And they’re off! Undeterred by a three-hour flight delay, a missed connection and an unexpected overnight in Denver, the group makes their way west. Catching a glimpse of the Absoraka-Beartooth Wilderness from the plane window adds excitement to their nervous energy.
“Whenever I think about mountains that I saw, I always remember the rock and snow that encompassed them. Their gargantuan size left me speechless in my attempt to describe the amazing beauty they possessed. Mountains are incredible formations of God‘s power and love for his creation.” —Nate McReynolds ’18
“Life on the trail is not easy. There are some days when your legs can barely support you when you get into camp for the night. I learned how easy it is to be selfish on those days. It‘s scary how selfish you can be when you‘re tired or uncomfortable.” —Peter Nawoichik ’17
Greeted by clear blue skies in the morning, the group continues their hike through a valley dotted with more striking teal lakes. They pass Lake at the Falls, Rainbow Lake and Rimrock Lake before stopping for lunch and a daily lesson (the topic of the day: first aid) on the shores of Elk Lake. The lake’s icy water feels refreshing on swollen feet.
Late in the afternoon, the group comes up short on camping locations and decides to push through an extra three miles (and an elevation gain of over 1,000 feet) along the Phantom Creek Trail—bringing their total mileage for the day to 13. They arrive at Slough Lake as the sun settles behind the mountain peaks, and rejoice at the site of flat land suitable for camping. Celebration, dancing and prayers of thanksgiving commence. As does blister care.
“In a world where our physical needs are met and then some, it can be easy to convince ourselves that God is a bonus in life instead of the underlying necessity of being. In the wilderness I clearly witnessed God taking care of my basic physical and emotional needs. But he fulfilled them so much more sufficiently than I am able to do myself in the front country.” —Jess Pankratz ’16
Mornings on the trail begin with a hot cup of coffee and personal quiet time. After breakfast the group ascends a mammoth ridge, braving 50 mph gusts at the top and soaking in a full panoramic view of the mountain ranges surrounding them. They descend to Mystic Lake and gather for the daily lesson on backcountry baking methods (on the list of campfire desserts: chocolate peanut butter cakes and cheesecake). A friendly stone-skipping competition ensues, and the star-pocked night sky proves its magnificence once again.
“I’m growing in many ways this semester, most of all in learning how to truly serve others and put the needs of the group before my own. Living in community is a huge growing experience in that it forces you to accept and recognize your weaknesses, and work to address them for the betterment of the community.” —Blake Denman ’18
The group hikes out three miles to a trailhead to restock their supplies and bid farewell to Mark as he heads back to Boston. They venture on for another week and a half, tackling precarious vertical terrain, braving a 24-hour solo excursion, bushwhacking through dense forest, and battling stubborn rain that at times turns to sleet and heavy snow.
Later, W.I.L.D. Semester Director Scott Barnett explains, “One of the questions we continually asked on the trip was, ‘Are you choosing to live by faith or fear?’ These are fine sounding words spoken from within the confines of a climate-controlled classroom, but they have little weight or substance. In the wilderness, where we are quite literally out of control, choosing faith over fear is a daily necessity with extraordinary concreteness and connection to our present reality.”
The W.I.L.D. students are back from their wilderness excursion, completing the remainder of their semester in Rockport, Massachusetts. To learn more about the program, visit www.gordon.edu/wild
“When we are hiking, we are learning how to support each other and push each other. We are learning how each person learns and how we interact with each other. The W.I.L.D. semester teaches through experience—learning by doing.” —Stefan Anthos ’18