Orientation Expedition 2023

Mountain Connection: September 5th, 2023

By: Jed Donnel

Per tradition, the Upper School headed out to the woods last week for Orientation Expedition. Students in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades took backpacking treks into Rocky Mountain National Park and The Zirkels, though I had the pleasure of returning to the Nokhu Crags, adjacent to Cameron Pass, with this year’s 9th graders. The larger ambition of the trip is to reassociate students of all ages with expedition behavior and build community, though the focus of the Crags trips was especially to allow new students time to get to know one another and to bond within the highly effective team-building modes of trail hiking and tent groups. I was familiar with the routes from last year’s trip, and this year I worked alongside Kaiti with a group of seven 9th graders and one junior, who graciously provided her experienced perspective and mentorship over the first day before needing to hustle back to Steamboat for a silks performance on Thursday (SMS students are indeed versatile). Those of you who read my report last year may recall the tale of a rather aggressive and perhaps mildly insane moose who charged into our camp and chased us away from the stove before devouring our entire dinner. Although a sign warning of such moose-related oddities marked the entrance to the Crags camp again this year, fortunately we saw no other sign of the malicious cervidae. In fact, the whole of the trip was quite pleasant and without incident. We enjoyed lovely weather, the general serenity of the outdoors, a vibrant super blue moon, and each other’s company. Shortly after setting up tents on day one, we proceeded at a blistering pace (set by ambitious students) up a short but steep pitch to Lake Agnes. Toes were dipped into frigid and crystal-clear glacial waters, a few stones were skipped, a few lovely cutthroat trout were caught on flyrods, and students mingled with the other 9th grade group who shared a similar schedule. That night Kaiti and I demonstrated how to prepare a delicious twist on simple ramen – ours included soy sauce, a dab of peanut butter, mashed potatoes, fresh cucumber and carrot, and various seasonings  – before we set the two cooking groups loose to make their own decisions. The girls concocted a variation of ours that favored potatoes over veggies, while the boys went the fast and furious route in an entertaining race against themselves to produce straight ramen (quite al dente) with a side of canned chicken. Later, they raided our supply of snacks while we all played a game of ‘camouflage’ in the dark, wherein the ‘it’ remained stationary and donned a headlamp in hopes of espying each other member of the group who crept ever closer in an attempt to tag the ‘it’. ’ 

Our second day involved a challenging nine(ish)-mile hike up to Snow Lake on the other side of the Crags. We miscalculated (or perhaps fibbed) the distance as 5 miles, though Ms. Wither’s group figured it was more like 11, so we split the difference. In any case, the second half was above treeline and featured spectacular vistas. Students took a dip into the frigid and aptly named Snow Lake at around 12,000 feet, and some of us fished a bit more while others ventured an extra mile south to peer over the edge of a saddle bordering Rocky Mountain National Park. All in all, the students maintained great attitudes throughout. They stayed safe, looked out for one another, were lively and engaged, and certainly they accomplished their primary objective. The trip was memorable and enjoyable, an excellent springboard to the academic term. We arrived back to campus safe and sound on Friday, cleaned the van and our cooking gear, and quickly huddled to acknowledge a job well done. Both Kaiti and I were impressed by the students, and we’re looking forward to working with them this year. Enjoy the photos below from our trip and others.

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