“Change is the only constant in life.” I’m sure this old, familiar saying resonates. Because change is an inevitable part of life. And although we frequently fear change, embracing the unknown and welcoming new experiences almost always leads to better days.
Learning to confidently navigate unfamiliar and unpredictable waters is what our Pathfinder courses are all about.
Utah’s rivers and canyons are a perfect classroom for learning to thrive in new environments and finding joy every step of the way. But don’t take my word for it, read an Instructor’s reflection on their Southwest Canoeing and Backpacking course this fall.
Navigating New Experiences in Labyrinth Canyon
We began our journey in Green River State Park, where we shared our hopes and fears for the upcoming journey. The next morning, we awoke, packed up, and headed down to the boat ramp.
Our first few days were met with some powerful winds on the river that presented a humbling challenge for seasoned and new paddlers alike. Despite the wind, our group embraced the hard work and found joy in beautiful camp spots and cooking amazing meals together.
The following days were filled with countless new experiences. Members of our crew cooked their first meal, saw their first bat, and took their first poops in the wild! We enjoyed an incredible night sleeping on the canyon rim. We stargazed, connected deeply with our senses, and took in the beauty of the natural world. A group highlight was a steep six-mile hike out of the canyon to a stunning overlook of natural arches and the river. We woke up early and worked hard to accomplish this hike. It was worth every bit of extra effort.
As the week progressed, Instructors passed responsibility and agency on to the students who ran the show from dusk to dawn, with each member of the crew taking different leadership positions each day. We accomplished a lot as a group and we all quickly grew in our leadership and interpersonal skills.
Learning Life Lessons from the River
The meandering and ever-changing nature of Labyrinth Canyon allowed us all to reflect on our place in our own individual labyrinths of life. We thought about what lies in the heart of our labyrinths, and what awaits us at the end. Preparing for the unpredictable waters that awaited beyond each bend helped us understand the ways we can adapt and thrive in other times of uncertainty and change. As we discussed our life paths after course and what it means to be a young adult in this world, Labyrinth Canyon provided a powerful metaphorical mirror for us all. We concluded the canoeing section of our expedition with very dirty socks but fresh perspectives on life.
We then returned to the base camp in Moab to receive training in wilderness first aid and complete a service project with a local organization called the Youth Garden Project. We left with an appreciation for giving back and building community. Then it was time to head back into the backcountry for our backpacking section of course.
Finding Time for Reflection and Connection while Backpacking
We were lucky enough to head to Bears Ears National Monument for the backpacking section of our expedition. During this time, we embarked on our Solo experience, a time when we had the opportunity to camp on our own for two nights. We enjoyed this time for journaling, reflection, and connecting with nature. It was also a time to reflect on our values, our lives back home and how we want to move forward in life.
After returning from Solo, we put on our backpacks and headed into Horse Tanks Canyon. We learned how to navigate with a map and compass, travel on rocky terrain, purify water, and many other necessary skills for survival in the backcountry. We camped at a spectacular camp in Horse Tanks Canyon and got acquainted with desert life. After some spectacular nights of camping, in Horse Tanks, we continued into Dark Canyon which greeted us with spectacular views and crystal-clear pools of water.
Our second day in Dark Canyon was spent recovering by the creek. We captured each other’s essence in drawings, lounged in the sun, and had lessons. That night we played a game that sent shouts of laughter echoing through the canyons. Sadly, that night was the last time we made hot chocolate before it mysteriously disappeared into the darkness…
Over the next few days, we traveled through Dark Canyon, navigating convoluted social trails that required tough, collaborative decision-making. These moments mirrored the process of having to choose our paths at home. As we honed our skills in communication, leadership and navigation, our group gained more and more independence, which helped us prepare for our upcoming final challenge.
Embracing the Unpredictability of the Backcountry During our Final Challenge
The Final Challenge is a time on every Outward Bound course when the students are tasked with working together to complete a technical adventure while instructors take a backseat role. Our final challenge included some new terrain, swampy trails, poison ivy, and a cattail-filled bog. Each member of the crew rose to the occasion, growing into their leadership styles and utilizing their new backcountry stills. We ended the day by holding space for resolving conflicts, reflecting, and celebrating our accomplishments no matter how small.
Our last days in Dark Canyon were spent walking down to the confluence with the Colorado River. We encountered a desert wanderer who joined us for a lesson and left us with a gift. Instructors were visited at night by a very persistent cat who had a strong hankering for trash. We bathed in a jaw-dropping swimming hole and embodied the elusive spirit of the bighorn sheep as we traversed thin ledges on the canyon wall.
At the Colorado River, we held a ceremony for past parts of ourselves and imagined the people we wanted to be once we walked out of Dark Canyon the next day. We climbed out of the canyon while the moon was still high in the sky and celebrated the end of our journey with burgers, an amazing sunset, and a fire that evening.
Final Thoughts on Our Crew
This group has a lot to be proud of. Each member of our crew contributed to a positive group culture that fostered and valued each other’s growth. This culture cultivated a space where we achieved great things and shared countless moments of joy together in the backcountry. We learned how to live in a healthy community where feedback was encouraged, conflict was resolved, and everyone felt seen and heard. As we return home, I am hopeful that the lessons learned will be carried forward on each of our individual paths.
Want to find your own path in the Colorado Rockies or Utah’s canyon country? Explore upcoming Pathfinder expeditions!