Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My NOLS Course: Part 2

Read part 1 here!

Day 3:

One of the coolest parts of my trip happened on this day - we found a native peoples' cliff dwelling!

Cliff dwelling

Cliff drawing

A pot shard

Also - This was a push day, and huge feat for me personally! 9 miles, including a climb up to 7,000 feet of elevation (which I believe was my first time ever at that high of elevation - I mean, it must be, being from the east coast!!). It was pretty emotionally trying for me, as about halfway through I hit a HUMONGOUS wall from falling on my knee the previous day. The pain from it really started to kick in, and then my feet started to swell as well... that combined with having to hike up 7 switchbacks up to that elevation was a real test of my personal perseverance.

The view was pretty cool, though.

 After that, we really kept slowing up (mostly my fault I'm sure, but I was determined to make it to camp!), and lost the trail markers, and had to bushwhack into a creek bed. However, after we found that we were able to follow it - with major help from our instructor - to find the trail! I'm not sure I've experienced a more gratifying feeling than coming in to camp after a LONG day with headlights on, guns blazing, having stuck with it!!

Day 4:

Stopover day! This day we realized that the route that was originally set out for us was not going to work... there was so much we wanted to learn in lessons at camp, and we weren't having time for that in our short 9-day trek, so we stayed at our camp this day and slept in, made pancakes, had lessons about leadership, engaged in some Leave No Trace skits, made backcountry pizza, and generally a great day! We slept out in a clear field and I slept out of the tent (I actually slept outside of the tent every night minus one) and fell asleep looking at the stars! It was awesome.

Day 5:

This was a FREEZING morning! It LITERALLY SNOWED IN NEW MEXICO! Being from NY and it being April, this was the craziest thing ever!!

This was my day as Leader of the Day, a NOLS practice! I had a really great day as LOD, even though I was worried about being a weak leader with my still-bum knee. I had the opportunity to practice my map reading/navigation skills (something I haven't practiced much since learning about orienteering at Girl Scout camp), and I had the opportunity to take a bearing to get us back to the trail when we lost it (in that same spot as Day 4). It was so gratifying to see such a concrete result from learning about navigation! Also, while I was worried about my knee still being painful that day, it was actually mostly better!

AND, we got to check out more cliff dwellings!

Day 6:

This morning I woke up with frost on my sleeping bag! Whaaat!

Other than that, all in all, this day was a very fluid day - we took very purposeful breaks, and settled in to a good pace. We were really performing!! There were no major highlights or lowlights - it was just a good day!

Day 7:

This day we set out to exactly reverse what we attempted to do on our first day of backpacking. Slightly daunting - considering we didn't actually do it the first day! But we were better prepared, and knew more what we were looking for, and where we were generally heading. We actually somehow stumbled upon a rundown cabin that wasn't even marked on our maps (which had many other old cabins marked on it)!

From there, we went looking for a trail that was supposed to go up over a ridge, but were unsuccessful in finding it. Instead, we did what was probably the scariest thing I've done to date, in my entire life, and started to climb up a steep hill without a trail, often walking very slowly, intentionally placing each foot in front of the other, trying to settle our feet into the dusty dirt/sand to create "steps" to feel solid on/not feel like our feet were going to slide out from underneath us and send us down the slope. It was definitely panic-inducing, however, I somehow managed to keep my calm during it.

When we got to the top, it allowed me a little time to collect myself... along with enjoy these views. Wow!

On the way down, we trekked down the ridge that you can see on the right-hand side of the picture. I was at my limit as far as traversing hills without trails - but I knew we could do it... plus, down would be much better than up - all we had to do was follow the line of the ridge! To get over there, we had to go up a little bit more, across a ridge and then down the ridge we were shooting for. We hit some pretty heavy winds (we estimated maybe 30mph I believe?) which shook me a little bit, but we made it! And on the way down - we saw a big horned sheep... which was the coolest thing ever!! My camera was dead at that point (it lasted 'til literally that last amazing view of the trip), so you'll just have to take my word on how amazing that was to see such a magnificent creature prancing through the cliffs.

At the end of that day, that was a lot to absorb - in terms of what I'd just accomplished! I had a breakdown during our debrief of the day, because I was honestly just so amazed at what I had just accomplished during our hike. Never would I have imagined how challenging, yet rewarding, this trip was going to be, and at that moment during our last debrief - after a frankly scary day! - it just came flooding to me.

4/29 - Last day:

On our last day, we got up bright and early (before 6AM early!), and made the four hour trek back to the NOLS Southwest headquarters where we unpacked, cleaned up our gear, and had our graduation ceremony and barbecue. It was hard to process that it was over - and honestly, a month+ later, I'm still in mourning that it's over. I had SUCH an amazing experience; I can't even begin to say (though I may attempt in another post - TBD).

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