Wilderness Weekly 08.05.22

Photo Credit: outBACK staff


This week in the Goannas the week started on a slightly sad note with the departure of beloved group member Fruity Pebbles–we had an epic goodbye ceremony under a large tree on top of a hill watching the sunset. Kind words and memories were shared and with sunset, brought the end of a pivotal group member’s stay. While still at therapy site we had a busting challenge. Giga Cuttlefish and Peacekeeping Panda had an epic battle, they went back and forth both busting several coals but losing it in the nest and not being able to blow it into flames. It was on Giga Cuttlefish’s fifth attempt that he blew the coal into flames. With the roar of the flame, the goannas went mad. Giga Cuttlefish stood there with pride as he took home his first win of the week.  The next day we bought some time before the hike by digging a massive hole in which students used as a cooling bed. Giga Cuttlefish and others worked furiously to build it and enjoyed the fruits of their labor. However, the fun had to be put on hold as we had to prepare to hike.

The hike started well but as the wind picked up the hike became more challenging. It was a longer hike but the students pushed on till we arrived at our site for the night. The morning was met with sore legs but high spirits. We spent the day relaxing and recovering. The prospect of a shorter hike and being one day closer to peaking Indian Peak helped the group fly through our second hike and make it to James Ranch for the night. During the day we had the inaugural Goannas cook-off challenge. Giga Cuttlefish, Peacekeeping Panda, Goofy Goose, and the newest group member went to work preparing their best dish for the judges. In the end Giga Cuttlefish won with his Southern style Mac and Cheese, The newest Goanna came in second with the newly invented TVP Burger that has taken the Goannas by storm.

During the day we also had a very special ceremony where three members were honored with tokens. The tokens that were given were the Solid Ground, Making Amends, and the Strong Cord. Eager to make it to the base of Indian Mountain, the Goannas packed up quickly and we set off as soon as the weather cooled. The hike went well even though we made one wrong turn, the group was in good spirits and at peace knowing we made it to the therapy site and had a rest day.

During the rest day we kicked back and relaxed, worked on therapy assignments, and even went to a spring, granted it was tiny, the Goannas were excited to wash their faces and hair in its refreshing waters. It was an early night as the prospect of waking up before the sun the next morning and peaking Indian literally loomed above us – the shelter was set with a view of Indian mountain right outside. The Goannas were slow to wake up but ate breakfast quick and we were off. One third of the way up we stopped to watch the sun rise out of the east over Black Crook and Red Pine Mountain. We marched on and made it the top where we found Nalgene bottles with previous notes from past students and staff. The Goannas spent an hour resting and reading through all the notes. They then made their contribution to the Nalgene bottle notes. We made our descent down and arrived back at camp just in time for lunch. With food in our bellies, the Goannas took a well deserved nap. Just like that we were back to Tuesday, the end and beginning of the week.  


The Pindari conquered another incredible week in the desert. We enjoyed slightly cooler temperatures with mid-afternoon rain showers almost everyday. The hiking culture of the group is thriving, as we completed four hikes this week: 2 pack hikes, one day hike to a beautiful forested area with a stream, and a peak hike with an elevation of 9274 feet.The group made it to the summit of Black Crook in record time (2 hours 30 minutes) even with a newer member of the group who has not done much hiking. As we admired the sunrise from the top, one student led a gathering focused on the physical and emotional peaks we have each accomplished in our lives. It was everyone’s favorite highlight of the week.

Another highlight was the participation and success in fire making. Two students started off the week strong by busting their very first coals. The entire group continued to get coals on a daily basis the rest of the week. We tried out a few fire challenges such as a race to get the first coal, busting a coal on a mini bow drill set, and blowing into flames on a nest made out of hair (no hair was cut in the process). The fire making culture in the Pindari is stronger than ever.

Ceremonies were another major highlight of the week. We held three token ceremonies in which every member of the group received at least one token: Cunning Large Mouth Bass was honored with Vital Fire, Invincible Aquila received Journey Keeper, Sturdy Stallion was given Brightness, Adventurous Northern Florida Jit Lizard got Making Amends, and Giver, and the newest member of the Pindari was challenged with the Letting Go token. The group encouraged him to let go of his worries and inhibitions in order to fully be himself and make the most of his time in the desert. It was a special bonding experience and the student expressed that he felt like a true member of the group afterwards. With such heightened enthusiasm for hiking, firemaking, and brotherhood, the Pindari are set up to have another incredible week of growth and memories. 


Courageous Hyena chose to stay an extra week to Lead the group! He did an outstanding job creating an efficient and positive group dynamic. We played many games including, dogs, crappy throws, mafia, and among us. At one of the sites the groups some time at this week, we even put together a tire swing out of an old tire we found in the desert, and spent some time building a tree house! 

The group spent some of their maker time assembling sling shots. They took turns throwing rocks as far as they could after learning how to safely and carefully use them. The students also spent a lot of their maker time assembling their fire sets, making moccasins/ slides, and one of the students even made willow whistles for the rest of the students in the group.

The group managed to complete 4 hikes this week.  This was a first for the group, and they all felt a significant sense of accomplishment at this achievement. Encouragement came from all the group members. The group led phenomenal gatherings on attitude and experiences. 

We had a fun encounter with a mom  cow when out on a hike. This experience really brought the group together, as they had to stand together and encourage each other to safely pass. Courageous Hyena lead an in depth talk about legacy and what we hope to leave behind. When the group was frustrated or had any misunderstandings they really worked together to get back to baseline and talk when everyone was clear headed. The group as a whole mentioned many times how this group dynamic has been the best and how they would like to keep this up. All in all it was an amazing week of growth and intention out in the Uluru!


As the Brumbies began their week, the theme introduced to them was “Vision”. The group therapy began with a discussion on paradigms and how they can shift through our lives from day to day, week to week, year to year. This would be a recurring conversation as the Brumbies took on challenges in the coming days. 

Busting would also be a recurring theme for our group. To start things off, the Brumbies took on a “Zero to Hero” challenge against their therapist, Mark and another staff. The point of the challenge was, starting from scratch, building a busting set (bow, bottom board, spindle, top rock, and tinder nest), bust a coal, and blow it into a flame before the other team. The Brumbies fought valiantly but would complete the challenge mere minutes behind the staff team. Next, the Brumbies worked together to bust on a GIANT busting set made with a 2×6 board for a bottom board and a 4 ft. fence post for a spindle. 

As the therapist left for the week, the Brumbies expressed to the staff that they wanted to push themselves and hike on all 4 hike days. Spoiler alert: they did! Each hike presented a unique set of challenges. On our first hike, one of the staff sustained an ankle sprain and was limited on how fast they could hike and how much they could carry. While it wasn’t the ideal pace for the group, everyone made adjustments and supported the staff all the way to their first site. While at the first site, we took a day hike to a beautiful stretch of road that was canopied by towering cottonwood. The brumbies enjoyed the hottest hours of the day covered by refreshing shade and would harvest the highly coveted cottonwood spindles.

On the second hike, near the early morning hour of 1:00, we were absolutely drenched by an enormous rainstorm that appeared out of nowhere as quickly as it vanished 60 minutes later. While it was no picnic, the students really took charge of the situation and fashioned a quick shelter from a tarp to wait out the worst of the rain while they dried their clothes and put on rain gear. Unprompted by any staff, the students dissected the situation they found themselves in and came to the conclusion that there were things beyond their control and the best course of action would be to press forward. The group would not get to camp until nearly 6:00 AM. But after a good rest, you would have never guessed by the sense of accomplishment in the air that they endured a massive storm together the night before. 

Hike three was a challenge of mental and emotional resilience. The group discovered they would need to hike an extra 1.5 miles more than the .5 miles they believed had remaining on the hike. In the middle of the road, we sat down and processed what had transpired and once again came to the conclusion that it was still within their power to press on and complete their goal of completing every hike. 

After three most challenging hikes, the group set out for their fourth and final hike of the week and absolutely dominated! A strong pace and resolve that was forged by their previous challenges allowed the group to complete their longest hike in the shortest amount of time. To make a fantastic experience even better, Tenacious Horizon and Radical Swordfish would lead a mid-hike gathering that revisited the concept of paradigms. With the new perspective that the previous hikes offered, the group realized how important it can be in life to step up to challenges, face them head on, and ask for help at times. The staff witnessed every single student rise to the occasion and approach the obstacles ahead of them as stepping stones, rather than roadblocks. 

We reached our next therapy site with a sense of accomplishment that was at an all time high. Relentless Macaroni Penguin hosted a ceremony circle where the group gave Radical Swordfish their trail name. Electric Aspen scavenged for beautiful white rocks that he used to build a primitive yet sophisticated backsplash and vanity around the camp sump. In preparation for their respective parent visits, Unstoppable Panda and Radical Swordfish crafted their bullroarers and were anxiously awaiting the time they spent with their parents. While this week presented some of the hardest challenges the group would ever see during their time at outBACK, the group unanimously expressed that it was one of the best weeks they ever had.


Know Thyself: this is the motto we go by on peak week. Peak is a period in a students’ stay that is  a time to briefly break from the desert terrain for a week and explore the many wonders of Utah. We began this week by picking up 1 student from 3 groups. A Uluru, a Goanna, and Pindari–none of whom knew one another but upon pick-up, immediately found brotherhood with one another. 

We engaged in activities ranging from paddle boarding, caving, and mountain climbing. There was also a lot of driving between destinations and the students entertained themselves with their choice of (appropriate) music that they weaved together onto Spotify playlist. 

Despite encountering rain, summer heat, off-and-on humidity, fear of heights, and mysterious bodies of water, the group surpassed all obstacles in blazing glory. Their time as desert nomads truly shown as they were able to go with the flow through thick and thin no matter the mountains (sometimes literally) that stood before them. 

We ended peak week with a ceremony where each student (and one staff who was also experiencing their first peak week) received a patch embroidered with Know Thyself labeled onto it. We discussed how the challenges of the week unveiled aspects of themselves they never knew and what it would be like for them to reenter their groups and how they would manage themselves throughout the rest of their time in the desert. Just as they have temporarily reentered society for a week, we are confident that bringing the kids back to their respective groups, now with more well-rounded perspectives of themselves, they will reenter their groups as seasoned seniors ready to lead the next generation of their  peers through the horizons to come here in the desert.


This week one student began on the steep slopes of mountside nestled in the sprawling ranges of the southern side of the mountains in our region. The altitude of our site provided a spectacular view of the fiery desert plains and sandy peaks. The high winds and soft rain carried the aroma of petrichor across our site and into our consciousness, a welcome shift from the dry desert air typically permeating the desert. We spent much time this week conversing on how we came to find ourselves on Boom, the occasional discussions on life with philosophical undertones and most notably therapeutic delves regarding our student’s life before outBACK, interaction dynamics with the Uluru, and developing understanding of self. On our journey we saw wild horses galloping across the landscape with a haste that was utterly picturesque–the veritable essence of a free and wild herd. We caught glimpses of predator and prey dynamics, this time of year in particular seemed to be a time at which tarantula hawks were performing their rather grotesque acts of reproduction as we caught several glimpses of them buzzing about hunting for spiders. Velvet ants were also a common sight, thankfully both these stinging insects are docile to humans. Our most common sight was a herd of cows that frequented our therapy site, examining us with an adorable curiosity. Our group completed 4 long hikes this week, our student displayed rigorous resolve in completing each one, pushing past the dregs of mental and physical exhaustion to complete our mission. Our hikes took us past verdant streams, blushing with hydrophilic plants–oases amongst the savage heat of the desert. There we foraged and gathered materials for crafting dreamcatchers and smooth river stones to utilize in our fire-making. Our gatherings and group activities consisted of lessons edified in the Anatomy of Peace, identity, logical breakdowns of personal anecdotes with touches of philosophical tangents along the subjects touched upon. We taught and discussed responsibility and the power our actions can have, mechanisms of unhealthy escapism and their impact and self-esteem. We felt our student had absorbed the content of our gatherings so well we awarded them with a unique hand-made token in the image of a boomerang with the stenciled form of a willow branch to represent the resiliency of the student this week. We also honored our student with ornamental, symbolic paint depicting the moon which represented their resiliency in night hikes, the red to represent grit and will and 6 black pillars representing the core lessons learned this week. Our student expressed anticipation and excitement at the arrival of their parent for a PV– to cook them dinner and make them a hand crafted spoon. 


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