Wilderness Weekly 12.30.22


The week started with excited Goannas. One of the guide’s dogs named Oakley (trail name Savory Sausage) soaked in all the group members’ initial energy. Once the group settled down, they started working on skills that took up a substantial portion of the week. The newer group members worked on busting sets while the more seasoned Goannas worked on H-frames for their packs made of willow. Each night group members had a busting hour where they practiced getting coal with their crafted bows and spindles. Other notable individual crafts include a two-foot-long spoon made of juniper and necklaces made from trinkets found in the desert. In between meals around the fire the group also played lots of games. These included, but not limited to, Octopus 8, Salad Bowl, Mafia, and Snowball Battleship. Snowball Battleship (a student’s idea) consists of two teams hidden from each other by a tarp in the middle. The teams take turns throwing snowballs at each other until one team is victorious and was, in the words of a student, “so fun!” The group successfully completed two pack hikes throughout the backcountry expedition week and did a superb job at supporting each other both on and off the trail.  

Gatherings this week were a spectacle as group members dove deep into their conversations. Two group members shared their life story, and the group held the space as their fellow group members shared some parts of the stories that were difficult to speak aloud. The group values every member, and every member contributes something to the story of the Goannas. The importance of comradery was especially evident on Christmas. Each group member individually received a gift, but no one opened their bags until they could all rip into their presents together. They decorated a tree with paracord and ate sausage, fine cheese, and chocolate. On Christmas the group held a trail naming ceremony. The group member received and accepted the trail name Gravitating Quetzal. During the ceremony, Grounded Ember was honored with the Journey Keeper Token and Authentic Raven was honored with the Letting Go token. Keystone Kodiak also transitioned into the logistical lead role for the Goannas during the ceremony. Later during dinner, the group feasted on ham and veggies and finished the holiday with large slices of sugary pie.  

The week ended with gusty winds that brought an unexpected “surprise”. On the last night, the group’s canvas winter shelter flew over and into a nearby tree. In record time, however, all the group members took charge and put the loose poles and canvas tent back together. Everybody gave their all and the work was done hastily. Campfires, group shelters, and latrines do not necessarily make camp what it is. In fact, none of these things would exist without the Goannas spirit to work, play, and learn together. The Goannas’ last morning was filled with rain but there is no doubt that there are many bright days ahead for the group. 

Roos - Adventure Expedition:

To kick off our journey, we set out on a scenic trip to the glorious city of St. George, Utah. We transitioned away from snowy landscapes to the red rock mountains, and cliffs with contrasting snowy peaks in the distant background. Along the way, our students listened to the Anatomy of Peace, as we pondered and reflected quietly and took in the beautiful views. Our beloved Kangaroos even incorporated some language from the book into their own conversations and challenged one another on some of the story’s lessons. After finishing the book, we listened to the exciting tale of Hatchet, which the students seemed to really enjoy, as they found that many related to the main character. 

Our first night in the Southern Utah desert, we shared a meal of scrumptious tacos after unloading our gear and setting up camp. Dinner was followed by an intentional discussion about the purpose and expectations of Adventure and being out and about in a new setting. We discussed the importance of respecting the land, those around us, being mindful of our conversations, and using appropriate language. To end the night, we shared what we were grateful for and went to bed under the stars.  

When the shining sun rose over the sandstone cliffs, we traveled to Snow Canyon to spend the day exploring. Some say this beautiful state park is a mini version of Zion National Park. We followed the trail until we reached a sign that directed us to a gorgeous lookout. We climbed up to the top where we saw the towering mountains, and petrified sand dunes with their red and orange features. We shared a moment of silent awe in appreciation of ancient formations in their glory. On the way down, we climbed on the rocks, ventured into the nooks and slots, and identified different plants and insects. Toward the end of the day, we ventured back to Gunlock reservoir and set up camp in the new area, tucked back into a cozy sandy nook on the hillside. In the theme of our day hike, we had a gathering on our peaks and valleys, plus a compliment to ourselves. Peaks represent the highlight of our day and valleys denote the low point of our day. This gathering is always a great way to share our feelings and let others know how we are doing. This really allowed our students to let us know how to best support them in their journeys. 

The following day fell on Christmas Eve! We went rock climbing at a very prominent wall that extends into the sky nearly 300 feet! Our students had the chance to challenge themselves and show off their climbing skills. Although this was the first time ever climbing for some students, they all absolutely crushed it. The students who had already experienced an adventure expedition before faced the challenge of climbing a different rock wall. Some conquered, while others struggled with this style of climbing, yet in the end, we came together to process the crucial emotions we felt while amid the challenge. The group was hooked on the climb. So much so that everyone asked to have another day of climbing. This evening was spent sharing stories of the past and showing our vulnerability to each other by expressing our feelings on this Christmas Eve.  

Christmas morning was met with presents that were left outside of our tents. We excitedly packed up and headed to our next destination where we opened presents and made Christmas pancakes. They pushed themselves even further on Christmas Day with more challenging climbs. These challenges led to a great reflection of being able to accomplish goals even when we do not believe in ourselves and trust those around us. We ended the holiday with a feast that brought the group together while we were all away from our loved ones and made it feel more like a home and family that we had built together. 

The week was filled with adventure, laughter, gifts, and thoughts of home and family. We returned to the high desert and found a welcoming group eagerly awaiting to tell us of their challenges and accomplishments of the week in the backcountry. The Roos demonstrated their sheer tenacity and unity. We are so proud of all the hard work they have put in for themselves and each other. This unique and exciting Christmas will be remembered for eternity! 

Roos - Backcountry Expedition:

‘Twas the time before Christmas when all through the field, not a creature was stirring… except for the mouse. The tarp shelters were hung by juniper with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there. The students were nestled all snug in their bags while visions of brown sugar dumplings danced in their heads… 

Visions of brown sugar dumplings were not the only visions experienced this week in the wintery desert wilderness as many of the Roos with us this week were green as Christmas reefs. Yet in the stupor of finding themselves in such an alien world of snowy contradictions the Roos came together to celebrate and support one another during this holiday season. They showed remarkable initiative learning the ways of the wilderness and cooperative survival – learning the bow-drill fire starting technique, shelter creation and the methods for foraging from the bountiful winter landscapes.  

Teamwork was at the crux of success for the Roos this week, when wood was scarce the group resolved to taking down dead lumber and processing it for use in the fire. Many trekked on their first hike at outBACK which was elevated with the suspense of the setting sun and the temperature drop that followed. Valuable lessons were cultivated in such challenging circumstances and all, including guides, came out wizened from the trial. Our arrival from the hike marked the beginning of celebration in the spirit of Christmas, we prepared our site for the 25th with a great round fireplace and awaited the day of cheer with skills and preparations in anticipation for the group’s next hike.  

The day had arrived, and the students were met with juniper trees laden with gift bags stocked with treats and trinkets. Chocolate, snacks, blankets, and a great feast awaited the Roos stowed away in snowbanks and flora all about our camp. We all celebrated together merrily, gorging ourselves on the pies and honeyed ham gifted to us. We played games and spoke of stories of family and home until the sun set at which time, we wrapped a bow on the day with a gathering on gratitude and core memories of family and home. And so also set our week with the Roos, undoubtedly a Christmas memory to last a lifetime. 


This week the Ulurus started off strong carving spoons during skills time and using what the wilderness provides to create fitness equipment. Learning how to make fire using sage bushes was not far behind. The Ulurus harvested materials for their busting sets to make fire and were enthusiastic about the harvesting process. After a couple of days at our therapy site it was time for the Ulurus to head out on their backcountry expedition. The Ulurus were quick to learn how to make packs primitively, asking questions and taking suggestions from the guides. Blossoming Bobcat lead the way as the senior member of the group, helping the students create their packs for the hike ahead. The Ulurus pushed through the hike, rallying behind each other while sharing good conversation about the scenery that surrounded them on their journey. The hike between Red Pine Mountain and Indian Peak created a magical space for the students to admire, and sparked curiosity in conversation. The following days were filled with hiking; a pack hike following a day hike with a spectacular sunrise on Christmas Eve. 

The trail name ceremony for Blossoming Bobcat was something special. The group members, staff, and therapist got together and brainstormed together all the qualities that make up their friend and voted on what would make a great name. Blossoming Bobcat was nearly named Erupting Bobcat but was voted down at the last minute. 

The weekend was filled with discussions about building a wheelbarrow, plans for a game of dungeons and dragons, and speculation about Christmas. The Ulurus spent Christmas debating about the existence of Santa and how he is able to fit inside the sleep shelter. The students received chocolate, candy canes, hot coco, and a blanket during an incredibly special ceremony where they expressed gratitude for each other and other people in their lives. 

The week concluded with a very lively game of dungeons and dragons run by one of the younger Ulurus that included a jail break, magic shopkeepers, and a plasma gun. The game really brought some Ulurus out of their shell and embodied the spirit of friendship and creativity. The Ulurus also learned a new rhyming game called school bus which they enjoyed. 

While the end of the week brought rain and shift exchange, the memories will remain. Will the wheelbarrow be built? Tune in next week to be sure. 

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