By Harper Swing, currently a freshman at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Leadership Summit 2016, Alaska 1a 2015, California Challenge 3 2014, British Columbia 2 2013, California Adventure 2012
I always had a hard time leaving an Adventure Treks trip. Every summer, when I would step off the plane, back in my home state, I felt a little sad that I couldn’t just turn around, hop back on, and head back to the west coast and do it all over again. The last few days of Leadership Summit was especially sad because I’ve never had that much fun in my entire life. The thought of ending my AT career was scary, mainly because I didn’t quite know how a summer was supposed to be spent if it wasn’t in a tent. Luckily for me, my Leadership friends felt the same way, and we’d talked about having a reunion before our final few days.
At first, it was hypothetical. It was not something we actually planned to follow through with, but once summer ended and college applications rolled around, we began to realize that maybe we could actually pull it off. Three group video chats, two text group messages, and one massive Google doc later, we finally had a plan. The basics were simple: We’d wanted to go to Yosemite National Park since the beginning, and we wanted as many people as possible to join. Once that was settled, we moved on to the more complicated planning, and it was a group effort in all aspects! Little by little, we hammered out more details: official dates, who could make it, meal plans, permits, and gear. In the end, we settled on a five-day backpack in Yosemite, followed by a Half Dome summit and a four-day trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. It didn’t seem real until it actually happened, but eventually summer came, and exactly half of our 2016 Leadership Summit crew was standing in the San Francisco airport, ready to go.
While it was strange to have an airport day that didn’t include pizza in the park, we were all up for the adventure, and we began our trip prep right away. After doing a Costco shop, gear run, and the ultimate game of “Show me what you got,” we were off. At first it was weird to grasp that it was just us, and that we were in charge of everything. This definitely led to some indecisiveness (and 20-minute conversations about what we wanted for dinner that night), but we got over it quickly enough and had a smooth rest of the trip.
Ever since my California Challenge trip, I’ve loved the California backcountry, and Yosemite was no disappointment. Because we were such a large group, the trail we were given was pretty secluded, and it took us up and out of the valley and into the greater Yosemite wilderness area. I don’t think I’d ever had that much fun in my life: the views were amazing, we came upon incredible camping spots, and we had a perfect view of the stars every night. However, the backpack was not without its challenges, one of the biggest being illness. But we were able to work through them rationally with little to no road bumps or arguments, something that probably wouldn’t have been possible without our previous experience with Adventure Treks. While it was not the smoothest backpack I’ve ever been on, it was one of the best, and I think we all became much more confidant in our backcountry abilities. After we came out of the backpack, we went straight into our next adventure: a summit attempt of Half Dome requiring an alpine start of 2:30 a.m., and a seven-hour trek to the top. It was a challenging hike, but finally reaching the top was surreal: the views were even better than what we’d seen even in the past several days, and the sense of accomplishment in knowing that we were able to pull it off completely on our own was even more so fulfilling. And to top it off, I got to share the experience with some of my best friends.
After the Yosemite leg of our trip (and a post-summit In-n-Out stop) we were able to spend a few days relaxing and exploring Sequoia National Park. We hadn’t given ourselves a structured schedule, so it was hard for nine people to reach consensus when there was just so much to do, but we were able to spend our time finding the best views and swimming holes could. Eventually, we had to go back to our “base” in Menlo Park, and we spent the last few days touring San Francisco with a final cookout on the beach.
In the end, I was just as sad to leave this adventure as I had been to leave my previous AT trips, and once again I found myself in the Charlotte airport wishing I could go back. But I was so, so, grateful for the experience. The trip put five years of Adventure Treks knowledge to use by allowing me the opportunity to plan my own experience while make the most of it, all while testing my limits and leadership skills in the backcountry. And looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect experience to kick of my college years, and I really couldn’t have asked for better people to do it with.