by: Carson Jacobs-Forster
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Overview: Expedition time finally rolled around, and the Wyoming Warriors were a healthy mix of nerves and excitement to embark on their first expedition of the GAP year! Over the course of two weeks, they enjoyed the colorful wildlife and geysers of Yellowstone, experienced the wonders of lava at Lava Hot Springs and Craters of the Moon National Preserve, persevered in the rugged backcountry of the Sawtooth Mountains, and scaled the otherworldly formations in City of Rocks. Along the way, they toured Montana State University and gained insight into the opportunities to be had there, as well as how to advocate for accommodations on a college campus.
Yellowstone: The team arrived in Yellowstone National park to rain and steamy landscapes. After a drizzly lunch of salad wraps under a tarp, the Warriors lucked out with a glorious window of sunshine which allowed them to set up camp and stretch their legs, providing a nice respite from the rain. With morales high, the group feasted on s’mores next to a warm campfire and were able to reflect on their hopes for the upcoming days of the expedition. The following day was jam-packed with sight-seeing and exploring, with highlights including hitting the iconic boardwalks of spots such as the Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful, an epic overlook hike that pushed the team and gifted sweeping views of the Yellowstone Caldera, and a relaxing lunch by the stunning Mystic Falls. The final full day of Yellowstone consisted of everything bears, with stops at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and the iMax feature “Great Bear Rainforest” providing thrilling education and entertainment while the van tire’s leak was being fixed in West Yellowstone. Before heading off to Bozeman, the team topped off their time in the park with a short hike overlooking the Grand Prismatic Spring, giving them a better perspective to see all the vivid colors it is known for.
Bozeman: Travelling north from Yellowstone, the Wyoming Warriors headed to Bozeman Montana to shower, food buy, and most importantly, tour Montana State University as well as visit with their disability services center. On the tour, the team viewed all of the facilities at the university, asked lots of pertinent questions about the programs and campus, and learned about the processes of utilizing a disability services center. Afterward, they gorged themselves at the renowned dining hall on campus before heading to their campsite just outside town in the picturesque Hyalite Canyon. During the team’s food buy, the group learned they had to switch up their expedition plan due to a “historic” storm forecasted to hit Glacier National Park. Unprepared for the amounts of snow and wind that would have greeted them in Glacier, the Warriors instead spent another day in West Yellowstone before heading into Idaho for a variety of adventures.
Lava Hot Springs: From West Yellowstone, the team trekked to Lava Hot Springs to get a well-deserved soak in the natural tubs. The Warriors set up camp near town in their quaint campground before heading to the springs to soak in water ranging from 102 all the way to 112 degrees!
Craters of the Moon: Due to the winter conditions altering the expedition plan, the group shifted their backpacking trip to include one night on the moon! Well, not the real moon of course, but about as close as you can get to it. The team did a late afternoon/evening hike on the wilderness trail in the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in the attempts of finding a designated crater to sleep in, and though they didn’t quite find it, they spent a lovely night in the backcountry. The next morning the Warriors woke up to a light dusting of snow, which added to the perception of being on the moon on the hike out.
Sun Valley: After making it out of the backcountry, the team loaded up the van and headed to Sun Valley for a relaxed day before their backpacking trip. Here, the group had time to explore the ins and outs of the town before meeting up at the theater to watch Abominable, a ridiculously cute animated movie about a lost yeti, whose wintery vibes were quite fitting for the weather the team had been experiencing. Afterward, they headed into the rugged Sawtooth Mountains to camp near the trailhead and prepare for their epic backpacking trip.
Sawtooths: Following a solid night’s rest at their camp near the trailhead, the Wyoming Warriors mentally and physically prepared themselves for the trail. After loading up all their gear and food into their packs, the team set off up the path toward Farley Lake, a striking body of water surrounded by picturesque peaks that served as the background for their first night of camping. Once there, the group began their nightly backcountry routine, which consists of filtering water, prepping and cooking dinner, setting up tarps/tents for shelter, and hanging all the food and smellable items when in bear country. The next day, the team set out for their longest trek yet, a 7.5-mile escapade featuring switchbacks through the snow reaching an elevation of 9,400 feet! This hike pushed the team in a variety of ways and helped prove to them how capable they are of overcoming challenges when they put their mind to it. On the final day, the Warriors were greeted with clear skies, descending trails, and sweeping views of the Sawtooth Mountains, capping off the trip splendidly.
City of Rocks: The last stage of the expedition took place in City of Rocks National Reserve, a geological marvel that the team was dying to explore and climb in. Having arrived at night, it wasn’t until the next morning that the Warriors got to take in the unworldly landscape. That day, the group dutifully attempted two challenging climbing routes and ended the evening with a soak in the nearby pools of Durfee Hot Springs. The following morning they packed up and hit the road for a long drive back to base, having successfully accomplished their first-ever expedition.
About the author: Carson Jacobs-Forster, former graduate (cum laude) of Western Washington University, has been sharing his love of the outdoors, recreational activities, and the youth through the written word since 2014. Inspired by an ecotourism trip he took to Dubai back in 2013, Carson has been trying to do good in the world and instill positivity in the lives of others, one blog post at a time. He has contributed his skills and passions for all things nature to several nonprofit organizations throughout the years, his favorite being The Conservancy of Insects, Sloths, and Ponderosa Pines based near his old stomping grounds of Bellingham, Washington. When he’s not putting eloquent adjectives to paper and leading expeditions for students, you can find Carson fooling around on the ukulele, writing country music for a hopeful debut in Nashville, daydreaming about snacks, wondering when he can finally get a bite of fresh black raspberry ice cream from the east coast, and interpretative dancing to the nature that calls him.