I Was Wiser at 18: What The Outdoors Taught Me
I took part in a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Mountaineering Course in the summer of 2007. Though I had always enjoyed hiking and camping I had no idea what I was in for. On the last day of our trip, our instructors had us write letters to ourselves, which they would then mail to us exactly a year later. Below is the letter I wrote to myself as an 18 year old fresh off of an outdoors experience. It is lengthy, and I kept it authentic with all of my high school - spell-check free grammar mistakes. I hope you will take the time to read it all, but if anything, please read the last 3 paragraphs since those sum up the greatest lessons I could have ever been lucky enough to learn.
Dear Hannah (Myself),
I am writing to you, me, my one year later self, from the edge of the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska. Since I was lazy during the trip and never wrote in my journal, I am going to try and account for as much of the last 28 days as I can remember at this moment.
Well, the trip started out on July 12th. I quickly realized I was not ready for the 30 days of wilderness experience I had signed up for. It was a long first week. My pack weighed 50lbs and I missed the normalcy and familiarity of my ambulance corps friends. I missed Brian, Kyle, Jay, Ashley, Elsie, Atalay, and Evan, the list goes on. Numerous times during those first couple days did I consider asking for a flight out of the woods. My feet did not hold up well to stiff plastic mountaineering boots and blisters seemed to spring up all over my feet; especially thanks to that 9 hour day of bushwhacking and yelling “Hey Bear” to alert grizzly bears and other large mammals of our approach.
I thought the hot weather and 24 hour sun would never ease up. The heat did as soon as we got on glacier, but Alaska is the land of the midnight sun. Needless to say, it was sunny for 24 hours a day for almost the whole trip. After our first re-ration we finally moved on to glacier with even heavier packs than we had started with. We gained snowshoes, crampons, ropes, helmets, wands for perimeter marking, probes, and snow anchors. My pack weighed about 60lbs at this point which added a new challenge to trekking into new territory known as the Powell Glacier.
We were done bear camping and had graduated to pooping in crevasses. Pooping and food for the next night's meal were the main topics of conversation for the rest of the trip. Once we were on glacier the trip seemed to move a little bit more but not much. Nights got cooler which made sense since we were camping on moraine (sharp slabs of rocks) which covered large mounds of ice.
The people on the trip well, needless to say I judged in the beginning as I always do. A girl named Lange had short, almost boy-cut hair so I immediately dubbed her weird. A 30-year old named Liz was extremely quirky and not someone I would typically warm up to. I immediately became friends with a girl named Brynne who is a year younger than me. She went to kayak school similar to the way I went to ski school. Bart is my age and is going to Colorado College next year (go figure, guess I’ll just have to hope Saint Lawrence turns out ok). I will admit, he is good looking. Brynne and I both agree. There is also a guy named Benton who is 21 and goes to UC Boulder. He is a snowboarder and he’s hot too.
Ok, anyway, the four of us got nicknamed “The Flyers” because of Bentons tarp that he accidentally held on to from the last re-ration. It became useful during our time hanging out at Turtle Flats in our elaborate snow forts.
Our first day walking in rope teams was an experience. We walked roped together in teams of 4 in straight lines, 12 meters apart. It was like walking in solitary. Our first snow camp had to be probed out and a perimeter was set. After we moved in, everyone went crazy building their snow kitchens. Our was about 4 feet deep. It was a square with benches.
Our next day was one of the longest days of our trip. we hiked 6+ miles uphill in slushy snow with snowshoes and 60lb packs. When we finally got to Turtle Flats I just wanted to drop and fall asleep. Instead, I had to belay Liz while she probed a perimeter for camp.
We spent 6 days there. During those days we learned leadership skills, crevasse rescue, self-arresting, sno-pro, and how to build snow anchors. The weather would go from zero to a hundred degrees in a matter of seconds. It was like living on top of the world.
My first night in my tent group with Brynne, Bart, and Benton we made chili and cornbread for dinner. We farted all night long. One person would fart and then set the other two off. Apparently I farted in my sleep a lot. A couple days later we got to practice crevasse recuse in an 100 ft crevasse. Hanging out in there was amazing.
The next couple of days were intense travel days in rope teams. On our final days of travel on snow we travelled through a mine field of crevasses. Sure enough one kid, Warren, fell in and had to be towed our by two rope teams. It was cool to watch.
The trip seems to fly by after that. While at our re-ration at Scandy Peaks, Brynne, Bart, and I took the opportunity to hike to the near tp of a steep hill behind us. It was nice to hike without packs and we had a great view of the glacier ahead of us. The next couple of days were a jumble of traveling over moraine and ice hills. At one point we had to strap on crampons because the ice got slick and steep. We had one day of ice climbing and one day of rappelling.
As our trip wound down we moved from ice, to moraine, to dirt and shrubs. On our last night of the trip, five of us, me Brynne, Bart, Benton, and Lange slept outside and stargazed at the edge of the Matanuska Glacier.
I did not realize the effect this course would have on me until we got back to the farm and unpacked. I have thought a lot throughout this course and relied on introspective thinking to get me through long days on the rope team. This place is so beautiful and simple, I don’t want to leave. I know what have to do when I go home and I have to do the right thing. I needed this trip to help me realize the important, as well as the unimportant aspects of my life. I understand the emphasized lessons of this course like Leave No Trace and my own impact on the world. It was a chance to step back and understand my values.
The people I originally thought were weird or unapproachable turned out to be some of the most interesting and hilarious people I’ve ever met. I wish I’d had Liz as a teacher and Lange has become an awesome friend. I know to look beyond people’s exteriors and find a quality to admire. I know to test my limits and push beyond my comfort level. By doing this I have learned my character: I am headstrong, careful, judgmental but improved, a risk-taker, friendly, and encouraging.
Hannah Follender - August 10, 2007 Age: 18
P.S. Don’t forget Alaska, it was AMAZING
P.P.S. SKI THE CHUGACH!!!!!