Scotland Day 3

Day Three is in the books! 

This morning we got up early and enjoyed breakfast together before saying goodbye to Newcastle and eventually Northumbria. Our first stop this morning was at Warkworth Castle. A beautiful ruin that was originally a motte and bailey castle harking back to the twelfth century. Over the course of the castles’ life though, this border estate saw plenty of action between the thirteenth and fourteenth century feuds between the English and Scots amongst others. Today though, this castle featured plenty of space for all of us to run about and imagine what life was like for the ultra wealthy in the early modern period. It featured a private bathroom, two wine cellars, separate beer cellar, and its own cross shaped church that sat only feet away from the nearby keep.

The ruined nature of the walls was probably due to either Oliver Cromwell storming through and taking a cannonade to the castle defenses, or perhaps more surprisingly that the Lord of Warkworth Castle may have given permission to have pieces taking away from the castle’s fortifications. It is document that his original tower near the church was destroyed and the stone was redistributed to nearby villages. After a few months though, the lord missed the tower, and decided to have a new one erected! 

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We stopped for a group photo, gathered some water, and then took a delightful stroll down a nearby river to visit the Percy families’ private hermitage. After a discussion with a nearby docent- we learned that the “Hermitage” was a privately funded (and beautifully constructed) chapel created for a private priest whose sole purpose was to pray for the lord who was living at Warkworth Castle. We climbed into a small boat, and found the chapel carved into the rock face for the hermit’s home. The hermit’s front door was flanked by two giant yew trees that almost seemed to crawl towards the river when we approached! The interior even had a miraculously preserved sculpture of Joseph looking down on Mary, and on a baby Jesus in one of the window sills.

After leaving Warkworth, Ms. South and I decided that the students should eat and have time to grab a book or two at a great used bookstore named Barter Books. We sat down to enjoy some avocado toast, cheese toasties, as well as a variety of fudge and cookies. Ms. South lets us know that this was one of her favorite places to visit, and that the bookstore had become world famous after re-discovering the “Keep Calm, and Carry On” label from a World War II poster. After the discovery, they began plastering that message on an assortment of items for sale. I’m sure many of you either own, or have seen signs speaking to this same quote. Secondly, the store itself is in a beautiful nineteenth century train station- lending a particularly powerful ambience to an extensive supply of both common and exoctic first edition books. We were sad to leave after a quick bite and browse, but were happy to be on our way to Holy Island (or Lindisfarne).

We arrived at Lindisfarne after negotiating the tides to ensure that we would not be swept away nor would we get lost as the tide was out. We were all excited to see that our students were putting many of our previous connections together. For those who did light painting, Ian had discussed how syncretic practices brought both Celtic and Roman Christian beliefs together by using intricate patterns on newly erected crosses. We saw an abundance of these items in the nearby museum dedicated to the priory, before setting out to see the abbey itself. Lindisfarne was the original home to St. Cuthbert (the saint who we saw buried in Durham Cathedral). We saw his first burial spot, (Zoe immediately ran over to stand where Cuthbert had rested) and spent a bit over an hour walking around and seeing what life was like for these early Benedictine monks. We explored what life would have been like for these martyrs after realizing that Lindisfarne is precariously close to the sea. That proximity brought Vikings, and other problems to those living peacefully at the priory. 

After leaving Lindisfarne, we had one final leg of the trip as we headed back towards Edinburgh along the beautiful A1. This car ride gave Alex the chance to find a great “Mashed Taters” joint that offered both haggis, boar sausage, as well as more traditional cuisine. It was a great restaurant, and afterwards, Ms. South and I decided to have a game night in celebration of having such a great group of kids! I picked up the cookies, and we met the students down in the hotel lobby to play “Guillotine,” “E.R.S.,” and my absolute favorite “Timeline.” While it was a close match, Miranda and Zoe were victorious and even managed to know some pretty obscure history tidbits to take home the victory.

Tomorrow. We will break our fast at 8:00 a.m. and enjoy the amazing castle sitting on the extinct volcano across the street. Sleep well everyone, Edinburgh is coming at you bright and early!

Scotland Day 2

Day #2 Update on the morning of Day #3. Of course, the reason this is a later entry will be explained at our conclusion this morning! 

We began the day heading down to Durham Cathedral to experience an early morning prayer service in the Anglican Tradition. The Cathedral is considered one of the finest examples of Norman / Romanesque Architecture (the circular windows as opposed to Gothic points), and its stunning arches are highlighted by the fact that the cathedral itself sits on a prominent high point in an otherwise low-lying area making it more difficult to attack. This will be important as we read on!  The service was led by a minister, and we engaged our students afterwards in a conversation helping to differentiate the Catholic tradition and Anglican one as we tried to better understand the Reformation. Durham Cathedral is actually the final resting place for St. Cuthbert (the patron Saint of England until he was usurped by Saint George). The cathedral is also the resting place for the Venerable Bede, a seventh century author who wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.  Two Catholic Saints in one cathedral meant that Durham was a great hub for pilgrims all over England and western Europe. Bede’s tomb greets visitors as they enter the cathedral in the Galilee Chapel, while Cuthbert’s has the honor of sitting behind the altar at the rear of the Cathedral. 

According to local legend, the founding of Durham Cathedral is based on a site we are visiting today (Day #3)- named Lindisfarne or Holy Island. Monks fleeing the Vikings at Lindisfarne carried Cuthbert’s body (we saw his original coffin!) and asked a local set of milk maids for directions as they wandered further from Viking intrusion. According to legend, one of the monks had an incomprehensible dream tied to a phrase “Dun Holm”, and one of the milk maids pointed to Dun Holm as a place appropriate for the monks. Seeing this as divine providence, the monks decided to bury Cuthbert and honor him in what would become Durham Cathedral. While everyone enjoyed the history and dressing up as Monks, the highlight may have been visiting the Durham Chapter House on the west side of the Church. The house is unadorned, but has the fabulous distinction of being Professor McGonagall classroom from the Harry Potter Films! The Durham courtyard also was one of the famous filming locations involving Ron, Malfoy and slugs!

After leaving Durham Cathedral, we headed down the road to Bells for “proper Fish n” Chips.” The kids were real troopers and went for the classic English Cod, many even trying it with malt vinegar.  While we were waiting for our table, we had the opportunity to watch a local group of Morris dancers. This was a traditional English dance that neither Ms. South or myself had an experience in- so we spent some time researching this really fun and colorful performative art. 

After leaving Bells, we jumped in the cabs and headed for Beamish. Beamish is a living history museum that gave our students a taste of the lifestyle and living conditions for those who experienced the early Industrial Revolution in the seat of coal country. Beginning there, we headed for the colliery, and actually had the opportunity to descend into a non-active coal miner to get a taste of early experiences in the mines. Our guide showed us the terror involved in being so far underground, in nearly total darkness, trying to fill twelve carts of coal to make the equivalent of 80cents over the course of your ten hour day.  Other highlights included visiting the Masonic Temple for a band performance, a visit to the pharmacist (the kids were terrified by the tounsel removal devices), the garage (including a car with a chauffeur button for the “Club”- a necessary amenities for the early 20th century ultra-wealthy), and finishing at the Confectioner’s shop! We then were back on the bus, and headed back to Newcastle. The day was hardly finished though!

We went home for a few minutes only to head out to Prima for an Italian feast (at Miranda’s request). We were so fortunate to see so many beautiful outfits, as we were out in Newcastle on “Ladies Day.” A day when thousands of women all over Newcastle got dressed in their finest and hit the town after a day at the horse racing track. It reminded me of the pomp and circumstance related to the Kentucky Derby (including the hats!).

That evening we met a friend of Ms. Souths named Ian Hobson. Ian showed a group of our students all about “light painting.” An incredible creative and fascinating way of playing with aperture, darkness, and bright lights. Ella’s turned out the scariest, but all of us had a great job working with a tremendous artist and making a new friend. We are eating breakfast now and preparing for Day #3. Here we go!!

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Scotland Day 1

Today or I guess yesterday we began our travels to Scotland. Our flight from SLC to JFK was easy enough- although poor Rachel had to sit on the same aisle with me twice, meaning she was forced to give me the thumbs up as I compulsively checked on all of them on both our earlier and later flights! Did I mention that I don’t like to fly?

We were greeted at the airport in Edinburgh with the ample need to eat anything other than airplane food- Zoe led the charge for “something, anything” to eat. We then stopped for a quick photo with the “EDINBURGH” sign, and made our way out to meet our coach driver for the day.  Peter the driver gave us a tremendous gift in agreeing to take our entire group out to Hadrian’s Wall, knowing that we had missed our opportunity to experience the wall yesterday. The hike took us on high ramparts with incredible views of both Scotland and Northumbria. While the toll was great on all of our tired bodies, we enjoyed the time better understanding the symbolic nature of Hadrian’s Wall after hearing the history from Ms. South.

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Hadrian’s Wall was built in the 2nd century and served as the northernmost fortified stretch of defenses of the early English Roman Empire. While Antonius Pius would build a wall further north later, Hadrian’s Wall is incredibly well preserved and gives us great insight into the longstanding enmity shared between the Scots and English from the classical age. Every (1) mile the Roman soldiers who constructed the wall built a fort, and as we walked eastward across the wall, we passed two of these incredibly preserved structures. Parker and I shared a great moment discussing Roman cement and the immense ability to maintain its shape over the centuries. While walking up and down the battlements, I shared other conversations with Lexi, Miranda and Ella on the benefits of dogs, was serenaded by Dreeg’s phenomenal cover of a “Fire Emblem” song, and was happy to receive the kindness of locals who help me and our group when we were lost in the maze of the walls!
After our visit at the wall, Peter took us to our hostel in downtown Newcastle. Portions of Hadrian’s Wall are still visible in Newcastle today, but the city itself shines with all the life and electricity of a modern city. After getting checked-into the hotel, we went and grabbed a bite at the Fat Hippo– a local favorite burger bar. Of course Alex was excited, but Ms. South and I were excited to have substantive conversations with all of our students regarding their experience at the wall. What does this wall mean to Scotland? What does this wall mean to England? Why would a classical identifier of the separation be important to the separation between the Scottish and English nations. When we sat down to discuss, many of our students shared important insights but Kaira mentioned the views as something that will remain etched in her memory which sparked further conversations on the nature of the “English Heritage” organization versus its counterpart “HIstoric Scotland.” While neither of these share the title of U.K.- we agreed that much of this distress is still alive and well.  As a group we talked about graffiti, the nature of man, the origins of organized religion, the Presbyterian Church, Martin Luther and the trick to getting your lights on in your European hotel room (inserting your key into a slot on the wall ;)) Needless to say, a typical Waterford evening was spent before settling in for an early evening in our hotel. We’re up early tomorrow morning for a quick breakfast and then a trip to Durham Cathedral.

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)!

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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

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Exploring Fort Hermann

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

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The Soca River

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

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

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

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

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

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The rain came down, and we went up!

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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. 

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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.