From the City to the Rockies, with GirlVentures and NOLS
is a GirlVentures program graduate who, thanks to a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) scholarship program, spent a month this summer in the wilderness with NOLS, building on the outdoor leadership skills she learned with GirlVentures. These are her reflections on that experience.
Written by: Charlotte Fernee
I’m not sure if I’m ready to put my NOLS experience into words. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready. The part of me that sits in the comfort of my home can barely wrap her head around everything that I did out in the wilderness for a month. If it weren’t for the photos, I might be able to convince myself that it was all a dream.
When I first arrived in Lander, Wyoming I don’t think I truly understood what I was getting myself into. I was excited to meet my course mates and instructors, and was completely oblivious to the struggles I would face. The first week of the course might have honestly been the hardest of my life. We faced high elevation gain and tricky terrain, going over snow and talus. Looking back on it now, it was also probably the most rewarding experience of my life. I actually climbed a mountain.
On day 6 we were walking up snow, with a storm twenty minutes from us. That’s when I slipped and slid down snow and didn’t know if I was going to stop. Myself and one of the instructors thankfully made it back to the rest of the group before the storm hit, and in that moment, my fear of snow was born. Somehow a few days later I managed to follow in the rest of the group’s footsteps and glissade 800 feet down to our next camp, overcoming my fear.
I’ve never been so scared as I was on this course. There were times when I wanted to freeze on the spot and not move, debilitated by the fear of falling or slipping. That was never an option of course, so I always kept going, my heart banging against my chest. Funny enough, I always forgot about that fear once we were back at camp. When I would think back over the day, it was empowering to remember that I chose to do that, whether it was a river crossing or a slippery trail.
It’s hard to explain what happens when you’re up so high (I believe that we got up to 13,400 feet elevation). It’s like you’re in a place void of space and time. You could be anywhere on the globe and you wouldn’t know it. Time doesn’t seem right either, the trials of the day seem to last a lifetime yet somehow all thirty days can feel like they flew by. Even I felt strange, like I was floating through matter despite the heavy backpack. All the little things that made me me back home weren’t there. I felt like just a shell of myself for the first part of the course, until I learned that I could still find myself in unfamiliar surroundings.
One of the highlights of the course was being able to go through all this with the group. Sure, not all of us went through the same emotional challenges, but it was somehow reassuring to know that they were right there by your side. On day 12, the rain was so intense when we got to camp that we had to quickly set up the tent flies and made hot drinks under them. The teamwork that we showed that day was truly amazing, and as my cooking group sat freezing under the tent, I couldn’t help but feel a huge sense of achievement. That night we all lay in our tents while the biggest lightning storm I’ve ever seen rapped hard on the tents. I felt so excited and terrified at the same time, both feelings polar opposites. I could hear people in the tents next to ours yelling if we were okay, and again I felt somewhat more at ease by the fact that they were right there next to us if we needed them.
This course can pretty much be split into three different parts that are defined by the re-rations. The first ration period offered many physical challenges with one of the students being evacuated. The second ration period offered more emotional challenges pertaining to individuals and the group. Finally, during the third ration period, we started focusing on our goal to go on Independent Student Group Travel and eventually Independent Student Group Exhibition. Both of these we achieved, hammering in the confidence I had been building up throughout the course.
I learned so much on this course about first aid and leadership, and I think that those are some things that I carry back with me from this trip. I also learned about so many things that I was not expecting, such as self-awareness and communication (two things that I did not feel I had to work on). I’m so lucky that I got to see the whole group grow. I got to see the best and the worst of every person there with me, and I truly believe that the best shined brighter. I feel like we all left as better people, and speaking for myself, I know that I came back knowing more about myself than I ever have. I’ve learned that it’s not all about the place you’re at, it’s also about the people you’re with. I’ve come to realize that getting lost a few times (metaphorically and physically) was the best way to find myself.
117 miles later, this course has left me with memories of the most gorgeous views, a connection to everyone on the course with me, and a will to go on. One day I will summit another mountain but also maybe fall down some more. It happens. Now I know how far my limits stretch, and they’re not even visible on my horizon. Backpacking is by far the toughest, yet the most rewarding activity I’ve ever practiced. I’ve realized that it’s always worth it.