A very special student story from Suzy, who went on a two week alpine backpacking course in the Colorado Rockies in 2015. We so appreciate students who carry course with them in their hearts and feel compelled to reconnect. Following course, it often takes some time to process the full meaning of the experience. If you would like to share your COBS experience, you can always email us photos, stories, and memories to [email protected], whether you’re an alum from 2016 or 1962!
My very first backpacking experience was with the Outward Bound program, and to this day it is the best experience I have had in my life. I took part of a two week backpacking course in the summer of 2015 throughout the Colorado Rockies with two instructors and nine other kids. I registered for the course excited to learn about backpacking and experiencing a part of the country I had never visited before, especially in such a unique way. I was relatively prepared for the physical aspect of the trip and for what I might encounter regarding the environment and outdoor skills. However, in certain moments on the expedition I realized that I could never have prepared for many of these amazing experiences that I will remember for a lifetime.
There were many things that made the trip great: hiking through infinite valleys, campfires, two days alone in the backcountry, sleeping among massive boulders, backcountry cooking, remarkable wild life, and so many things that if I continued, the list would never end. However there were two experiences that I found most impactful in my life. One was among the longest days which consisted of 16 hours of hiking where the group as a whole experienced much exhaustion and fatigue as the day went on. I personally was mentally and physically done for the day when night hit and we were still hiking upwards. Despite this, that night held wonders. We had hiked up to an elevation of around 1,200 feet when we set up camp on the continental divide. We slept without tents and among boulders as we all revered the sky for its amazing view. At first I had not put on my glasses and did not really pay much attention to the night sky, but when I did I almost didn’t sleep for fear of missing this sight. From our camp on the continental divide I saw parts of the milky way, constant shooting stars, hundreds of constellations, and such bright planets. I remember because valleys were all around us, when I looked up my entire vision encompassed sky. There were millions of stars and each night after that I would stay up a little extra late to gaze up at the night.
The second experience that was very impactful for me was when our group climbed to the summit of a peak without instructors for our pre-finals. I happened to be leader of the group that day and my new friend Connor was the navigator. We had to wake up at 11:00 pm but accidentally woke up at around midnight because no one woke up to their alarms. So, we packed up camp and began our ascent in complete darkness, extremely exhausted and cold, and with less time than we had anticipated. Shortly the path disappeared as expected and we were navigating with only the direction of a map. The difficulty that Connor and I had was leading the group so that they not only were going in the safe and right direction, but also were not falling asleep. There were also vast patches of extremely dense willow bushes that were an absolutely nightmare to get people through effectively when it was our only option. Overall, those hours of hiking to the summit seemed endless as we worked persistently to navigate and encourage the group that was exhausted, without instructors, and hiking in the middle of the night. In brief, we made it to the summit with an hour to spare before sunrise and with genuine pride among all of us. In that hour before sunrise as we talked a little bit and made hot cocoa, I recollected on the hike and was in awe that a week or so before I had been sitting on my couch reading a magazine about backpacking, and then that day I had lead and navigated with a friend a group of exhausted teenagers up to one of the highest peaks in Colorado.
Additionally, the other amazing half of that morning was not only the journey but the destination. Sunrise came slowly and it was remarkable to see the progression of the sun gliding across the mountains. Above us and across the mountains were very near clouds that transitioned from different shades of blues and pinks to a pure gold. It was an experience that I will never forget and was truly the most indescribable.
Overall, these were just two of the many great moments I had while on my trip in the backcountry of Colorado. I could write for hours about each individual one, but truthfully there is no way to describe the mental experience and physical things that I saw. No words can describe it and no camera can capture it, and that is why I realized there is no real way to prepare for a journey like this without experiencing it yourself.
In addition, I learned so much while on this trip from my peers and from my experiences. While I challenged myself and I challenged others, I learned plenty on the basic ideals of work and reward. The physical and mental work we endured each day during long hikes or navigation obstacles was something we discovered resulted in nothing less than a great reward. This was either growing immeasurably as an individual or being able to see the amazing aspects of the backcountry. My group also specifically touched on the idea of “living in the now” and truly enjoying each moment of life. As our trip ended, I found that I learned so many principles like these from my peers and instructors and overall learned beyond the basics of communication, persistence, and cooperation.
Lastly, I must simply thank my peers and instructors for making the journey what it was. The people that you go on your journey with become like a family for that short or long time and without them the trip would never have been as memorable as it was. Specifically, my two instructors, Katlynne and Tyler, taught me more than they know and are still role models in my life. The genuine laughs and inspiring talks they shared with the group were truly memorable and they were the ones that made the group feel like such a family. Outward Bound has such an amazing staff and I am more than grateful to have met and learned from Katlynne and Tyler.
All in all, my Outward Bound experience in the backcountry of Colorado is something I will always remember and has changed the way I take on life. I now have many trips that can’t wait to incorporate into my future that I would have never considered without the program. It was truly inspiring in both big and small ways and certainly unforgettable.