had the privilege of interviewing three of the participants–Jack, Alex, and Chloe–about the adventures and learning experiences of their longest stint in the backcountry.
If you could pick three to five words to describe this course, what would you choose?
Jack: ‘Dance parties on peaks’–four. Um–‘singing.’ We did a lot of singing–a lot of a capella.
Alex: ‘A whirlwind of adventure.’ …’Fun.’
Chloe: Yeah, definitely a lot of fun. ‘Spectacular,’ ‘really pretty,’ …‘adventurous.’ And ‘rainy.’
Describe the rainy weather you experienced.
Jack: It felt so miserable at the time, because…we all just huddled under Daniel’s green tarp–
Alex: That was one of the lightning drill times.
Jack: –but, I feel like I look back at all those times we were stuck out in the rain, and…I kind of liked it. We told embarrassing love stories for, like, four hours, so yeah, it felt awful at the time, but I look back on it fondly.
Alex: For me, personally, the lightning drills–well, the first one we went through [which] was an hour and a half–were a really big growing experience for me, too, just ‘cause it was me and my thoughts and God. So I sang a lot and prayed a lot and just thought a lot about what was happening, ‘cause I mean, like, we weren’t in that much danger. But still, if God wanted to hit me with lightning, he could, you know. My destiny wasn’t in my hands at that point. So that was a pretty neat experience for me to be in. Just kinda, ‘All right God, let’s see what you do.’
Chloe: [Same,] I was just learning to trust God, put my life in his hands.
Me: How close was the lightning?
Jack: It was like a giant flash-boom and everyone got their sleeping mats and ran. Our pizza dough was left out in the rain. We still cooked it, though.
Chloe: Our pizza was gross.
Alex: The pizza became a running joke of the trip.
Jack: Well, because [the three of us] were a food group and our pizza turned out terrible, but the other food groups’ pizzas tasted amazing.
Me: Was it because yours got wet?
Jack: Both got wet, they just handled theirs a little better.
Alex: Ours was like in a puddle of water; it was like floating. So we had raw dough, cheese, and tomato paste for dinner that night.
Alex: The second lightning drill was just fun, we played baseball with pinecones–
Jack: With pinecones and our water bottles–
Alex: –we’d hit them back and forth to each other.
Jack: We were sitting on our mats, our Ridgerests, like 20 feet apart from each other.
What were some other new experiences you had out on course?
Alex: Cooking that much food. I mean, I cook some, but not like every meal that I eat. So that was new. I mean, it wasn’t that hard, it was just ‘add water and boil it,’ but it was still a different, new experience.
Jack: I feel like we kinda learned independence…we had one day when we had to go from Upper Jackass to this rock climbing place alone, without the leaders, cross-country… Also, a lot of leadership, too. They did a good job teaching that.
Alex: And just like, how to work well–‘cause if someone didn’t want to serve that day, basically everything was messed up and put out of whack; if I didn’t want to clean the pot, like the pot needed to be cleaned, and other people were cleaning other stuff. I mean, there’s also a lot of things that I did that went unnoticed, but there was probably a lot that they did that went unnoticed…serving was necessary, not like a nice thing you could do.
Chloe: Being on top of peaks. That was awesome… We went to Sing (10,525 ft.) and Madera (10,509 ft.).
Jack: We went to Sing on Kristen’s birthday. We had some brownies up there and brought costumes. And had a giant dance party.
How was the experience of independent travel?
Alex: That was one of my favorite days, honestly.
Jack: If we were [cross-country traveling, the leaders] were just at the back, kind of letting us do our thing, and if we’d do something [mistakenly], they’d kinda like, ‘Uh maybe not,’ or like, Kristen would start laughing.
Alex: ‘Why don’t you check your map again?’
Jack: And then we’d realize that we should probably do something different. Or sometimes we’d walk down the face of a mountain and we’d look back and they’d just be sitting down at the top, so [we’d realize], ‘Oh, we should probably make sure we’re doing everything right.’
Chloe: But, I think we did good; I think we worked together.
Alex: Yeah. We got to where we needed to go really early, and didn’t really get lost any. Had to go through some really thick bushes, but–*chuckles*.
Did you all go out on Solo, too?
Alex: For six hours.
Chloe: We got cut short by rain.
Jack: We were going to do 24 hours, which I was pumped for, I thought it was going to be really cool, but then it rained.
Alex: Still, the time I had alone was still good… Wrote a lot.
What were some of the hardest challenges you faced?
Alex: For me, it was just being away for that long and not knowing what was going on with my family or with my girlfriend or friends… one of them could be dead, but, you know–I mean, I didn’t really think about it that much, but your mind does wonder every now and then. That was probably the hardest thing for me, just being away for this long, but I mean, I’m here now and it’s fine.
Chloe: There was one day of hiking that was pretty hard. I was like, ‘Just put one foot in front of the other, and just keep going.’ …And I had blisters.
Me: How far did you guys hike that day?
Chloe: Five miles?
Alex: But it was like, uphill, through the backcountry, with tons of trees and stuff, so it wasn’t easy… It was a hard day, but once we got to Lady Lake, it made it all worth it.
Jack: That second day was tough; it was our first actual day with the packs on, and then it took a lot to get used to. I don’t know, there were a lot of challenges, but I kind of enjoyed all of them, I think.
Alex: Yeah, and everything was so new that day, too, ‘cause they were like, ‘Here’s a compass and a map, show us how to use them and get us there.’ We’re like, ‘Uhhh is this how it’s gonna be?’ But it ended up being fine.
What was the best part?
Alex: Probably, for me, the views. ‘Cause when you work hard all day, and then you get to the top of something, and you just look out and you see mountains for miles, it’s like–yeah, I’ll do that two more times, just to see this view again.
Jack: …Also that rappelling was so much fun, we rappelled off of a 170-foot [cliff, the Prow]–that was a lot of fun. And rock climbing, too. Everything was fun.
Me: Was it scary at all for any of you, going off the Prow?
Alex: We didn’t know that… we thought our feet would touch [the cliff] the whole time–and then I like, fell off–like, ‘Oh! You know, I’m not touching [the face anymore]’ …It was really fun; we were laughing the whole time.
Jack: We were just laughing uncontrollably. A lot of laughter on the trip.
Alex: Definitely, like, great people to be with.
Jack: I’d fall over laughing and start crying sometimes.
Alex: And we’re such different people; we all came from really different backgrounds and stuff, but we connected really well. Everyone was like family.
Me: What was it like being with the same people for ten days?
Jack: I thought it was nice, because we got to know each other really well… We’d [tell] life stories every night, just kind of getting to know what people have struggled with and stuff.
What was something that surprised you while you were on course?
Jack: The whole cross-country travel. I didn’t know that was a thing people could do. I thought it was really awesome that it was possible to find where you were and orient the map and get your bearing and kinda figure out where you were going without using a trail. I thought that was really cool.
Alex: I’d say, for me, it was just how heavy the backpack was. I mean, you see them in movies and stuff, and I had worn one before with not that much stuff on, but… it was pretty darn heavy the first couple of days.
What were some other highlights of the trip?
Chloe: The climbing was a lot of fun, too. That was the first time I had ever climbed. Ever.
Alex: And she aced ‘em all.
Me: How was climbing for the first time?
Chloe: I was a little bit scared at first, but then my confidence grew.
Alex: Everyone got to the top of every [climbing route].
What was something you learned about yourself?
Alex: That I can get through anything, you know, like, through sitting in that rain and stuff, ‘cause it was really like three days straight of rain, with a little sun in between. It felt like it would never end, but, like I said earlier, I’m here now and fine; everything’s gonna be all right in the end.
Jack: I learned that [spending] some time [with] just you in silence, just you and your thoughts, that can be really good… Writing in a journal and reflecting back on your day… I learned that I should probably do that more; I got a lot out of it.
Chloe: I learned that I can push through things, like there’s no bottom. If it’s just discomfort, it’s just discomfort–and there’s really nothing to it.
Jack: Yeah, like perseverance is another thing I learned–’cause like, it would rain, and we’d get all sad, and it’d rain more, and then it’d stop raining, and then rain again–so, it [could] get a little demoralizing, but I think we all stayed pretty enthusiastic through it all.
Me: Why do you think you guys stayed enthusiastic?
Chloe: Because we had each other.
Jack: Like, ‘Ah, this sucks, but we’re gonna get through it–’
Alex: It sucks for everyone… And like we said, [we realized] the rain’s not gonna last forever. We’d be dry eventually.
Last question, what’s going to be the best part about coming back into the front-country?
Jack: OKAY, third or fourth night in–
*Alex and Chloe burst into laughter*
Jack: –I had a dream I was at CVS, like a drugstore, looking at all of the different candies, and I picked a king-size Snickers bar, and got a pint of caramel ice cream, and then I went home and cut up the Snickers bar, and put it into the caramel ice cream. And ever since then and ever since I told everyone about the dream, I know I have been craving it, and the first thing I do when I get home, I’m gonna go and get a king-size Snickers bar, and a pint of caramel ice cream, mix it all up, and eat it, and I’m so excited for that, like I’ve been looking forward to that so much. All week.
Alex: And now he’s made all of us want it, too.
Jack: And for all of the chocolate that Kristen and Daniel have been eating, I’m gonna add some mini M&M’s in there, too. I’ve planned it out.
Chloe: Yeah, I’m definitely ready for some food that I’m not cooking and that probably won’t fail… Being warm.
Alex: A bed. Not having to wear a beanie every night to bed. My friends and family… Going inside when it rains.
Any last comments?
Alex: All in all, it was a great time.