By Henry Main – A group of adventurous students and teachers from SPHS returned last weekend from backpacking in Yosemite National Park as part of the 38th annual Yosemite Institute trip. Sixty high school seniors and five teachers hiked and camped-out in the forests above Yosemite Valley.
The weather included some light rain showers, but with long periods of clearing that allowed for good visibility and enjoyment of the majestic pines, lakes, streams and granite rock formations. The temperature during the day was in the 40’s to low 50’s and occasionally dropped below freezing at night. Some mornings began with brushing off frost crystals from the edges of sleeping bags and tents.
Qualifying for the trip required good grades and adequate physical fitness. During the preparation weeks, everyone participated in mandatory group workouts before and after school. For each workout, students received eligibility points called ‘acorns,’ which were later used to select the most dedicated students to go on the trip.
Base camp was at Half Dome Village (previously named Curry Village) where they lodged in tent cabins, checked gear and decided who would carry the necessary tents, food canisters, and supplies. When backpacking, they split into five groups, each with one teacher and two guides from Nature Bridge (previously named Yosemite Institute). Groups took different routes. However, some groups went on the same trail, yet from opposite trailheads and passed each other in the middle. Carrying 30-40 lb backpacks, students not only walked trails, but scrambled over boulders, traversed large slabs of granite rock, balanced on logs to forge rushing streams, hiked along steep mountain ridges, sat beside picturesque lakes, and spent personal leisure time amongst the pines. At higher elevations they encountered snow.
“From trudging through pouring rain together to celebrating when the sun finally emerged together, my group and I bonded immensely,” Ashley Rusch, one of the graduating seniors on the trip, said. “Out in the woods, we were able to think about our futures with a clear mind while simultaneously reflecting on our past experiences in high school.”
Senior Madison Pearson described some of the challenging conditions her group endured. “We hiked to Clouds Rest, which was amazing because it’s a viewpoint that’s actually higher in elevation than Half Dome so you can see the entire valley from the top. But, when we were up there, a storm was coming in, so we were literally walking around inside a cloud and couldn’t see past the edge of the rocks we were standing on.”
Ashton Carless, for his part, remembers his encounter with wildlife. “I saw a water snake three of the days when I was filling my water bottle (from the Merced River,” he said. “I became friends with the water snake. I became really good friends with the river.”
Other groups backpacked to landmarks such as Badger Pass and Ostrander Lake with similar experiences of friendship and bonding in the natural majesty of Yosemite.