Trip Finder

Exploring Leadership Through Moondance: From Mt. Shasta to HQ! By Mary Claire Smith

January 8, 2024

Growing up, I was surrounded by Moondancers.  All of my older cousins and siblings had participated on trips, and I could never wait until it was my turn to have the opportunity to experience Moondance for myself.  My first ever summer spent with Moondance was in Washington state on the British Columbia trip in 2021, and that was when I finally discovered the Moondance magic.  We traveled around rock climbing, rafting, surfing, and more!  I was completely hooked, and all I could think about for the rest of the summer was what trip I wanted to do next year.  


I ultimately ended up on the Midnight Sun trip in Wrangell St. Elias National Park in Alaska.  I was pushed out of my comfort zone in many ways, as I was living in the backcountry, eating camping food, and walking many miles a day with a heavy backpack on. All of these things were completely new to me, yet that was part of what made that trip so amazing.  Our group, having gone through all of these firsts together, learned to appreciate our surroundings even more.  Wrangell St. Elias is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the time that I spent there allowed me to grow as a person.  


Because I enjoyed my time in Alaska so much, I wanted to do a trip similar to Midnight Sun.  I decided to sign up for Yosemite, and it was a great decision!  I had heard great things about the trip, and they were certainly true.  One experience from the trip that I will always keep in my heart is the time that my group and I spent on Mt. Shasta.  Mt. Shasta is a mountain in Northern California, and is 14,179 feet tall!  It is a popular destination for Mountaineers, and was  unlike anything I had ever done before.  My group spent a total of three days on the mountain, and through the strenuous days of walking uphill and the freezing nights spent shivering in sleeping bags, we were all able to keep each other in great spirits.  On summit day, we woke up at two in the morning, and set out into the unknown in headlamps at three in the morning.  Walking at a pace of about 1,000 vertical feet an hour, there were many times that I had wanted to turn around and return back to my cozy tent.  However, because of the support I received from my friends, I continued to climb.  Despite the fact that nobody was able to make it to the summit due to bad weather, the joy of being together overtook the disappointment of being forced to turn around.  The goodbyes at the San Francisco airport were tearful and sad, yet I knew that I would see the friends that I had made on that trip again!


Overall, I believe that no matter where you are, it is the people you are with that make Moondance so amazing.  From the leaders to the group, everyone feeds off of each other’s energy.  My most joyful memories from Moondance trips were all spent with the other members from my group, and during the difficult parts of the trips, it was my group members that helped me carry on with a good attitude!  


Moondance has had such a powerful impact on my life.  The leadership skills I have gained from going on trips are like no other.  From coming up with meaningful questions to ask at moonup, to cooking dinner for the group, Moondance has helped me to be confident in my decision making. I have also nurtured so many friendships.  Moondance is also unique from other summer camps because of how small the group size is.  This has allowed me to form close relationships with my group members who are from all over the country, and be able to create my own path with the people that I meet.  


Because I love Moondance so much, I decided to intern at their office in Nashville for a couple weeks for a school project.  The assignment was to reach out to different offices in Nashville to intern for the first few weeks after winter break, and I thought Moondance would be the perfect fit.  I was very interested in learning more about the behind the scenes of the trips, and observing the amount of work put in throughout the year so that the summers can run so smoothly!  I am so excited to learn more about what the Moondance office does in preparation for all of the trips before I go back to Alaska on Northern Lights this summer!


–Mary Claire Smith, 3x Student, British Columbia (2021), Midnight Sun (2022), Yosemite (2023)