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


On top of the world (or, Slovenia)!


Summit of Mt. Triglav

We’ve returned triumphant from our big trek! We were able to summit Mt. Triglav, the highest peak in Slovenia (2864 m).

We left Lake Bohinj on Tuesday morning, covering the first two thousand feet by car. We parked the vans and set out in a light drizzle. The damp earth quieted our footsteps as we climbed through dense forests.

After a couple hours, the trees thinned and we entered a large pasture with ten cabins and roaming livestock. We carefully picked our way through manure piles to a cabin sitting on the edge of the field. Smoke curled from its chimney and picnic tables invited us to sit. A woman came out of the house and offered us cheese, which she made in one of the adjacent cabins. During the summer, her family brings their cows to graze in the alpine meadows. They milk the cows every morning and make cheese from the milk every third day. She gave us a tour of the cheese-making room, explaining each step of the process. Everything is done by hand, and the family powers most of the operation through solar. We marveled at the man-power required to make a kilo of cheese. 


Cheese farm

Our bellies full of cheese (or “sir” in Slovenian), we continued our journey upwards, the trail becoming steeper and steeper until we eventually reached the top of the pass. The trail then descended sharply down loose rock and lingering patches of snow. The fog persisted all day, never allowing us a view of the Julian Alps. We reached our hut around five, fully exhausted from a long, wet day in the mountains. The clouds briefly parted, and we were offered a view of our objective, Triglav, tall and imposing in the distance. Hot stews, pasta bolognese, thick bread,and marmalade pancakes were served and students fell asleep as the sun set. 


The next morning we set out for Planika Dom, our hut for the night, and also our “base camp” for Triglav. “Planika” means edelweiss in Sovenian, and we saw the white wild flowers growing on the sides of the trail, along with plenty of sheep. Fog and rain followed us up the winding path, and we doubted our ability to summit as planned. We shed wet layers and backpacks at Planika Dom, unsure what the weather would bring. After some deliberation, we decided to push for the summit. The rain had miraculously stopped, and clouds began to part as we traveled along the via ferrata. We steadily climbed iron rungs and handrails as the sun peaked out for the first time in days. We summited in full sunshine, taking in the weight of our accomplishment and incredible vistas. We celebrated with chocolate at the top, a special addition to our typical lunch of sausage, crackers, and cheese.


Making our way up the via ferrata

We returned to Planika Dom, buzzing with energy from our accomplishment. We spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine: students built cairns, read, and played countless rounds of Uno. After dinner, we were treated to the sight of ibex  moving across the mountains. The sky was still clear and we watched the ibex pick their way down impossibly steep slopes as the mountains bathed in alpenglow. It was a terrific day. 


On Thursday, we started our descent. We crossed snow fields and passed a series of seven aquamarine glacial lakes. The sun continued to accompany us along our journey, and we made it to our final hut of the trip without incident. We started early on Friday morning, hiking to a final hut for breakfast before saying goodbye to the mountains. We reached the vans by mid-morning: we were smelly, wet, muddy, and tired, and ready for the beach. 


Students giving a shoutout home after summiting Mt. Triglav

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.


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.


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).


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!


The rain came down, and we went up!


The group at the top of the saddle

We finished our first trek! On Thursday morning, we were awakened to the sound of rain on our tents. The mountains were shrouded in a dense fog and the wind whipped through our campsite. Despite the inclement weather, students were in high spirits. We sat down for breakfast (Nutella was present), and loaded our packs in the van. A short drive deposited us at the trailhead above Kamnik. We donned rain jackets and pack covers and hit the trail. 

The going was slow, but we made steady progress. We climbed through a dense forest, the green canopy providing welcomed shelter from the rain. Slovenia’s wildflowers were in full bloom, and we marveled at the variety of colors and blossoms on the trail. The trail left the forest and continued to climb through limestone mountains. The students were challenged by steep switchbacks and loose rock, but they persisted until they reached the hut at the saddle. 


The steep gully we ascended.

Our efforts were rewarded by a spectacular view and warm lodging. An elderly Slovenian couple welcomed us to the hut and ushered us into a warm common area with a wood-fired stove and plenty of board games. After lunch, many of the students elected to go for a short afternoon hike, and we marveled at the green and blue landscape dotted with the last patches of snow and limestone cliffs. 

After games and a hot dinner of spaghetti and apple streudel, students fell asleep in bunk rooms, listening to the sound of the wind, 3000 feet above the valley floor.

Today, we descended the same trail (again in the rain), and made our way to Triglav National Park. We stopped at a pristine alpine lake at the foot of the mountains and spent the afternoon jumping into the water and bathing in sunshine. We eventually made our way to Erjavceva Koca, a hut near the top of the mountain pass. Students are once again playing Uno and board games as smells of dinner waft from the kitchen, relaxing after an adventure-filled day. 


In the Land of Dragons: Day 1

7C1B9CF1-5C3F-4504-8E42-E55093023A86It’s been an exhausting 24 hours, but we’re having a blast in Slovenia! After a long journey, we were transported back in time to the cobblestone streets of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Our hostel was steps away from the historic pedestrian district, and we spent our first evening watching performers in courtyards, venturing down narrow side streets, and walking along the canal. 


This morning, we set out for breakfast as street vendors were putting out their wares. The farmer’s market was in full swing, and we passed stall after stall of fresh fruits and vegetables. We found a restaurant that provides vocational training for disadvantaged populations. We ate our fill of farm fresh eggs, homemade bread, locally cured meats and cheeses, and, of course, Nutella. 

After breakfast, we spent the remainder of the morning exploring Ljubljana Castle, which sits atop a hill that overlooks the city. The castle has a storied history in the city, and has served as a prison, military base, and fire lookout after noblemen and heads of state stopped using the castle. 


View from the top of Ljubljana Castle

Students spent the afternoon wandering through Ljubljana before we set out for our first night of camping. We are looking forward to hitting the trail tomorrow morning. We will certainly have lots more stories and photos to share when we return! 



Washington Wanderlust 2018

Thanks to the Outdoor Program Student Council, we have an incredible itinerary prepared in Olympic National Park! The trip consists to two, 6-day adventures in drastically different biodiverse regions. We will start by backpacking from Rialto Beach on the west coast of the park, where the group will explore astonishing tide pools and convoluted rock features. On day three, we will journey to the southwestern shore of Lake Ozette then packraft over to the Erickson’s Bay backcountry campsite. After a day of exploration from camp, the group will navigate out to Ozette Ranger Station and transition from the coast to the mountains. The second segment of our adventure takes us into an old growth rainforest as we advance to centuries-old glaciers before a summit attempt of the highest peak in Olympic National Park: Mt. Olympus. Transitioning from the coast to the alpine will be a welcomed and exciting moment for the group to recognize and celebrate the exhilaration of these drastically different wilderness areas.

The full trip photo gallery can be found here.

Day 1: Mora Campground

After a quick morning flight to Seattle, our team of 11 made our way to the Mora Campground via Olympia and the Quinalt Ranger Station. After food and supply shopping, we picked up our bear canisters and our wilderness permit for the duration of the trip. Knowing that the itinerary had us backpacking on the coast the following morning, the group spent a couple of hours organizing all of the gear and food necessary for the first of two drastically different –yet equally challenging– 6-day wilderness segments.


Day 2: Rialto Beach to Chilean Memorial

By Andrew Felsted


That morning we got up and my group and I think most others groups had cheesy mac for breakfast because it would be easier to clean up with the water spigot that was at that campsite. We organized all of the food that we had bought the day before at Costco for our trip. We had to put our food in these bear canisters that we had borrowed from the visitors center. Bears would be in the same area as where we were going so we had to have a way to keep our food safe from them. The bear cans were all piled in one spot far from camp each night. After we got everything packed in our packs we drove in the van we had rented down to the beach in two groups. When we had arrived at the beach we still had to strap packrafts and paddles to our bags that would be used later on in the trip. We thought our packs were heavy before but then we added those rafts and we had to try very hard not to collapse. We were finally all ready to go and so we set out walking with our packs along the shore. Our packs were heavy but we were all excited and spirits were high among the group.

After a little while we started to hit large sharp rocks that we had to climb and crawl over. I kept thinking that it would flatten out again but no, not really. The large rocks and rough terrain drained energy quickly. We all were getting tired..

When it finally did level out a little we passed some others backpackers camping on the beach. At this point Mr. Watkins became unsure if we had or had not already passed our campsite for that night. We kept going and sure enough we hit those sharp, large, uneven rocks. None of us knew how far we had gone but it felt like we had gone fifty miles.

I ended up at the back of the group and I was just crossing through some water when a few students came to see if I needed any help and also to tell me that we had overshot our campsite by a few miles. Our original sight was way back by were those other backpackers were camping. We had mixed feelings about going to far, but mostly we were glad because that meant less miles the next day but also we didn’t want to be by those others backpackers. We just found a good spot along the beach to set up camp for the night. We cooked dinner and went to bed as we were all very tired from the rigorous day of hiking and climbing over rock and logs.


Day 3: Chilean Memorial to Norwegian Memorial

By Nate Battistone


Today started out with a ton of rain. Everything is soaked and we just scrambled across a by the coast and it’s amazingly beautiful. We saw five eagles hunting in pairs and feeding. Apparently, we’re rafting tomorrow; hopefully I can fish.
There are seals here that keep barking at me; they’re the adorable dogs of the sea. At this point, a granola bar is a high point on the trail. The group is united through the shared mental and physical pain.
So far the waves provide a constant form of comfort through our push to get to the next camp site. Each step we take in the sand will knowingly be washed away by the rising tide. Trying to get over rocks and logs is like a puzzle that we have to play with the waves, timing each step trying to avoid getting wet.

Day 4: Norwegian Memorial to Allen’s Bay

By Travis Damon


The plan is to hike a little over a mile to Norwegian Memorial campsite and then 2.4 miles along an abandoned trail to Lake Ozette before inflating pack rafts and paddle to Erikson’s Bay campsite.  The entire hike should take us about 4 to 5 hours at most. The day starts with a 7 o’clock wake up and packing up camp before doing some stretching on the beach. The hike to Norwegian Memorial begins with a steep climb using fixed ropes to get over a point on the coast.  After reaching the beach on the other side of the point we hike halfway to Norwegian Memorial to a creek to fill water bottles before continuing to Norwegian Memorial. At Norwegian Memorial there is a thirty second break to get the group together before starting on the abandoned trail.  The trail starts out as a reasonably well defined trail that is overgrown with tall ferns and downed trees over the trail. The trail should briefly go up before descending and running parallel to a slough that we can put packrafts in after about a mile to get to Lake Ozette. The trail starts out as anticipated going up the hill and then continuing along the top of the hill.  However the trail keeps deteriorating and getting less and less defined and the trail becomes very hard to follow at some points. Eventually we find our way to a section of trail that is well defined yet very overgrown, as we follow it the paddles on our packs get caught in trees and slow our progress. The trail keeps going and we end up having to climb over and under many downed trees and in some sections crawl on our hands and knees or even on our stomachs through three or four inches of mud to get under logs.  Some sections of the trail are completely overgrown into tunnels that we have to crawl through. Whenever the front of the group mentions there is another log to go under, or a crawling section, a collective groan can be heard from the rest of the group. One of us gets their paddles stuck in a tree when going over a log and decides to just force their way though and ends up getting catapulted forward onto their face when they break out of the tree. Another one of us collapses on the trail to rest until the group behind catches up and forces them to keep moving along the trail.  Eventually the decision is made to break trees out of the way to make the trail more passable for the group. After about two miles of breaking trees we encountered a section of trail covered entirely in waist height tree branches. By this time estimates on how far we have gone range from 6 to 10 miles and we have been hiking for most of the day. The trail is deemed impassable, and as we can see what looks like a slough down and to the right of the trail about 100 yards through the trees, we start looking for a spot to bushwack over to the slough. After finding a decent spot to bushwack, backtracking along the trail, we start to make our way toward the slough.  The bushwack feels a lot easier than following the trail and 15 minutes later we break out of the trees into the knee high shrubs of the slough. From this point we can see where the lake should be and start another bushwack through 6 to 7 feet tall grass to get to the lake. The entire time being careful of where we step so we do not fall into the slough. After about an hour we have not found a way to lake as the creek in the middle of the slough blocks our progress, so we stop to rest and eat while one of the leaders scouts the creek in a packraft to see if it is passable or if a downed tree will stop us. About 15 minutes later we get the go ahead to inflate pack rafts and paddle down the slough to the lake.  Everyone at this point is happy as the day looks like it is almost done. As we paddle down the slough it is nice calm water with no obstructions until the last bend where we find a downed tree blocking our path. The group gathers together and one at a time we do a portage to get our boats and gear over the downed tree, and ten yards after the tree and around the bend the slough opens up into the lake. As the sun descends we paddle about a mile along the lake before finding a spot to camp along the shore. We set up camp as quickly as we can as it starts to drizzle a little bit and start a small fire with what dry wood we can find to try and dry things out. In conclusion, a simple looking hike and a short 4 to 5 hour day turned into a very long 11 hour day that makes no sense.  We encountered every land mark as we should have reaching Norwegian Memorial, then following the abandoned trail to the slough, and then paddling out to the lake. However the time and distance covered make no sense at all when looking at the map. At this point spirits are low but higher then they were when in the forest. We will see what happens the next day.


Day 5: Allen’s Bay to Erickson’s Bay

By Noah Conner


Today was the recovery day, even though we had to paddle at least four miles to our next campsite. The day before, what was supposed to be an easy three mile stroll through the jungle turned out to be a ten hour crawl under dense trees and through the mud. On day five, the recovery day, we woke up in a non-marked campsite in the pouring rain. The lake stretched on for miles and miles in every direction, and the size and beauty was overwhelming. We all slept in. Once we woke up, we were still exhausted from the night before, and the rain did not do much to help our spirits. We gradually all hobbled over to our tarp city to cook in shelter from the rain. We were all starving and were not happy from the day before. All of our cooks cooked for two hours, because the rain kept us from doing anything else. The rain seemed to be constant on this trip. Everything got wet, no matter how many trash bags or ziplocs it was lined in. When you woke up, the tent was almost certainly dripping from condensation. It was everyone’s constant goal to keep our sleeping bags dry, because they were our only salvation every night from the  constant downpour. Halfway through breakfast, there was a sudden break in the dark clouds. Everyone sprung up to hang and dry out our damp gear. The sun almost immediately helped our damp spirits. Once our stuff was dry, we had a short window of sunlight to get to our next campsite. Everyone rushed to pack up camp, me being the last one to finish, as always. One group pushed off into the lake in our small inflatable paddle boats about twenty minutes in front of the other one. I was in the last group with Ai Ke, Travis, and Nate. We all began the journey to our next camp in perfect sunlight. About halfway through the lake, clouds formed up behind us and we saw a wall of rain form. We paddled and paddled, always staying ahead of the looming clouds. My group eventually caught up to the front group, and everyone was excited to land at our first real campsite. Every single other camps was had stayed at before this had been little clearings in the woods just above high tide. None of them were the planned campsite for that night. Even if we arrived at this one a day late, it was an actual campsite with clear, flat spaces for tents, a fire pit, and most importantly, an outhouse. The rain never came back that day, as we had out ran it on the lake. Everyone was so excited to go wash off in the lake. Today was the first day in almost six days where we got to wash our hair. Once we finished, we all laid on the beach, hoping to dry ourselves and our clothes before the rain came back. We were all so happy to be clean and dry. Once we were all done, me, Nate, and Ben decided to finally build the sail boat we had been talking about all trip. Me and Nate both had small boats, we we tethered them to the side of Ben’s boat. Me and Nate paddle while Ben operated our “sail.” Our sail was a trash bag on top of two paddles. It did absolutely nothing. Instead, me and Nate did a flyby of the beach where everyone was fishing. They all decided to throw rocks at us. After that, we ate dinner and sat around our second successful campfire of the trip. Day five was an amazing, as everyone very quickly put our experience in the jungle behind them and go on with our journey through the wilderness.


Day 6: Erickson’s Bay to Ozette Ranger Station; Hoh River Valley

By Ben Newhall


Sammy left on her packraft early this morning to get to the ranger station, so she could shuttle the van back to come get us. The rest of us had a relaxing morning and were able to sleep in, eat, and pack up at a later time than usual. After taking down camp and packing up our bags, we piled into our packrafts and headed out into the lake. This first leg of the raft was pretty easy, but as soon as we turned around a point in the lake, the winds were suddenly against us and the paddling got much harder. We kept paddling and paddling towards a building on the side of the lake that we assumed to be the ranger station. After about an hour and a half or so, we reached the building and a older man named Larry came out to greet us. Larry said that he had seen Sammy earlier that morning because she thought his house was the ranger station as well. After talking to us for a couple of minutes, he showed us the way to the ranger station and biked over to meet us there. While us students deflated boats, Watkins talked to Larry and found out that the jungle trail that we went on was actually a WWII coast guard trail that had been long abandoned. Sammy met us with the bus about 10 minutes later and we piled ourselves and our gear inside so we could drive over to the Forks, Washington, the nearest town. There we ate burgers, some the size of our faces, and resupplied on groceries. After all of this, Watkins dropped us off at Hoh River Campground so we could set up camp while he picked up Mr. Cole. Eventually Cole and Watkins got back, and we went to sleep. The coastal section was over, and the mountaineering section had begun.


Day 7: Hoh River Campground to Lewis Meadows

By Mia Giallorenzi


This morning we rose fairly early to pack some more and prepare for the next leg of the trip.  Our packs were lighter due to the lack of packrafts, but the climbing gear and extra food added enough weight that hefting the packs on to our backs was a grim reminder of the work to come.  We set out through the campground towards the trailhead, making a few wrong turns along the way, but we soon began our journey.
Compared to jungle day, this hiking was heaven.  The trail was wide, well packed, and flat, and as an added bonus there wasn’t an under or over log in sight.  We joked around as we walked, still slightly traumatized by our previous experience, but this was a breeze. Despite our heavy packs, we cruised down the trail stopping every hour, and quickly made it to 5 Mile Island where we sat down for a leisurely lunch of ramen and granola bars.  After lunch, we continued on confidently, although the distance and weight were starting to take their toll. Eventually, probably about 7 miles in, as we were taking a water break, we saw Watkins chugging down the trail towards us at what was practically a sprint. He had gone back into Forks to restock on a couple more items, and in order to catch up he didn’t take a single break but instead just charged ahead.  That’s probably the most exhausted I’ve ever seen him, and we were all very impressed at how quickly he’d caught up.
From there, we continued our trudge, and we’re delighted to reach the Olympic Guard Station, one mile from our destination.  But of course, it wasn’t the easy mile we were expecting, because things like that are always harder than you expect. Instead, it just never ended.  We haven’t figured out what it is, but for whatever reason that mile is like the whole hike packed into one. However, we eventually made it to Lewis Meadows and pitched camp in a beautiful spot on the river.  We set up tarp city, and although it was far from our best construction, we sat down happily for dinner and relaxed after our long day. We were all very grateful that the itinerary has been switched around, because although it was straightforward for us to hike that at this point in the trip, it would have been a brutal first day.
After dinner, we did our first bear hang, and got in tents, prepared for rain, and expecting to sleep in, but not realizing what would actually happen the next day.


Day 8: Lewis Meadows

By Katie Riley


Having hiked the ten miles into Lewis Meadows the following day, we were glad when there was no early wake up call. A few members of the group were nursing new blisters or other minor pains, and as we slowly rose from our tents to investigate the day, we found that Watkins had been struck down with some kind of stomach bug and was not in good enough health to break camp and continue along our journey. This resulted in the group decision to take a rest day there at Lewis meadows, and what a beautiful place to do so. On the bank of the Hoh River we huddled under our very own tarp city within the rainforest. Although levels of uncertainty due to the illness were circulating the group, morale remained rather high as we told jokes and stories and riddles together. In consideration of the days to come on the trip, we took time out of the day to practice ascending a rope using two prussiks. We rigged a line over a hefty looking tree
branch and took turns ascending and then being lowered, all under the watch and assistance of Mr Cole. I think we all found that we would prefer to never have to use those skills in seriousness, but if the occasion arose, we were prepared. We were all glad to have this day to rest and recuperate, and most of all to stop and take in the many features of our surroundings.


Day 9: Lewis Meadows to Glacier Meadows

By Ai Ke Woods


On the 9th day of the trip we woke up ready to go to Glacier Meadows. Watkins was feeling better. We gathered up our gear and started making breakfast. After we finished eating we packed up and got ready to go. We set out from Lewis Meadows. Ben was leading for the day. His pump up speech consisted of “Guys, this first two miles will be super easy, light work; the second half will be hard as hell.” With that inspiring speech he immediately began walking. We trudged along behind. Ben was raring to go and we had to remind him to slow down but for the most part it was enjoyable. At the two mile mark we hit a stunning bridge over the intersection of the rivers. We took a break there and had some snacks. The view was stunning and there was a good breeze the river had created a large canyon through erosion. As we moved on past the river we encountered steeper and steeper terrain and became more and more tired. It was incredible how quickly the landscape would change as we continued on the trail. Eventually we reached Elk Lake where we stored food for our return trip and stopped for lunch. We continued on into even steeper terrain occasionally encountering avalanche and rock slide paths on the trail which we had to navigate. After a couple miles Cole and Watkins broke off ahead to check out a possible sketchy section ahead. We followed at a slower pace occasionally encountering over and under logs. Eventually we transition into misty clouds that are very beautiful and mysterious. We finally reached the sketchy section where the trail had fallen apart and been replaced by a steep rope ladder down a steep section. We went one at a time. Watkins was messing with Nik’s pack and told Nick to give him the potato pearls. When Nick refused Watkins yeeted Jeremiah off a cliff where he was taken hostage along with the aloha stake by Cole. In despair over this loss, we hiked on quickly reaching Glacier Meadows and set up camp. We ate well and everyone went to sleep early for the night.


Day 10: Glacier Meadows to Panic Peak

By Niklas Nilson


The morning was cold. I awoke from my sleeping bag and got out of my tent with a considerable amount of dampness due to the disposition of our tent to a large puddle. I headed over to the wooden emergency shelter and cooked our meal for the approach onto the glacier. After I finished my ration of three packets of oatmeal and packed up all of my gear in my backpack we all met in a clearing of trees for a stretching circle. The hike today would be shorter, only about three miles, but with about 3000 feet of elevation gain. We needed to make sure we were hydrated, fed, well rested, stretched and ready to go. Once we exited our dismal campsite with the misleading name of glacier Meadows, we came a clearing where the sun was shining, the snow was melting, and the wildflowers were blooming. We were almost to the base of the glacier. After the meadow we came to the bottom of a snow hill with a prominent track of where hikers had slid down. I was looking forward to sliding down once we were finished. Once we did this short 100 yard hill, we finally got our first full view of the glacier and saw where we would be camping. My first thoughts were impossible and why? It was the first time I had gotten a view of Panic Peak, where we would be camping, and it looked terrifying. It steadily rose up like a horn and then suddenly dropped off. After we took a break and had a hardy lunch of granola bars and candy, we climbed down a rock field and reached the glacier. We put on our harnesses and got into our four person rope teams. It was flat for three quarters of a mile until we got to our first large glacier hill. We hiked around a rock a took a break on a rock island where we were able to refill our water bottles and purify the water. The higher we got the less visibility we had. After hiking on a less steep slope for a while, we came to our last big hill and the steepest of the trip. We had to make sure that everyone was focused on what they were doing and even then a couple people fell but were quickly caught by their rope teams. Once we were almost level with Panic Peak we lost almost all visibility and stayed there until the clouds cleared. For a moment the clouds parted and we were able to spot the illusive glacial cow.  Mr. Cole told us about this earlier on and wouldn’t tell us what it was. It is a research station positioned at the base of Panic Peak that used to be painted like a cow. Now we knew we were less than 100 yards away and so we made the push for a rock outcropping. Once we got there the visibility was still low, it was windy, and everybody was tired, but moral was high because we had made it. We took our ropes off and started to move rocks and find a place to place our tents. Noah and I found a small cove and we moved rocks so that we could set up our tent there. Once everyone had set up tents and made a filling dinner, all of us retired to our tents with thoughts of summiting a peak tomorrow and thinking that it would be a peaceful, uneventful night.


Day 11: Panic Peak to Mt. Olympus

By Chris Watkins


Day 11 began as soon as it could, with winds pounding down on tent walls all night long. Around 2:30 a.m., I became aware of neighbors outside their tent muttering and scrambling to deal with the exposure to the wind that the modest rock outcropping was offering for bivy space. I got up to see if I could help, and to check on all of the tent groups. Ben and Travis had taken the brunt of the 50mph+ gusts and a tent pole had snapped. Skillfully, and without any support, they dug out a pole splint and repaired the pole then the tent. I went around tightening guy lines in a desperate attempt to hopefully prevent more tent collapses. As I got back in my tent and started to warm up, I overheard Mia say to her tent mates that she had just thrown up and –in an incredibly joyful tone– expressed that she was feeling “much better now!” Whew.

Thirty minutes later, I was keenly aware that someone was walking up to my tent. What I was not prepared for was the news that another student had gotten sick, and was unable to get outside the tent before the projectiles began! After an hour or so of cleaning and getting everyone back in their tents, I was able to temporarily enjoy the early dawn light and sucker holes through the fast moving clouds. Knowing that we were socked in and that little could be accomplished with such wind, everyone attempted to sleep as much as possible while frequently pushing the tent poles with an arm or a leg to offer additional support.

Around 11:30 a.m., the wind started to die down and visibility was slowly improving. Cole and I had been watching Mt. Olympus and waiting for any sign of improved weather throughout the morning, and around noon we finally decided to rally the team and consider a summit attempt.

11 days into our trip and the group truly was functioning as a team. We knew the routine. We knew how to budget our time and get ourselves ready regardless of the adventure of the day. At 1 p.m., two rope teams of four led out from the Panic Peak bivy and worked our way south over the Snow Dome glacier toward the apron of Mt. Olympus. Though the snow was warm, both teams moved consistently together, working our way around and over small slivers revealing the edge of a crevasse. After a steep pitch of snow, we topped off on a beautiful saddle to the east of West Peak and to the west of Five Fingers summit.

On the shaded and thin northwestern gully of Fiver Fingers, we found more supportable and firm snow to set a boot pack to the summit. Around 3p.m. we stood on top of the summit and tried to absorb the overwhelm of 360º of endless mountain ridges in every direction. To the west, you could see the Pacific Ocean past crest after crest of ridgelines. To the northwest, you could see Canada. To the east, Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier. And to the south, endless mountains and valleys with the same allure of the area where we now stood.

Though some wind persisted throughout our summit climb, upon marching back via the Crystal Pass route to camp, we found the first calm and warm moment to revel in the massive and pristine area that was our home for three days. While the majority of summit attempts require an alpine start from Glacier Meadows, we were all grateful for the additional effort and time we put in to staging our visit on Mt. Olympus from Panic Peak.

Wilderness this spectacular deserved as much of our time as possible.


Day 12: Panic Peak to Elk Lake

By Sammy MacFarlane, Class of 2014


Today, I fell into a crevasse. In fact, we all did!
My day began at 6:30am with a crisp view of Mt Olympus and the monolith of the Snow Dome glacier, both already glowing in the morning sun.
I waited to wake people until 7, listening to the climbers above us taking down their camp, and watching the clouds race each other off the mountain towards the coast.
Once the group was up it was all business. Mia, Ben, and Mr Watkins quickly packed up camp and roped up to summit Five Finger Jack while the rest of us got ready for a special activity dreamed up by Mr Cole. We set about stuffing tents, melting snow for drinking water, and packing our day packs. As soon as a small group was ready, Mr Cole set off with them, roped up in a group of five, toward one of the crevasses yawning open near the top of Snow Dome.Nate, Andrew, Aika, and I watched them grow more and more ant-like as they traversed the massive mound of smoothed snow.
Once we were packed, hydrated, and fed, we too roped up and began our trek.
We could see the five of them, tiny and grouped at the mouth of a blue crevasse at the top of one of Snow Dome’s ice falls. I led the team and stomped in a smaller strided boot pack alongside the wide strides of the first crevasses group. (Andrew and my own legs thanked me for this!).
We arrived quicker than expected (perspective is skewed in this enormous landscape) and were promptly educated in safety systems and assigned tasks.
We saw Katie peering over the edge of one of the surrounding crevasses, talking to someone we couldn’t see or hear. Everyone else was hauling on the rope. Soon, Noah’s hands, then head appeared over the lip of snow as he clambered for a grip in the slushy snow, panting and laughing.
Over the course of the next hour, we took turns sliding into the crevasse or helping to haul each other out.
I tied into the rope, now fully versed in the systems that would ensure my return to the surface world and trusting of the strength of my teammates.
Noah was my communicator, in charge of talking to me (and throwing snowballs at me) from the edge where he was anchored. He walked with me to he blue mouth. Then I got on my belly and slowly, then all at once, fell in.
I was stopped abruptly by the rope at my waist and gradually lowered down. The snow sloughed off the ice as I descended and I was gliding over thick and hard ice walls, totally void of grip and impenetrable to force.
The layers transitioned from pearly white to chilly blue. The chasm spread out away from me, around corners where I caught glimpses of feather-thin snow bridges and sparkling icicles.
I stood 30 feet down on a shifty snow shelf where the rope’s safety know held me and looked up at the rift of sky, now pale blue in contrast to the crystal blues of the wall around me.
I felt wonder at this new world that steadily soothes the fear I’d had for crevasses. I realized that this formation was not out to get me or the students I hiked with. It was the result of this huge process, the thousands of tons of glacial ice, moving along and within the contours of the rock.
When my bit of time was up, the group began to haul me out. I let myself my carried up (I had no gril to stem my legs out), scooting along the ice like a sleepy seal. When I emerged into the sun, I welcomed the awesome alpine view, knowing a bit more about the labyrinthine world below.
Sammy Mac signing off.


Day 13: Elk Lake to 5 Mile Island

By Mia Giallorenzi


I woke up this morning to the sun filtering through the trees, preparing myself for the 15 mile hike we had planned for the day.  As Nate walked through the kitchen area, I asked how he slept, and was surprised when he answered “awful.” “How come?” I asked, apprehensive, and he responded “I was up for hours throwing up”.  Now the 15 mile day was looking even worse, but I still headed up to my tent to pack up. Sammy was outside, and when I asked her how she slept she too said that she’d been up throwing up. Now I was really worried.  Watkins was already on top of it though, and he announced to the group that we would shoot for 5 mile island instead today, cutting it down to about 10 miles. Before we left, we boiled and washed all cooking utensils in hopes of purifying them to stop the spread of whatever this was that was making us sick.  We then lightened the packs of the sick people slightly to make the hike a little less painful for them, and spread the gear between all of us, and then began our journey down the trail. It was soon evident however, that even 10 miles might be a stretch. Andrew was feeling sick, and worsening by the minute, and we stopped for frequent breaks to try to keep the sickness at bay.  Eventually, Watkins ended up taking Andrews backpack and strapping it to the outside of his own, and we divyed out the gear amongst ourselves. In the end, we only made it as far as Olympic Guard Station, about 6 miles, before we decided to stop for the night. Nate, Sammy, and Andrew promptly laid down in the grass among the wildflowers and didn’t move until the next morning, and the rest of us cooked dinner out on the gravel bar by the river and tried to relax.  We were all exhausted. Although this wasn’t the day with the most mileage, I’d say it was definitely one of the toughest days of the trip. But even as some of our numbers were falling to sickness, and the rest were carrying more weight than we had begun with, we all buckled down and focused on getting everyone out. We were in this as a team, and if that meant strapping something else to your already too heavy pack, then so be it. And even though it was exhausting, we still stayed cheerful and positive, talking and joking the whole way down the trail.  We could do this.


Day 14: 5 Mile Island to Hoh River Valley Trailhead; Heart O’ the Hills Campground

By Katie Riley


To wake up in a field of yellow flowers and grass rather than a snowfield made us feel very lucky, however we soon learned that yet another member of the group had suffered the stomach bug last night. Several members of the group had also slept outside their tents to be out on the gravel bar by the river where we had enjoyed the previous evening. The night was extremely mild and we all welcomed it after the intensity of camping on a glacier a few nights previously. Today we planned to finish our hike back out into the frontcountry, a full 9.7 or so miles. We had everyone hiking by about 9 that morning, and the pace was fairly fast. As we wound our way back to the trailhead, the trail began to widen and flatten, and after about five miles we began to encounter more and more people that did not belong to our group. The number of dayhikers was strange to see, and it began our slow transition back into regular society as we tried our best to interact without showing the levels of fatigue we were beginning to feel. Despite the fatigue, however, we hiked at the same quick pace, determined to reach the goal. The last mile marker we saw read 0.9 miles to visitor center, and it seemed to work like a shot of adrenaline, a few people were even taking it at a jog, flukes and pickets jangling behind them. To break our wilderness bubble and come back into the parking lot at the trailhead was extremely bittersweet. We were able to look at the trek we had just undertaken in the past tense, and we could appreciate the magnitude of it from the exterior.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Our group remained enthusiastic as we unpacked and repacked into our van, and headed to a restaurant cooked meal. After a few more hours in the van, we reached a campsite and reflected on our trip around a fire, after which we all slept outside beneath the trees, partially due to a reluctance to unpack and set up tents, but also to be as involved and close with the beautiful forest that had been our home for the last several days before we left it for Salt Lake the next day.


Day 15: Hurricane Ridge

By Chris Watkins


One of the most exciting elements of the Waterford Outdoor Program is the opportunity for students to participate in a leadership capacity, offering their skill, ideas and enthusiasm to class curriculum, as well as accept the responsibility to lead out as trip leaders on multi-day trips.

In the summer of 2015, during the MS Outdoor Desert Solitude trip in Moab, numerous rising Class XII students shared their budding outdoor interests while revealing gratitude and exhilaration for nature experiences. Mia Giallorenzi shared stories of her family adventures traveling to Alaska and Europe, and traveling across glaciers. Ben Newhall shared his newfound interest in sea kayaking and water sports, while Travis Damon continued sharing tidbits of a family backpacking trip he had done at a young age in Washington.

Based off of these interests, and a desire to push veteran Outdoor students to continue to develop their mountaineering toolbox, the first trip objective for the summer 2018 trip was to determine an area where the group could consider an on-glacier element. Given that Utah does not have a glacier (its only strike), it was clear any student trip leaders would need to determine a destination that would allow for multiple recreation elements: on-glacier mountaineering, backpacking and packrafting.

The students mentioned above, as well as many other consistent members of the Outdoor community, met monthly and even weekly in Fall of 2017 to narrow down a geographic location that could meet all the trip objectives. Eventually, the group zeroed in on Olympic National Park, a stunning area with a rugged interior, yet so diverse and complex that a coastal backpacking and packrafting segment was possible as well.

Confirming many of the trips logistics proved to be challenging and time-consuming given a group of our size. However, after a call to Andrew Cole, former US Dean and Outdoor Program Director, it became clear that his experience as a backcountry ranger in the park –combined with his enthusiasm for the itinerary– would be the boon necessary to make a this trip happen. Hiring Sammy MacFarlane, Class of 2014, as a co-leader was another home run for the instructor team, as Sam graduated Lewis & Clark in May, and has already co-led three Outdoor Summer Term trips.

To say that this group was special on course is an understatement. Although all participants were required to complete a physical conditioning log for the month of May to prepare for the trip, the reality is that the trip was very physically and mentally demanding, compounded by the fact that route-finding and the rugged coastal and mountain environments were unrelenting. Add in a bout of illness that dropped 8 of 12 people at various times, it would have been easy to go to the dark side and allow the suffering and complaining to come to the forefront of the experience. Remarkably, even on the hardest day (see Day 4), students were busting jokes and were completely lost in the adventure, freedom and space of the unknown. This group’s ability to exhibit empathy and support was truly one of the most impressive components of our time in Washington. Thank you to every parent and student -as well as the Waterford School- for supporting truly life-changing experiences such as this.


Left to right: Andrew Cole, Andrew Felsted, Travis Damon, Ai Ke Woods, Niklas Nilson, Noah Conner, Katie Riley, Ben Newhall, Mia Giallorenzi, Sam MacFarlane, Chris Watkins, Nate Battistone

The full trip photo gallery can be found here.


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”


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.


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.


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.


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.

Plan B

By Mia, Class XI


Mia (in front) backpacking to camp.

When I signed up for the Wind Rivers outdoors summer trip last fall I figured that I knew what I was getting myself into.  I’ve taken outdoors every term, and even gone on multiple summer term trips before.  However, this year, it did not go quite as expected.

To begin with, the students were the driving force in the planning process.  At the time the trip was announced, all that was planned was that we were going to the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming.  Every few weeks we would meet as a group and attempt to figure out where in this massive range we should go.  One thing that we knew for sure from the beginning, was that this trip should include many different aspects of what we learn in the outdoors class, including backpacking, climbing, packrafting, and fly fishing.


Having a vague idea of what we wanted to do was not nearly enough, though, so we divided up, each conquering one aspect of the trip.  I was in charge of the climbing, and spent more than one weekend poring through guide books dreaming up dangerous ridges for us to scale.  Of course, these dreams were promptly crushed at our next meeting by Watkins, the voice of reason, who pointed out that it just wasn’t realistic to haul 15 people up a twenty four hundred foot climb in one day.  I wasn’t the only one with dreams of grandeur: at one point it was proposed that we would hire llamas.  (Honestly, of all of our far fetched plans, I’d say we were the most sad to let the llamas go).  Eventually though, we found a backpacking loop that was perfect for us, making it so that we could hike a respectable distance, climb a nice, easy peak in the Cirque of the Towers, and leave plenty of time for floating in our packrafts.


Students making the most of record snowfall across the Intermountain West.

By then, it was winter and the planning was set aside as we revelled in the record snowfalls and the skiing that that brought us.  Therefore, it came as a slight surprise when, soon after summer began, we received an email from Watkins requesting another planning meeting.

What we learned during this meeting came as even more of a shock.  That record snowfall that we had reveled in a few months before had also hit Wyoming.  The range had 190% of its average snowfall for that time of year.  For us, that meant that the trails were still snow covered, and even more problematically, the road to the trailhead still hadn’t even been plowed.  And, don’t forget, this was a mere six days before we were scheduled to leave.


Cliff jumping at Island Lake.

With this in mind, we said goodbye to our meticulously laid plans from before, and decided as a group that no, we would not be going to the Wind River range as expected. Now where do we go?

Due to limited time and gas money we would have to stay fairly close to home, but that still left hundreds of viable destinations.  There was a backpacking route in the Tetons that looked exciting, a backpacking and rafting trip in Yellowstone, hiking in the Uinta mountains of Utah, and canyoneering in Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, just to name a few.  

The Tetons were soon out because they also had far too much snow.  Yellowstone looked amazing, with a five day backpack, and then a packraft float down the lower Yellowstone river.  However, we soon discovered that it was, in fact, illegal to go to that stretch of Yellowstone thanks to it containing the largest population of grizzly bears in the lower forty eight.  Not wanting to be mauled by a grizzly put an end to that plan pretty quickly, so we moved on to Escalante.


Students put their fly fishing skills to use and caught fresh trout for dinner.

Escalante is a beautiful, remote stretch of desert strewn with canyons and rivers perfect for rafting.  We devised a plan to packraft down a canyon and even try out our canyoneering skills.  The downside was the forecast for high 90s temperatures, but we would be fine, as long as we were near water…Except that there wasn’t water.  The river that we had proposed to float was dangerously below its normal capacity, and therefore unfloatable.   With such high heat, the lack of water was a deal breaker, so we moved on to the next plan.

The only plan left at this point was to backpack the Uinta mountain range. And although they are a lovely mountain range, no one was particularly excited about this option.  The Uintas are close to home, so we already had explored them a fair amount. But with less than a week to go, what other choice did we have?


Rock & Ice

Another meeting was called for the next monday, two days before we left.  Even though we knew we would go to the Uintas, that still left us with a lot of options for where we could explore.   Eventually we put together to a loop through basins and over passes, with the main attraction being the plethora of lakes available for us to float in.  We would still climb, and hike, and packraft, and fish, all the important aspects that we had started with back in the fall, and now, because of the abundance of snow, we would also ski.  

That Monday passed in a frenzy of planning as we drew up a menu, a hiking route, and a gear list, meanwhile adjusting ski bindings and looking through bin after bin of cook stuff for elusive camp spoons.  


And at 9 a.m. on the 22nd, we all showed up at Waterford with full backpacks, spent a few hours organizing food and loading gear on to the bus, and then we were off.  

It’s a scary thing to have planned a trip and suddenly see it become a reality.  I’m sure that every one of us had thoughts going through our heads vaguely along the lines of ¨is this actually going to work?¨  Having planned the trip ourselves from beginning to end was a far different experience from all of our past outdoors trips, which had been more along the lines of ¨so, what are we going to do today, Mr. Watkins?¨  Now we had to take ownership of what happened, good or bad, which was frankly a terrifying prospect.


However, when it came down to it, I’m glad we went to the Uintas.  They are very different from the dramatic, rocky peaks of the Wasatch, or the Wind Rivers for that matter, but they have a beauty of their own.  Every dip in the earth is filled with water, making for some stunning mountain lakes. Because we went in late June, it was prime wildflower season, and in many places it was actually impossible to walk without trampling a few dainty little marsh marigolds underfoot.  There was an abundance of fish, and the wide open skies meant that we could fall asleep beneath a blanket of stars.  

The responsibility that we had assumed during the planning process was not over.  Every day, two of the students would be given the map and compass and told to lead the rest to the next campsite.  Unfortunately, thanks to the network of trails, only a small number of which were actually on the map, it was very easy to get lost.  And after a long day of hiking, it is not a welcome thing to hear that you have been walking in the wrong direction for an hour.  Soon tempers began flaring, even leading to a mutiny at one point, leaving the chosen leaders powerless and the angry masses without a map.  Eventually the actual trail was found and peace was restored, but we had learned in the process that in order to make it through we would have to work together and all have an equal say.


I feel confident that every one of us on that trip learned real life skills that we will carry into our future adventures and everyday life.

And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t solely a good experience because of the challenges.  We all became closer friends than ever before and enjoyed the wilderness to the utmost.  We hiked, climbed, fished, rafted and skied.  We also spent time sitting on the shore of lakes reading, and around fires playing truth or dare.  We walked through the woods at night singing, and one night over dinner had a massive snowball fight.  We are far from all grown up, but if I look back and see myself entering outdoors in 7th grade, I have definitely grown.  Outdoors, and the opportunities it gives me, such as this one, has taught me so much, and even more importantly, has brought me closer to some of my closest friends.  

So, as we hiked along a trail hundreds of miles from the one we had originally planned to hike, when Watkins asked me if I would help to plan next summers trip, of course the answer was yes. I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity for the world. We’re supposed to go to Washington. But who knows what will happen.

See more photos from the trip here.