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Mountain Wilderness

Alpine Backpacking: Uinta Wilderness, Utah

Features Of This Course:

  • On and off trail travel in alpine and sub-alpine zones (8,000-12,000 ft)
  • Possible peak ascent(s) of 12,000+ ft peak(s)
  • 3-semester credit hours earned (CIL 110)
  • Average Group Size: 9 students/ 3 instructors
  • Approximate pack weight at heaviest: 50-60 lbs.
  • Trip Duration: 18 days (13 field days)
  • Typical Male/Female ratio: 40/60

Course Overview:

This expedition takes place in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. This spectacular range features alpine meadows, rocky summits, and glacial lakes. On this course you'll receive an introduction to the essentials of wilderness travel, in addition to learning more about yourself, your new peers and leaders, and Earlham College. You'll pick up skills including minimum impact camping, mountain travel, map and compass navigation, and outdoor leadership. There will be lessons on geology, environmental ethics, and natural and cultural history (among others). Working hard, traveling over steep, rocky terrain with a pack on your back, you'll find strengths you never knew you had!

Our hikes will be between five and twelve miles a day at elevations ranging from 8,000 to 12,000 feet. We will make our way through narrow stream valleys, travel broad glacier-carved basins, and ascend some of the highest peaks and passes in Utah. As the program progresses, you will take on increasing responsibility for yourself and for the group. There will be opportunities for contemplative activities of varying lengths where you will have the chance to spend a period of time in solitude and reflection. Towards the end of the course, you will test the skills you have acquired with student-led travel days, where you'll make decisions with peers and rely less on input from your instructors.

This experience is a college-level, three-credit course (CIL 110). As such, there will be assigned reading and you will be expected to participate in all course discussions and related activities. In addition, there will be several assignments to complete in the form of journal essays and mini-presentations. Evaluation and grading on the course will be Pass/No Pass. Students will be given a written and oral evaluation at the mid-way point and at the conclusion of the course.

A Typical Day:

Mountain _typicaldayA typical day might involve the "leader of the day" rousing everyone at 6:00 am and then your tent group of four divvying up morning chore responsibilities including camp breakdown and cooking breakfast. After packing up your backpacks, you reconvene and get a morning briefing from the instructors and leader of the day as to the day's route and schedule. Following the briefing, a buddy helps you put your pack on (it's still heavy!) and you begin hiking up the trail. After a couple of miles, you take a packs-off break to fill up water bottles and assess the mountain pass that is in front of you. Your instructors spend some time talking about how to safely travel over passes in alpine country and then you're off. It starts off easy but soon becomes quite steep and the going gets tough. You take one step at a time and, with lots of encouragement from the group and leaders, you are soon at the top of the pass with an amazing view unfolding all around you. With the weather cooperating, you break for a lunch of bagels, peanut butter, and dried fruit. One of your instructors uses the great view to teach an impromptu lesson on glaciology and the geological formation of the Uinta mountains, showing how the glaciers formed vast moraines and talus slopes. After lunch, you carefully make your way down the other side of the pass and head toward the gorgeous alpine lake you see hundreds of feet below. You are really looking forward to getting to camp early for some rest and relaxation!

But, just as you come down from the steep mountain pass, a thunderstorm appears almost out of nowhere (your instructors warned you this happens a lot in the mountains). Your group responds well and you all don rain gear and scatter into the lower treeline to wait out the storm. After 20 minutes of rain, lightening, and even some hail, you all emerge wet but unscathed. You arrive at your designated camping area an hour later than anticipated but confident about making it through both the pass and the storm. You and your tarp mates set out to look for a suitable place to string up your tarp--far enough from the other groups to maintain "minimum impact."  You still have some time before dinner so you head down to the lake where you journal for a bit and watch another student try their hand at fly-fishing for trout. Soon, your other tarpmates call you for dinner and you sit down to a nice meal of rice, stir-fry, and pita bread. After dinner, the whole brigade congregates near the lake to talk about the day and have another lesson (this time on judgment and decision-making skills). As the last light of the sun hits the peaks above you and sets them on fire in orange and yellow color, you wonder at the magic of this place. After the group check-in, you wander back to your tarp, catch up on some readings, and, after a few stories and jokes about the day, fall asleep, ready for whatever the next day will bring. Of course, remember that a "typical day" may vary widely course to course and year to year!

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