Top 5 Memories from the BHP Outdoor Leadership Trek

The BHP Outdoor Leadership Trek is a one-of-a-kind immersive educational experience that teaches BHP students about leadership and decision-making in the unscripted context of the wilderness. Seven BHP students, along with one BHP staff member participated in a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) trip to Arizona in January.  Below are the top five memories from their time together as wilderness explorers!

1. Beautiful views

We hiked in the Galiuro Wildnerness of Arizona and summited near Kennedy Peak at an elevation of 7,540 feet. During our daily hikes, we encountered a variety of terrain that included dry and brushy vegetation, large rocks, exposed red soil, narrow passes, and wet forests. Naturally, some of our favorite memories were enduring a daunting uphill and turning around to see the setting sun setting over a canyon, traversing along the side of a steep mountain ridge, and sitting quietly under the stars in an open field on our very first night. We can describe it here and present pictures that may be worth a thousand words, but nothing compares to actually experiencing the significance of nature.

2. Cooking in the backcountry

Everyone raves about the food NOLS provides, which is more than just dehydrated soups and meal kits. Our rations contained raw ingredients such as flour, sugar, quinoa, couscous, dried fruits, hashbrowns, nut butter, and cheddar cheese; one pot, one pan, one cooking lid, and a spatula; and a spice kit. The spice kit is key to unlocking the magic of cooking in the backcountry because it allowed us to improvise and get creative. While we never learned how to bake cinnamon rolls or pizza on our trip, we did make a legendary quinoa soup, a tasty hashbrown breakfast with refried beans, tuna surprise, numerous quesadillas, and “tasted better than they looked” brownie and pancake scrambles.

3. Learning wilderness survival skills

Throughout our course, we learned practical outdoor skills like dressing in layers to stay warm and dry, cooking with creativity (see above), selecting appropriate campsites, pitching storm-proofed tent shelters, reading topographic maps and terrain features, and bear hanging (suspending our food bags from trees to prevent bears from getting to it). While we found some humor in doing the actions, the reality was that we needed to practice all these skills to survive for 8 days in the great outdoors. It’s easy to take certain luxuries like dorm rooms, running water, and cafeterias for granted. We truly felt empowered and ready for anything once we learned basic skills to take care of ourselves and be self-sufficient with very few resources.

4. It snowed!

Every NOLS expedition is different – we can’t predict the routes we will take, how our group will work together, or what the weather will be like. Previous NOLS participants told us about the challenges they faced, but no one could prepare us for the unique challenge of waking up to three inches of snow. We had to re-pitch tents that blew away in the middle of the night, find our buried kitchen equipment, hike and trail-find as it continued to rain and snow, and melt snow as a water source. Our snow day tested our physical and mental resolve, but it was also beautiful and fun to play in. We also learned an important lesson: Snow is the BEST toilet paper.

5. Bonding with BHPals

Here’s the funny thing about spending 8 days dealing with uncertainty with 6 other students and very little alone time: You get VERY close. We developed our own language to describe things, starting with “backcountry,” or what we had previously called the wilderness. This language evolved into euphemisms and inside jokes like “take a walk” (going to the bathroom), “spikes on the left” (watch for sharp objects), “SCAT!” (bear droppings ahead), “pothole water” (questionable drinking water), “beat the beep” (pack faster), and random squeals and squeaks (either Judy or Will tripped). It’s not easy nor fun to describe inside jokes to people on the outside, so we’ll close by encouraging you to go on a NOLS trip as soon as possible. We promise you’ll learn about leadership, engage in self-reflection, practice survival skills, and laugh until your stomach hurts.

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