NCHC: Partners in the Park

Monday, September 8, 2014

Chris Omara | Student, ’17

partnersintheparkOver the summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to visit California thanks to Partners in the Park, a program from the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC—Quinnipiac University is a member of the NCHC) that organizes trips for college students to several national parks across the United States. I went to the Sequoia National Park for a week with ten other Honors students from various universities. We flew in from all over the country and trickled in from the airport to meet each other one by one over the course of the day on Sunday. After meeting the people we would be spending every waking minute of the day with, we went out for some Thai food before retiring to the hotel to get ready for the drive to the park.

On the first day, we went to Grant Grove and saw sequoia trees, most of us for the first time in our lives. Those trees give a new meaning to the word “large.” Some were three hundred feet tall with trunks forty feet wide. Most of them looked like buildings rather than trees. After walking through the forest in awe, we drove to the Giant Forest Visitor Center to meet a special park guide, Nate. He gave us a history of the park and told us about the trees’ biology and ecosystem. Did you know that the bark of sequoias is fire resistant which is why they can live over 3,000 years? That night, we set up camp and hiked a nearby peak to watch the sunset. Afterwards, we sat on the peak and had the first of our nightly intellectual discussions about wildness and what Nate had told us about the park system and global warming.

The next morning we drove to Crystal Cave to get a private tour. As we navigated the narrow walkways and looked at the various stalactites and stalagmites (stalactites are the ones on the roof), we learned about the delicacy of the cave’s ecosystem. The park had capitalized on the cave’s natural beauty, but due to the prevalence of tours, the cave was being damaged. After leaving the cave, we went swimming in a nearby river, and experienced the thrill of jumping off rocks into the water below. Exhausted and exhilarated, we drove to the campsite at the trailhead of where we would be entering the backcountry.

The next day, we met some park rangers and did some trail work with them as community service. Shortly after we put on our bags, we met our ranger guide, Josh, and started our hike to the first night’s site. About two hours in, it started to rain and hail, so we got to camp exhausted, cold, and wet. We set up camp, dried off, and got to know each other a little better before watching a sunset on the mountain. We ended the night with our third discussion, this time having Josh with us as a resource.

After waking up, we started the hardest part of our trip up to Saw Tooth Pass. Once there, a few of us went up to the peak while the rest of the group went down to the next campsite. Upon reaching camp, a few of us jumped into the lake nearby for some swimming 11,000 feet above sea level. One of the students from University of Florida had never seen snow, so some of the group climbed up some rocks to get him some snow to make a mini snowman.

We woke up and started our day with some lakeside morning yoga lead by Josh. We then hiked back over the pass to our previous days campsite to prepare for our final day in the morning. We went swimming one more time in the freezing water of the alpine lakes. After the final discussion, we all decided to sleep under the stars instead of using our tents.

On our final morning, we hiked back to the vans and were sworn in as junior rangers. We went back to airport and all hung out one last time before some heartfelt goodbyes. Even though we had only known each other for a week, we all became extremely close. It was an amazing experience that I would highly recommend to anyone who likes the outdoors and adventure or just wants to try something new. If you’re interested in learning more, a lot of the pictures from the trip can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SequoiaPartnersInTheParks.

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