Alaska 2019 Student Reflections

For 17 days in July, 12 Upper School students experienced the wild beauty of Alaska while backpacking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the United States. While there were many moments that were “so cool,” students were assigned to contribute a reflection piece of their choosing in an attempt to expand on the awe of the physical landscape that they immersed themselves in for 17 days.  The following is their effort to try to capture and hold onto the experiences and lessons learned during their adventure in Alaska.


 

“I learned a lot from being around experienced people my age. Most if not all of these people see the Outdoor Program as a way of life, and they express some of their greatest strengths through it. Previous knowledge of a snow-traversal buddy system, or experience with rock climbing can be used as base skills if you want to ice climb. Sharing a passion with someone makes your learning process much more efficient and enjoyable.

It was this exciting learning environment that helped me love where I was and what I was doing. Being out in the middle of nowhere helped me zoom out and, in a way, meditate. This meditative state further allowed me to love where I was and what incredible journeys I had at my fingertips.”

Julian, Class of 2021


The Alaska trip was an experience that I will never forget. Every morning during our backpacking portion I would wake up and be filled by the rich landscape: Mountain peaks of unfathomable proportions, glacier ice sprawling as far as the eye could see, a frozen breeze that reminded me just how distant we were from civilization.  The fact that every student, guide, and teacher shared this same appreciation and humility was magical.

     My favorite experience from Alaska was walking across the vast glaciers. Every time you looked down I would see amazingly clear and clean ice often nuanced with ethereal tints of blue. It was unbelievable to think that directly under my feet was 3,000 feet of pure ice. The glacier has a certain mystery about it because it is so unpredictable and labile. You could be walking along and then suddenly happen upon a ten-foot-wide moulin swallowing thousands of gallons of water every minute. Another beautiful feature that we got to experience was the glacier pools. They were the deepest blue hue that I had ever seen while concurrently being the clearest and most pristine water that I had ever seen. Swimming in a glacier pool was incredibly cold but also an incredible experience. I will never forget our trip to Alaska in its beauty and in the ways that it changed me and challenged me.

Kasper, Class of 2022

 

The Environment:

I’ll never forget looking down at my feet the first time we stepped on the glacier. While the ground was speckled with pebbles and rocks, instead of seeing the dirt underneath them that I’d come to expect, I saw ice that was so clear it seemed more like the absence of ground. Looking down, there was only that small layer of pebbles between my feet and then what appeared to be nothingness. Like I was standing on the sky.

And the trip continued like that: we would do things I’ve been doing forever in a place that made them seem completely new. We were hiking on the surface of a glacier that was thousands of feet deep, and the surface kept changing. Sometimes, the ice was brilliant blue and slightly melted into what looked like crystals, making it seem like a diamond lake. Or, the glacier would turn rocky as we crossed through moraines, where streams would carve clear paths through the rocks. Always surrounding us, there were beautiful mountains, some covered in majestic ice-fall.

We went through the routine of tying a double-eight knot but got on a wall of ice rather than rock, or rappelled down a moulin, unable to see the bottom when we looked down. Instead of jumping into one of our Utah lakes, we’d be jumping into freezing, ancient, 3,000 feet deep water holes so clear they looked bright blue. Instead of kayaking through a river, we’d be kayaking through icebergs–surrounded by lush, green mountains and beautiful white glaciers.

The Wildlife: 

When we kayaked, mountain goats dotted the land around us. Bald eagles, which I’ve seen maybe once before, became as common as magpies in Utah. Otters could be spotted floating in the ocean as we kayaked past, their brown fur fluffy even when it was wet. The sea lions became our companions as they followed us around through the ocean. 

The People:

The trip wouldn’t have been the same without our amazing group. As a theme, we seemed to form many circles, whether we were sitting on our bear canisters as our guides Elle and Ryan made some impressive meals, or trying in vain to complete a full hack in our hacky-sack circle, or stretching out with fun story-time yoga. Everyone was upbeat and fun to be with, as well as constantly hungry. The amount of food we ate was insane.

The Experience:

All of those elements combined made the trip unforgettable. I’m so grateful I got to be a part of it and I can’t think of a better way to end my time at Waterford. 

Jacqueline, Class of 2019

 

Alaska was for sure the most experiencing experience I have ever experienced and there are few things I can say to explain it more than that. It all really started when I woke up the first night after the day we flew in the 2 person bush plane and almost hit a black bear on takeoff on route to Wrangell St Elias National park. I got out of the tent and was just struck with a sense of awe as I looked around for the first time at the unstopping landscape, completely unlike anything I have ever seen. The most camping I have ever done before this was driving to a campsite with me and my dad and roasting smores and hot dogs until we had to go to bed. So for me to go from something like that to something like this was truly amazing. 

Hiking over the glaciers while getting to know both our guides (larry and Ryan!!!!) and the rest of our group was one of the coolest parts because while I may know some of these people. I got to know them a lot better when we all had to wear the same 2 sweaty dirty pairs of clothes as we hiked for days across the wilderness. We all shared the same experiences and relied on each other for even the small things like helping to attach our water bottles to our near 50-pound backpacks. We even got close enough to make almost everyone in the group sick to what was most likely the same short-lasting bug. To be able to do something like that with such an amazing group of friends is one of the most amazing things about that trip and I have no doubt when I look back on this trip that is what I will remember first.

One moment I won’t soon forget from our backpacking is when we were stuck trying to find our way past these series of crevasses and we had fletcher leading the pack for this leg. He managed to get down a part of the glacier as if it was big Emma at snowbird however for the rest of the group we needed to stake in a climbing rope and use ice tools to chip in footholes to get down a fun process that took upwards of an hour with Kasper napping in the back of the line. Or when we were ice climbing and Travis wanted to try the hardest wall with only one crampon (The other one snapped like a twig) and of course, I got to belay him. For the first 5 minutes, he climbed normally and made about 10 feet however then he got stuck (because he was trying the hardest wall with one crampon!) so I ended up basically pulling him up this behemoth of a wall for longer than I ever expected, wanted, or dare I say deserved. A wall that was only fully climbed by both Fletcher and Mr. Watkins in the end. Or possibly when we were at the end of our kayaking experience and Fletcher and Kasper’s rain jackets were totally soaked so they ended up wearing 2 trashbags with arm holes in it down to dinner and honestly it was hilarious walking down with them in my nice cozy dry raincoat.

On my way out of the house I just randomly decided to grab my watch. Which turned out to be one of the best decisions I made on the trip, because It was always sunny there! It was impossible to tell if it was 2 am or pm or if we had been hiking for 2 hours or 6 hours. However, a bad decision I made was underestimating the raw power of the Alaskan sun. I reapplied two or three times a day thinking that I was all fine. However, in the last day or so before the big hike out Kasper said: “Cooper you look a little sunburned” that turned out to be a big understatement because once I got to look and my face in the potato I saw my face and it was firetruck red everywhere except where my glasses were. It was only after I saw it that I began to feel it burn. Speaking of complaining, we complained a lot the food, my feet, its cold, I forgot my rain jacket but in the end, we backpacked through Alaska together and came out the other side glad for every part of it and that’s something I don’t think anyone will forget.

Cooper, Class of 2020

 

 Alaska. Where to even begin. How majestic. How beautiful. How …. cool. I was seriously taken away by this place. It seemed like everywhere we went, it just kept getting better and better. From the mountains of McCarthy to the gut wrenching moulins of the glaciers to the sea lions of Valdez, Alaska is magic. I feel so lucky to have had this incredible experience, and to have shared it with some of the most incredible people I have ever met. 

     Our first night in Anchorage, we stayed at probably the sketchiest hotel I have ever encountered. I won’t go into too much detail, but Jaqueline and I’s bed had miscellanies stains everywhere, and Sarah and Mia saw more than a few potential bed bugs. Luckily, our shuttle came pretty early to pick us up, as we had an eleven hour road trip to McCarthy. Once we got to McCarthy, however, I knew that this was going to be one of those life-changing kind of experiences. The first actual night (Anchorage doesn’t count) we ate the first of many, many meals at The Potato, and slept in the Nilsson’s cabin. It’s this super cool wooden thing, with one room that Watkins got. The rest of us slept on the floor, in sleeping bags, which was surprisingly pretty comfortable. The next day we met up with SEAG (St. Elias Alpine Guides), and our guides Ryan and Elle, to begin our backpacking journey. We collected snacks, which no one ended up getting enough of, and then took a tiny remote plane out to the glacier. We then did a “day hike” (my definition of a day hike soooo didn’t fit with Elle and Ryan’s definition of a day hike) which took us up to a view point where you could see the lake that causes an event called the Yokaloupe, which is a yearly phenom that the people in McCarthy love, as it cause the glaciers around Mount Blackburn to movie eight feet, rather than their usual three inch daily crawl. 

     The next seven days were a blur of hiking and ice climbing and tent setting and sickness. We did things like come up over Pack Saddle, a campsite where the ice was crystal blue, the type of unforgettable blue that dreams are made of. There, we celebrated the Fourth of July by cooking Thanksgiving, and, luckily, Niklas brought his American flag, so we could feel extra patriotic. After four days of backpacking, we settled at a campsite at the base of Danaho. Unfortunately, a good number of us got sick at this campsite (including me, that was the worst!!), preventing us from hiking up Danaho. Luckily, relatively close to camp, there was some killer ice climbing. Ice climbing is something I would have never done on my own, but I fell in love with it. Using ice as a medium for climbing, rather than rock, was amazing beyond words. We were even able to be lowered into a moulin, and then climb out of it. A moulin is this glacial shaft that water runs into. It’s thousands of feet deep, and it is a death hole – if you fall in, your never coming back out. It was definitely pretty intimidating, but also incredible. 

      The last day of backpacking, Fletcher got really sick, and had to stay behind with Ryan, who also got the bug. The rest of us hiked out with Larry (Elle) as our fearless leader. We had yet another meal at the Potato, and then went to a swimming hole to do laundry and wash off. The only soap or shampoo any of us had was 18-in-1 Dr. Bromers, which doesn’t actually do anything for your hair, expect make it crustier, which led to all of us complaining about how crunchy our hair was. We spent the next two nights back in the Nilsson’s cabin. On our rest day, we went into the mill at Kennecott, with Larry, again, as our fearless leader. She explained the complications of copper mining, and the hard work that the miners had to put in. I think we ate at the Potato again. That night, we said goodbye to Larry and Ryan, which made us all pretty sad. We loved them. 

       The next morning, we started our journey to Valdez. The drive over there was pretty spectacular, with glacial capped mountains, and misty covered lakes. We reeked havoc in a Savers, and then spent the night in campsite. Although it was buggy, it had showers, which we all took advantage of. That night, Nik and Yianni got pretty frustrated with Jacqueline and I’s late night tent talks, and Niklas very nearly threw both of my chacos into the forest. Luckily, both of my chacos survived that experience. Then, we met up with our Pangea guides, Nick and Sharon, who lead us through the sea kayaking portion of the trip. That morning, we ate at the Potato yet again, and took a boat out, going into probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. 

       Our sea kayaking adventures took us through Prince William Sound, which was filled with little otter mamas clinging to their little otter babies, sea lions that were almost too excited to play with us, and waterfalls that would ricochet into the ocean bellow. Jacqueline and I decided that this was the place where trolls lived, and that if dragons were to exist, they would be lurking behind the great islands of this body of water. The mist would settle in just right around our boats, making us feel as if we were in some middle earth, like Bobo Baggins was about to say hi to us. There’s a reason why they named this place Prince William Sound; it is fit for the Princes.  We only spent three days on the sea kayaking leg, but it was perfect. We ate like kings – Nick and Sharon really knew how to cook! The only downside to this magic was that everything got soaking wet. Prince William Sound is a northern temperate rain forest, making the air incredibly moist, and therefore once one of your items got wet, they stayed wet. Fletcher’s book even molded, and all of my things permanently smell. 

        I am so, so grateful to have had this experience. Being outside, in that place, with those people, changed me in a way that I didn’t think was possible.  I am so lucky to go to a school like Waterford where I am able to have experiences like this one. Thank you to my parents that made this possible for me, thank you to Watkins who put together this incredible trip, thank you to my new friends whose stoke level and positivity kept me going, and, last but not least, thank you Alaska. You are imprinted on my soul, and I will never forgot you. 

Ulla, Class of 2021

 

My time in Alaska was a personally life changing experience that further reinforced my love for the outdoors and my desire to pursue outdoor guiding certifications and experiences. Our student group was out in the remote stretches of Alaska for 18 days, however, at times it seemed like we had only been gone for a few hours. Many times when you are away from home, time can drag on and you can’t wait until the day that you get to go home. But for me, it could not have been more different. I wanted to be present and take advantage of every second of every day because being in the remote stretches of Alaska challenged me, inspired me, and changed me. When we were on the plane en route to Alaska, I was giddy with excitement. I could not wait for our excursion to begin. I have previously visited McCarthy, Alaska, but I was now about to experience it in an entirely different way.  My family has a cabin in McCarthy, and we try and visit there every summer, but this trip was an exceptional adventure.

We started off with an eight day backpacking portion which blew my mind. We crossed glaciers, mountains, and valleys, and all the while balancing our steps while carrying fifty pound packs and frequently stopping to change out our crampons to maneuver over the glacial moraine. My surroundings were indescribable, massive peaks, cerulean blue glacial streams, and 20 hours of brilliant sunny skies. This trip will stay with me for the rest of my life because it validated the foundation of who I want to be and in part, what I want to do in life. It has always been my dream to live in McCarthy during the summers, and now after experiencing and exploring the outdoors in this way, by spending time hiking, climbing, and talking with our glacier guides, I can see myself growing into this role. I realize that my dream to professionally explore and guide in the outdoors is attainable, and I will work towards this goal over the next couple of years. These outdoor trips not only give you an amazing once in a lifetime experience for a few weeks, but also leaves you with a unique connection to your teammates, new skills and passions for you to pursue for the rest of your life, and a recognition that you can persevere beyond previous limits. 

Niklas, Class of 2020

 

Waking up in the middle of the night to stare at the cascading ice falls around you. Paddling right past a mama otter and her pup. Tasting burnt grits in every meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

    I can’t describe my time in Alaska by talking about what we did because we did so much,  and I can’t describe Alaska by saying how I felt when I was there because it was so unique. Instead, I’ll give a small impression of my time by talking about the first night.

        I did not realize that it was light all day in Alaska until we arrived. On the taxi ride over to the hotel, I couldn’t process how everyone seemed so tired and drowsy in, what seemed like, the middle of the day. Something felt off, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. At the hotel, this odd feeling got worse and worse. People walking around in their pajamas on the street, a car with a plastic trike smashed in the back window, and a crackhead that poked his head out whenever you walked by his door. All of this would have been scary if it was dark out, but it was bright as day. 

    It may seem that going to Alaska and ice climbing, sea kayaking, backpacking, and more would be daunting or even scary. Certainly, all of those activities are quite dangerous. It would have been scary to do them on my own, but, like the hotel on the first night, I wasn’t alone and it wasn’t scary. On Outdoors trips, Watkins likes to mention how you will never be with the same group of people in the same place again. It was this unique group of people that turned something scary into something meaningful and wonderful for everyone on the trip.

Ben, Class of 2019

 

For me, the word glacier has always meant something barren and white, dangerous and cold. But from that first moment that my feet hit the ground, jumping out of the airplane, I could tell that that wasn’t all the glacier would be. Instead, it was a beautiful, welcoming thing, that would give us countless little gifts along the way. 

The first of these came that same afternoon, when we climbed up the lush hillside to get a view of the glacier. We stood on that ridge, swatting bugs and looking down at a lake, far below, that a few days later would empty in the jokulhlaup (an icelandic term literally meaning “glacier run”) which we could hear right beneath our feet as thousands of gallons of water raced through the ice. But as gorgeous as the view was, I couldn’t help but notice my immediate surroundings: laughing friends wearing bug nets, sitting amongst dense wildflowers. On the way down, we couldn’t help but run, giving in to gravity, but trampling a few of these flowers as we went. I stopped a few times, spotting a plant neatly snapped off at the stem, the flowers still intact. I picked it up, holding the stem next to my hiking poles, and hurried to slide down the patch of snow that led us back to the foss. Those flowers, pressed in the pages of Slaughterhouse Five, traveled with me for the rest of the trip.

The next little gift that the glacier gave me was a day or two later, crossing through a glacial stream. I was walking in line, following Elle as she circumvented a crevasse, but my mind was elsewhere. Where a crevasse has been pulled apart and then pushed back together, the density of the ice changes, creating the most brilliant blue imaginable. I went out of my way to walk across this, looking down at the other world that looked as if it was right beneath my feet. It felt as if you shouldn’t be able to walk there, like you would fall right through into the heavens, and yet the ice held, making a slight crunching sound as I stepped on it with my crampons. I wasn’t particularly paying attention to where I was going in that moment, not even really to where I was, but was just completely absorbed by that one color. But as I walked, there was suddenly a new color that was equally as mesmerizing: the bright green of a rock. I stopped confused and plucked it out of the water, holding it in my hand to see if once it dried, it would keep that same vibrant green. It did, and when we next stopped I showed it to Elle, who smiled and said that I had found a piece of copper, which was exactly what had been mined in the Kennecot mines years before. This little chunk of green, with all of the history attached, went into the belt pocket of my backpack, and we continued on our journey. 

The last gift that the glacier gave me was not so concrete, but I feel like it also needs to be included. The flowers showed me the lushness of the region, and carry with them memories of running up and down that hillside with the group. The chunk of copper reminds me of the beautiful colors of the glacier, which really is so much more than a barren expanse of white. But the final thing that the glacier gave us was just the place itself. From ice climbing, to sitting on the moraine in a circle eating dinner, our group was always basking in the beauty of the glacier, which provided both a playground and a backdrop for us to joke around and enjoy nature. It is the glacier itself that is really a gift, and it scares me a little to know that it is going away. I now feel the need to somehow say thank you to the place, and try my hardest to make sure it stays around for many others to be given these things as well.

Mia, Class of 2019

 

Rivers, Relics & Treks – One Week Down in Slovenia

It’s hard to believe we have been in Slovenia for a week! We are about to embark on our longest trek of the trip to Slovenia’s highest peak, Mt. Triglav.

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On Saturday morning, we packed up our belongings and said farewell to our hut on the mountain. Our Volkswagen vans hummed to the top of the road, and then we started our long, slow descent down the pass. We wound around switchbacks, taking in stunning views of jagged mountains giving way to a lush valley floor. We stopped to hike to the source of the Soca River and explored Fort Hermann, a WWI military fort.

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Exploring Fort Hermann

Our drive to Kobarid took us along the Soca River. The water of the Soca is intensely blue-green, shifting from emerald to jade as the sun hits the water. Our campsite was nestled alongside the river and a short walk from the town center. The Soca River and surrounding mountains are an obvious draw to Kobarid, but it’s also an important WWI site. We visited the WWI museum in town to learn more about the devastating battles between Astro-Hungarian and Italian forces atop the nearby mountains. For nearly three years, these armies battled in trenches along the ridge line until the Astro-Hungarian forces pushed the Italians west (out of current-Day Slovenia).

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The Soca River

After visiting the museum, we escaped the humidity by jumping into the river. Kayakers passed us as we jumped off rocks, eventually letting the current bring us back to our campsite.

Dinner led to bedtime in tents, which led to a long night of rain. We started our day a bit bleary-eyed and soggy, but once fortified with Nutella, we were able to make the drive to our biggest hike of the trip, Mt. Krn and Mt. Batognica.

The students set a steady pace and made their way to the top of Mt. Krn. We rested at the hut and had a quick lunch before pushing over the summit to Mt. Batognica. We were unfortunately denied a view, but Mt. Batognica is rich in WWI relics. We walked past old bunkers, trenches, and shells. It was incredible to think of the armies hauling all of their weaponry and supplies up the trail we just came. The WWI history still fresh in our mind from the museum, it was easy to picture soldiers in the trenches, enduring harsh winters and miserable conditions on the side of the mountain. We made our way down a glacial basin through rolling meadows to our hut.

I was so impressed with the students—we hiked for eight hours and covered at least 10 miles! We were rewarded with a hot meal and ice cream at the hut. Students slept well following a long day on the trail.

Yesterday, we traveled to Lake Bohinj on a car train. Lake Bohinj is Slovenia’s largest lake, a beautiful glacial deposit of crystal blue water in Triglav National Park. It was quite the novelty to be seated in a car as we passed through a 6 km tunnel on train! We spent the afternoon resting by the lake and preparing for our big trek. We leave today for Mt. Triglav, the highest peak in Slovenia. Wish us luck!

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2018 Waterford China Trip: 3 Weeks to Go!

2018 Waterford China Trip: 3 Weeks to Go!

Just three weeks until take off! Here are a couple of quick reminders and updates. We hope you are as excited as we are!

  • Our flight leaves on Tuesday, June 19 at 8:25 a.m. We will meet in the Delta terminal near the check-in kiosks at 6:30 a.m. Please be prompt!
  • In the past we haven’t had troubles bringing prescription medications into China, but as a precaution, we request that you bring any medication in the original packaging, as well as the doctor’s prescription.
  • Charging electronic devices. China uses a different voltage frequency than the United States, but in most cases you don’t need to do anything special to charge your device. China uses 220V, 50Hz, whereas the United States uses 120V, 60Hz, but most electronic devices, including cell phones come with adapters that work within a range of 110V to 220V, 50-60Hz. Most Android phones and iPhones come with chargers that handle this conversion automatically. You can check by reading the small print on your devices’ charger. It should say “110V to 220V.”

“Oh, the Places I Went”

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Tate (second from right) with friends following a performance.

Salud! I’d like to propose a toast to the Summer Term at Waterford. This summer I had the incredible opportunity to travel abroad to Finland, Estonia, and Russia with the Waterford Chamber Orchestra to play and tour in various venues that otherwise, I might not have thought to visit myself. I shared this opportunity with many of my good friends, and my soon to be friends, most of whom are your kids. If your kid was a part of this tour, you’ve probable heard the stories about Eva, and the Russian police, and Nevsky Prospekt, and this yellow building or that yellow building, so I won’t go into depth about those. What I’m here to share with you today is my personal experience being a part of the Summer Term at Waterford, and a couple of pictures to go along with it.

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The first flight was fun. Is that weird? I could be wrong, but usually you don’t say sitting in a plane close proximity to a couple hundred people in seats that are barely wide enough to keep a baby comfortable for 12 hours is fun; but it was. I think a huge part of it was my friends. I think it was because I got to sit next to two of my best friends on the flights. And that is a testament to the Summer trips at Waterford. Sure family is…cool and all. But where else do you get to travel abroad with your closest friends in high school and play music in amazing venues for amazing people. That really is unheard of. I am so grateful for that opportunity for my friends and me.

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We got to travel to places that otherwise we may not have even thought to travel before. I can definitely say that Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland were far from the top 10 places I wanted to travel. But I wouldn’t change visiting those places for the world. Our first full day in Finland was also a concert day. We got to perform in an architectural masterpiece of a building/bat cave called the Rock Church, or Temppeliaukio Kirkko. This church is built into the ground, surrounded by huge walls of stone, topped with rings of copper and a glass ceiling. I find architecture amazingly fascinating, so when I found out I was going to play a solo in this rocky church, I was ecstatic. But that wasn’t the most special part of the concert. This was our one and only concert in Finland, which meant we had one chance to play Finlandia, one of Finland’s national songs. This was special. We touched people, and made them cry with our music. The most vulnerable state of the human appearance, and it was because of the way we Utahns played their national song. That is one moment that I won’t forget. After the concert, I overheard some of my friends talking to a member of the audience. The man said in broken English that he travelled on a ferry across the straight so he could watch us perform. That’s incredible! Our next concert was in Tallinn, Estonia in a church right next to the medieval main square. We made our presence known throughout the old town, rapping along to “Humble” by Hip-Hop artist Kendrick Lamar. But if you ask any of the students their favorite part of the concert, I bet you every one of them would say the way the sound rang through the main hall. It was certainly my favorite part. The first time we heard this was while rehearsing Vivaldi’s summer. Every single one of us stopped playing when we heard the way that first D resonated through our bones, and chills ran down our spines. Everyone’s expression held a look of awe, or joy, or both. The last concert I’ll talk to you about today is the one in the Glinka Capella in St. Petersburg. The Glinka has some of the best acoustics in the world, and for a high school orchestra to play in it is actually a once in a lifetime opportunity. This concert hall is a beautiful piece of art. The excitement was rushing through the wooden floored halls backstage. Every once in awhile, a head would pop out from behind the stage door, curious about how many people came to watch us play. Every single one of those red chairs were filled with an eager body ready to hear some music. It was here that we experienced our first true “power clap”, a new way to ask for an encore. Instead of normal clapping, everyone claps at the same beat, producing the sound of a thousand rehearsed soldiers marching down the street.

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Ok here’s my cliche moment. One of my favorite books growing up was “Oh the places you’ll go” by Dr. Seuss. Yeah sure it’s a common gift at graduation parties, weddings, new job offers, Whatever because of the inspiration Seuss offers in his writing. But I liked it for a different reason. I liked the pictures that accompany the story. Mostly because I….well I couldn’t read when I first opened the book up. But nevertheless it’s still inspiring, to me at least. I mean, do you see all the places to where this guy got to travel? He’s going to colorful lands, golden buildings and what not. Is it too bold to say that we pretty much did the exact same thing he did? I mean, St. Basil’s is colorful. Catherine’s and Peterhof and literally every other dome in Russia is gilded. Oh the places we went! And Oh the places we’ll go. The thing about the pictures are that they are necessary to make the words work or visa versa. They rely on eachother to tell a story. Similarly, we relied on music to tell our story. Only Charlie and Clark spoke Russian, and they could only speak to so many people. How remarkable it was that we could play music for them. They knew our thoughts and our emotion and our lives through the way we played many of their national pieces. After every concert, there would be people that went up to the stage and tried their shot at English, and those who couldn’t do that would just speak in their language. Many of us would just respond with *the awkward nod and a “yeah”*, but we knew what they were saying. We knew that they were saying how grateful they were that we could travel from across the globe to play for them. We knew that The Waltz brought chills down their spine the same way it did to us. We knew that Scheherezad and Czardas were songs that this woman listened to ever since she was a young girl in the Soviet Union. We knew that we touched the Finnish people’s hearts with one of their national songs in a way that we might not have been able to without music. Music has no boundaries. Music is a universal language that everyone can understand. No matter gender, sex, race, nationality we can all understand music. How great is that. Music is eternal. And I am so incredibly grateful I can speak it.

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I can’t begin to describe the amount of fun I had travelling this summer. You all made this possible for us. Everyone here, everyone not here; It’s all possible because of you. Thank you for providing me with memories that will last a lifetime. I’m grateful for Craig and the chaperones that helped organize this trip. And a special thanks to Kathy Morris. Thank you for teaching me how to love music, and how to speak such a beautiful language. Best. Summer. Ever.

All About the Journey

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Students ready to board the bus

We wedged eleven students, four instructors, and fifteen bulging backpacks into Waterford Bus #1 on Monday morning. Our destination was King’s Peak, the highest peak in the state of Utah, with an elevation of 13,534 feet.

Three hours later we spilled out into the China Meadows parking lot to have our last taste of perishable food and use the pit toilets. With packs loaded and stomachs full, we hit the trail. We walked through quiet forests, along streams, and across open meadows. The first three miles to camp passed quickly with games and riddles. The last two miles proved more difficult as we climbed the ridge, fully appreciating the weight of our packs. Most of the students had never backpacked, and there were mentions of sore shoulders, blisters, and aching backs. Our break stops became frequent, and I became concerned that we may fall short of our objective. But just as morale was beginning to wane, the fork for Lake Hessie appeared.

 

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Camp at Lake Hessie

We reached Lake Hessie around 6:00 p.m., dumping heavy packs on the ground and congratulating each other on a successful first day. Camp was set up and students took to the lake to swim and fish. In a technology-saturated world, it was refreshing to see students so excited to spend time with their classmates in the outdoors. Students ate dinner together, shared scary stories around the fire, and gazed at the stars before falling asleep in their tents.

Expectations

The next day was more challenging than the first. Gone was the novelty of backpacking; students lingered over breakfast, no one eager to get back on the trail. One student even caught a fish for breakfast, supplementing our Quaker Oats with fresh trout. We began hiking around 10 a.m., leaving behind the comforts of the lake for Henry’s Fork, a six mile journey. The first few miles were steep and long as we climbed out of China Meadows before descending into a beautiful valley. Wildflowers were in bloom and we had a clear view of King’s Peak (our ultimate destination) and the High Uinta Wilderness. Our pace was slow, but students stayed positive and upbeat. As we neared Henry’s Fork, we spotted a bull moose and cow drinking from Henry’s Lake. We decided to pitch tents alongside the moose when tired feet and fast-approaching afternoon thunderstorms begged us to stop.

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Trout breakfast at Lake Hessie

At our leader meeting that evening, we studied the map and came to the grim realization that we were not going to summit King’s Peak the following day. It would be an 11 mile roundtrip with 3000 vertical feet of climbing. Over the past two days, students had barely managed a combined ten miles with an average of 500 vertical feet each day. We decided it was best to adjust expectations and aim for Gunsight Pass, a five mile roundtrip journey with moderate climbing and great views. We gathered students to tell them the news, emphasizing that the trip was not about summiting, but about backpacking with friends and learning new skills along the way. The students were understanding, but disappointment showed on their faces as they returned to cooking dinner.

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On the trail to Henry’s Fork

Summit Day

Our summit day was beautiful. The rains had passed and left the valley verdant and lush. Students ate a simple breakfast of granola bars and grabbed their daypacks, thrilled to be carrying lighter loads. We followed meandering cairns through the valley and then began our ascent of Gunsight Pass. I kept glancing at my watch, impressed by how quickly students were moving with their daypacks. We reached the top of Gunsight Pass at 10 a.m., a full four hours ahead of schedule. The students were thrilled by their progress, and asked if we could still pursue the summit. After a quick huddle, it was decided that we would push on with a firm turnaround time of 2 p.m. We broke the huddle with a, “Hike Yah!” and excitedly rejoined the trail.

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Anderson Pass

Students then faced their biggest challenge of the day: a vertical boulder field to the top of Anderson Pass. The boulder field was a major shortcut, but the rocks were loose and required scrambling with hands and feet. We carefully picked our way up the field, balancing on rocks and hoisting bodies over boulders. The route was more technical than anything we had seen in the past two days and students were nervous. Despite their concerns, students continued climbing until we reached the top. In that moment, I knew we had accomplished something noteworthy, even if we never made it to the summit of King’s Peak. Students had pushed themselves and conquered their fears. We celebrated with sandwiches and high fives. The time was 11:40 a.m.

King’s Peak came into view as we crested the top of the ridge and approached Anderson Pass. Students repeatedly asked for the time, determined to make it to the top. We had decided we were going to summit as a team, no splitting up. We made our way across rocky, uneven terrain, finally reaching the established trail just before 1 p.m. I looked ahead at our final destination, reminding myself of the talk we gave to students the previous night. It’s difficult not to place such value on reaching the top, especially after you’ve spent two days approaching the summit. I could tell some of the students were beginning to lose steam, so I asked them to raise their hands if they had the energy to summit. About half the group raised their hands, the others wanting to summit but unsure if they had the stamina to continue. At Anderson Pass, with King’s Peak in sight, we decided it was best to turn around. I was so proud of the way the students handled themselves in that moment. Not a single student complained or placed blame. We had set our sights on Gunsight Pass and come an extra three miles and 1,500 vertical feet. We may not have reached the peak, but we accomplished far more than we thought possible.

Back to the Bus

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Enjoying the rapids at “River Island”

Morale was high the following morning. Ten miles remained between us and the bus, an unthinkable distance on day one. But after reaching Anderson Pass, students were confident in their ability to make the mileage. We got on the trail early and settled into a comfortable pace, the steady rhythm of footsteps occasionally interrupted by laughter and chatter. By noon we had already covered five miles, at 2 p.m. we had covered eight. We reached our final campsite before 5 p.m., a place we dubbed, “River Island.” As I watched the students swim in the river and set up camp, I was amazed at how far we had come in a single day. We had operated as a unit, supporting one another and offering encouragement along the way.

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Celebrating our final night with Oreo desert

As we sat around the fire on our last night, I thought about all the students had learned in five short days. They learned how to cook on a camp stove, how to set up a tent, how to pack a bag, how to read a map. They learned about the strength of their minds and bodies. They learned about setting objectives and teamwork and adjusting expectations. They learned to respect nature and weather and the things outside of our control.

I was inspired by our students to go and try something new, to get outside my comfort zone, and to be comfortable with not reaching the top on my first try. I think I may buy myself a fishing rod. If I’m lucky, I’ll be eating trout for breakfast.

See more photos from the trip here!

Pushing My Limit

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Hello, my name is Taylor and I am a sophomore this year. In June I went to Tanzania, Africa for 2 weeks with Waterford’s Outdoor Program. We spent one week hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, a little less than a week at safaris, and the last day did some service at an orphanage.

I’ll start with the mountain. Let’s just say it was hard. At first the hiking was fun and easy. Not too steep and starting off in a rainforest climate with not very high altitude. The vegetation was beautiful and we saw monkeys and lots of beautiful wildlife. That didn’t last long. After the rainforest climate zone we reached what was called the Heathland climate zone and the dramatic line that separates the zones was one of the most interesting and spectacular things I’ve ever seen.

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As the days went on the hiking got more and more exhausting. While the hiking itself didn’t change much other than the different views of each of the climate zones it became increasingly harder to breathe and to feel energized. Camp became more and more appreciated and we all liked to hang out in a huge dome tent called the space station. Although we didn’t want to leave camp we would and continued to slowly transition into the Alpine desert climate zone and finally the arctic summit zone. Summit day was the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. I woke up very sick, in pain, and could barely breathe. It was so exhausting to walk you just always wanted to take a break but when u would u just want to get back up and walk again because of how cold it was.

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Despite the struggling I finally made it to the 19,341 foot summit. Having the will to keep going and fighting through all of the struggling really impacted me and made me realize I am a lot stronger than I ever thought I was before. It also made me more confident particularly in my work and in the sports I play. When we hiked down and had finally reached the bottom we all danced with the porters and guides who made the whole thing possible and it was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever participated in. Everyone was excited and genuinely happy.

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In the days that followed we went on multiple Safaris and to Masai villages. We saw the most beautiful animals. We witnessed hundreds of zebras running in and out of a water hole back and forth back and forth. We saw multiple elephants, including juveniles, walk right in front of the car. We enjoyed a lot of beautiful wild life but the most memorable thing we caught sight of was three female lions eating a zebra carcass not too far from the road. They were close enough they would look at you between bites and you could hear the ripping of the zebra’s flesh. It is indescribable how amazing it was watching the top of the African food chain do its work so close to us. It’s incredible how these animals can thrive off the yellow land they graze upon.

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At the villages, we went and saw their huts and their kindergarten and saw how they live. It was super interesting seeing how they live off the land and I was extremely interested to learn that it is actually the women who build the huts. After that we bartered for the jewelry they made.

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The last day was probably my favorite. We all went to an orphanage and did some service. We helped bring buckets full of sand up to a pile near their livestock and we helped start to dig dirt to level the ground on and next to their driveway. When we weren’t working we were playing basketball or soccer with the older kids or playing with the toddlers. The older kids were so helpful to the younger ones and they all participated so much in helping out that it gave me more motivation to be nicer and be more involved with my sister. Doing that work, even though it wasn’t much of it, made me feel fulfilled and gave me a sense of purpose. It made me feel an overwhelming happiness that I hadn’t felt before and showed me how great helping others, even in a small way, can make a big difference on their and my own life.

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Having these unbelievable adventures with my classmates and teachers made the whole thing so enjoyable and fun. I now am super close to them and feel like they, with their stories, have impacted me the most. I made beautiful friendships with people I never would have talked to otherwise. Listening to them open up to the rest of the group or me individually had an immense impact on my openness to others and helped me lose the fear of putting yourself out there to make new friends. The trip gave me perfect memories and built my character and confidence more than any other experience I have ever had. I will never forget the experience or be able to thank my marvelous teachers Dr. Malatesta and Mr. Watkins enough for everything they did for me to make that dream a reality. Thank you.