Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Adventure Learning Trip Report- Grizzly Ridge Yurt

I have been looking at past blog posts hoping to find inspiration for writing this one when I read a trip report from July 2015 about our canoe trip down Stillwater Canyon in Canyonlands National Park. In that post I described the special opportunity we had as student and staff to share the grandeur of true adventure together as none of our staff had done the trip before. With great responsibility and care for our students, and a few dozen years of shared outdoor experience, it is not often that one of our guides has not completed the objective of the trip prior to striking out with our students to be more aware of the risks intrinsic to that adventure. When it came time to plan for this year’s yurt trips we decided to again look for adventure and selected a yurt unfamiliar to our adventure learning staff. Of course true adventure is hard to find these days with online resources providing so much information, but we still wanted to experience the challenges together of finding the figurative needle in a haystack (small yurt in a big forest).

We have had a near-record year in Utah with snowfall totals being way above-average as well as a few odd warming events that brought rain and snowmelt to many high elevation locations. Having experienced a handful of yurt trips where low elevations and warming have caused issues we selected this yurt for its nearly 10,000’ elevation location. Little did we know this was not quite enough…

One of the earlier mentioned warming events just so happened to coincide with the week directly preceding our trip into the southern flanks of the Uinta Mountains outside Vernal, Utah. This weather brought rain and rapid snow melt to the region and wreaked havoc on the snowpack. Trail breaking to the yurt turned out to be an arduous feat as the top 18”-24” of the snowpack was dense, heavy and water soaked, but the bottom 4’-6’ was powdery, light snow incapable of holding the load of a crew of snowshoers and their gear. For five hours we randomly broke through the top of the snowpack, up to our knees and beyond, and struggled to get back on top of the snow to further our progress up the four-mile trail to the yurt. By the time we reached the yurt in darkness we had effectively traveled less than half the rate we had anticipated had better conditions been available. And so the adventure went.

Once at the yurt we enjoyed our rest and the sunshine the next day brought. We explored the area, split wood, cleaned the yurt, played many card games, read, rode the sled, and ate food to lighten our load for the return trip. The spirits of the crew were regained as the knowledge that hiking down the trail would be vastly easier than hiking up. However, the weather felt like challenging this notion and dropped another 18” of snow the night before we were to leave. The hike out proved to be nearly as daunting as the storm brought driving winds in addition to the snow and erased the trail we had so painstakingly packed out on the way in. When all was said and done, we learned from this adventure and are one notch closer to knowing what challenges we are capable of overcoming when we keep the end goal in mind and focus on enjoying the process and understanding what it can teach us.

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