July 9, 2016
Here’s to a final goodbye from Elizabeth and Jonas nestled under the beautiful Grand Teton. The kids are all flying off to reunite with their family, and we’re left here missing them.
We had an awesome last day yesterday. We got to sleep in and roll up to the Snake River for a beautiful and peaceful float. Rachael A. led a boat as we plunged through the rapids. Sarah got soaked after the Big Kahuna rapid, and Betsy kept us all laughing the whole way down.
Max spotted a juvenile bald eagle, and we watched as an osprey swooped down to catch lunch. We all cheered on cliff jumpers along the way, and Gabby “rod the bull” down Champaign (I mean, Soda Pop) Rapids.
After our afternoon on the river, we kicked serious tail cleaning up and organizing so we could having a nice town day in Jackson. AC led us to her favorite iced tea place. Cat got some awesome Jackson swag for her family, and Chappy showed off her navigational map reading skills, leading a crew all around the square.
We made our way to Cutty’s for a delicious banquet dinner with pizza, cheese fries, and burgers– all of the necessities we’d been denied for so long. Britt and Rachel D. played some mean Cornhole as the sun set over Jackson.
We wrapped up a splendid day (and a quite spectacular trip) with a MoonUp below the mountain. Charlie led us with a wonderful question: “what has this trip taught you?” We all shared, played music, read poetry, sat and silently reflected, and howled at the moon. It was a perfect way to spend our last night together.
These kids have blown my mind these last two weeks. Their depth and dedication is beautiful, and we will never forget the family that we have created here among the mountains.
Seeing the kids off today was tough. Molly is one of the first to go, hugging everyone tight before blasting off home. We hope your kiddos will share incredible stories and tell you all about the friends they’ve made. Thank you, parents, for sharing these rocking people with us. Y’all have raised some stellar kids.
Until we meet again…
Elizabeth and Jonas
July 8, 2016
Well it’s been grand folks!
We’re on the other side of a spectacular summiting experience, and all of the kids are glowing with this incredible feeling of accomplishment.
We started of our training for the Grand with two days of rock climbing school with Exum, the premiere guiding company in Jackson. Our first day, level 1, was jam packed with a lot of information about ropes, knots, belaying, and climbing technique. The second half of the day we got to put some of our new knowledge to the test with our first multi pitch climb. It was a cool new experience for us all.
The second day, level 2, and July 4th we started with a boat ride across Jenny Lake to another beautiful climbing area at the base of the Tetons. We split in to smaller groups to get more one on one guidance from our guides at Exum. We did two longer and harder multi pitch climbs to simulate the climbing for the next day on the Grand. Everyone had a lot of fun with the more challenging climbs of the second day. We then finished the day with two large repels, again to get us ready for the days ahead. After a long of climbing some celebration was in order for Independence Day. We headed back to the campsite for a huge feast of cheeseburgers and watermelon. After everyone had their fill we drove into town for a front row seat at Jackson Holes amazing fireworks show. I think everyone would agree that it was one of the best firework shows ever!!! Afterwards we headed back to the campsite to get ready for the big day.
It all started at the trail head on the 6th: eight miles and 5,000 feet of elevation stood between us and the Exum Hut. With a steady and determined pace, the kids hiked up out of the wildflower-speckled forest into Garnet Canyon. The incredible granite spires and walls towered over us as we ate lunch by a rushing, glacial-fed creek. Looking down through gneiss boulders and craggy pines we could already begin to see the beautiful valley floor where we left camp that morning. Steadily on, we passed through boulder fields, across snow and above tree line to the glacier at the base of The Grand Teton. Here we had one last view of the summit of the Grand before we were on the summit early the next day.
After a very windy roped-in pitch of climbing, the Hut was in sight. Weary and proud, we made camp for the night in a canvas covered enclosure, simply designed with a raised platform and a stove. It was such a fun and surreal evening: the wind was gusting at 60 miles an hour, the sun was setting over Idaho with a golden glow, and everyone was “dancing away the pain” of the hike. We settled in for sleep, cuddled up and protected from the cold and wind.
Three AM, a hiss of boiling water, headlamps strapped to helmets, harnesses on, and we’re off. We had 2,000 more feet of elevation to gain, all roped in, multi pitch climbing. With small groups split among Exum guides, we ventured out into the starlit morning. First we climbed through a maze of boulders to a large black strip of rock called the black dike. From there we winded our way through the vertical sea of rock. Up rock chimneys with hands feet in deep rock cracks we climbed, until we made it to the upper saddle, where the real technical climbing began. The Exum guides safely led us through the six pitches of very steep terrain, while we got to finally put to work all of the important new skills from the previous two days of rock climbing school. We climbed and pushed ourselves further than we ever thought we could before. Everyone showed true grit and endurance as we finally took the remaining steps to the summit. It was a truly incredible moment for everyone there as we shared tears of joy, laughs and hugs. You could see everything and we couldn’t have asked for better weather, not a cloud in the sky. You could see as far as Old Faithful in Yellowstone and the Wind River Range from our backpacking trip last week. In the end 11 out of the 15 of us were able to touch the very top. As we’ve learned the past two weeks here together reaching the summit isn’t what life is all about. It’s about the journey, perseverance, and the fact the everyone walked down the mountain a better and more confident version of themselves. We are so proud of each and every one of your kids. Watching them transform throughout the trip into a supportive and strong family has been amazing. It’s incredible what they all have accomplished.
We’re now back on solid ground, wrapping up the trip (believe it or not). Let’s hear a bit from the kiddos now….
Charlie: Hi mom and dad, I’m having a great experience here. I really miss you guys. Everything has been going good. Excited to see you guys. Love, Charlie.
Britt: thank you mom and dad for letting me go on this trip. Even though I don’t want this trip to end, I’m looks forward to seeing you guys. Sincerely, Britt.
Cat: thanks mom and dad, having a great time. I survived the wilderness. Love you. XOXO – get some ice cream. I need it.
Molly: Hey mom! Thanks for the best 2 weeks of my life. On a side note, please have chick-fil-a ready for me. ILY!
Rachel D: hey guys! I hope you had as much fun in New York as I am having here. Love you and see you soon.
Max: dear my chocolate lab Remi, Thank you so much for sending me on this trip. I can’t wait to see you, hope you a getting some good bones. Btw mom, my clothes stink.
Gabby: hi mom and dad! Thanks for sending me here! I miss you both very much. Love you both.
Rachel A: happy (late) birthday, Lucy! Miss you all so much, but I am having an amazing time! Can’t wait to see you!
Betsy: hey guys! The last two weeks have been the best two weeks ever!! Can’t wait to see you tomorrow! Love you so so much!
Chappie: Hello parents! This trip I have been blasting around and having an awesome time! Love you!
Sarah: Hi family. can’t wait to see y’all tomorrow. I had a lot of stories to tell and we are getting a burger at the place in the airport tomorrow. Love y’all, see you soon.
AC: miss you guys, but I am having an awesome time! Tell Charlie and Lucy I say hi! See you soon!
We have an awesome day of rafting in Jackson in front of us and one more evening together. See y’all on the flip side,
Elizabeth and Jonas (and Alan)n
July 4, 2016
Driving back from Pinedale to Jackson today, we talked about how couldn’t believe how much has happened in 7 days. As we sat around the table, celebrating a wildly successful backpacking trip, Betsey pointed out how different everyone looks now compared to Airport Day. Sure, we’re tanned (or is that dirt?), sweaty (marvelously so), and greasy (Hair gel? No thanks, I make my own). But there is something else– something that goes deeper than just the Summer Skin. Somehow, this group had become family: what’s different, airport day to now, is the undeniable glow of unity, trust, and –above all– confidence.
But let’s back up a bit. Our first day and a half was full: we learned how to pack a backpacking backpack, how to live out Expedition Behavior, how to stay safe in the backcountry. After some organization– broken up by some games– we headed off to meet our Wind River guide, Conor. Rachel D. was one of our first Leaders of the Day (quite the honor), and she started us off right with a determined pace to our first campsite nestled under the stars at Twin Lakes. Molly, our co-Leader of the Day, encouraged everyone to sleep outside and enjoy the twinkling Milky Way.
Our second day in the backcountry brought us to an incredible fishing spot called Boulter Lake. Max had the incredible idea to explore up a small peak on the by the lake, and he led the group up to see out onto the meandering rivers and craggy peaks of The Winds. Back at camp, Britt caught a beauty of a trout after helping everyone learn how to tie their flies to their line. That night, we had a wonderful MoonUp by the lake. During MoonUp, the Leader of the Day (LODs) facilitate a time of reflection and sharing. Rachel A helped lead this MoonUp, and we laughed and howled at the moon. She’s been such an organized and logical presence.
Boulter Lake was a great campsite. We ended up staying there two nights after a challenging day hike up to a beautiful meadow. For Betsey’s birthday, we had Nutella and peanut butter pancakes and a roaring fire at night. We cleaned and roasted some of the trout we caught and Conor told some crazy stories about his time exploring The Winds.
AC helped lead us to our next campsite. What a day to lead! Not only did we lose the trail, but we also hunkered down into Lightening Protocol as a storm rolled through. AC (obviously) kept her cool, and she maintained her reputation as the calm and confident gal she is… with awesome hair. Jonas and I pulled a hero move and made a fire in the rain so we could all warm up. It ended up being a gorgeous, sunny afternoon with a spectacular view of Laturio Mountain.
The following day was our biggest up to that point. Sarah was chosen as LOD to lead us up into the Wilderness area and on to Dad’s lake. We all half expected to see all you dads there. Where were y’all? Sarah was incredible about checking in on everyone during this challenging hike, and everyone was pumped to roll up to our next campsite and get some fishing in before night. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Charlie’s kinda a big deal. The fact that he snagged a fish when no one else could just proves how awesome he is. The scenery as a backdrop to his grinning face was truly spectacular: pristine, glass-like lake; pink granite boulders; shaggy, craggy pines; purple, snow-topped peaks. I don’t know gowns haven’t mentioned Cat yet, she’s been a hilarious voice in every conversation. She was one of the crew to cliff jump into the freezing mountain water.
The next day’s was the most incredible by far. We woke early and donned or day packs to go summit Laturio Mountain. After trekking though a boulder field, we started to climb up to the weathered and imposing peak. Ann Chapman (dubbed “Chappy”) was incredible, finding her way up and through the granite boulders, steadily working her way to the top. Y’all would not believe the view from the top: we could see the trails we’d hiked to get there, reflective lakes, and out to the snow covered cirque. Everyone made it to the top, a very impressive feat. Gabby was among the crew that went even higher up the peak, carefully traversing the ridge line Gabby has been an ideal Moondancer, taking every opportunity for adventure. She’s a rock star! And talk about adventures: as we climbed down from the peak, a hail storm swept in. The whole crew kicked it into high gear and we got back to the campsite to take a delightful afternoon nap. Our MoonUp that night, led by Charlie and Cat, was powerful. Up until then, we’d had goofy and raucous MoonUps, but we had an open and honest conversation about challenging things on our minds. This group is so supportive and caring; I have rarely experienced such a strong and sensitive group of students.
These kids surpassed my already high expectation again this morning as we hiked six miles out to the can in just two hours. That’s darn good stuff.
So, as we sat around the table, sweaty and smiling, these faces– a week ago so new– shone with something new. Physically and emotionally, these kids have pushed themselves so hard, and they have impressed themselves with every move.
We’ve wrapped up our Wind River adventure and now it’s on to grander things. Tetons here we come!
Jonas and Elizabeth