Life at Elevation: Navigating the Cordillera Blanca Range with 20
I have been a part of a variety of backpacking experiences. Time and again, it is assured the group will bond in a unique way. The backcountry strips us of traditional interactions, of blinking lights and honking horns. Give it 48 hours… then, you start adjusting to the efficient method of packing, and hoisting your pack, making a pillow out of your down jacket and remembering to look up, and around to the mountains and streams, instead of simply the feet that are transporting you there.
Give the adventure another 48 hours and the group has delved into trail games listing celebrity names, childhood songs, or existential conversations about life and what makes it tick. We learn how to be in nature, how to tread lightly, how to find a trail when it disappears, how to embrace the burned rice, the chilling rain and the wet snow.
Each night the food becomes even more delicious, as it becomes even more quirky and unlike anything you might consume at home, “cheese, cucumber and jelly, YES!” or “spaghetti with cinnamon and sugar = best dessert ever!” Falling asleep with a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag can save the shivers, and in the morning, you learn to dismiss the soaked bag you woke up in, you just stuff it now and dry it later. Of all the isms I have learned to love and become accustomed to in the back country, I will never dismiss the “ah ha” moments that prevail when you are bonding with a group in a unique way.
This last week our group walked with boots and full backpacks, camped and scrambled through avalanche fields, and cooked and laughed throughout the Cordillera Blanca Range in Peru. In the last couple years, I have been spending more time as a leader in the backcountry, and this time I was apart of something different — an astoundingly present and close group of participants. Not to dismiss any other experience, it is simply reality that this group has been living together for two months night and day and they are closer than close.
Our participants, our students, our ladies, seem to beat a zenith that only continues to expand up, they are soaking up every sight, every interaction. Each member has apparently made a promise deep inside: to be positive, help others around them and constantly seek to learn more about the world around them. Match this psychological environment with an expansive arena of 20,000-foot peaks framing my reality, and these seven days felt like something I couldn’t even make up. The feeling of humility, pride, youth, wisdom, hot, cold, discouraged, inspired, high as a kite and more rooted than an old Redwood. This is the feeling we live for as leaders, as friends, as seekers of growth, challenge and success.
Each morning we would stretch and share our intentions for the day, and each night we would ‘shout out’ to those who supported us. Reflecting on the book we read aloud each night, The Alchemist, it is said:
the universe will conspire to help you realize your dream and your role in this world, every thing will come together just as it should, simply love, and do not fear the unknown. These moment we spent in the mountains felt perfectly right, as if the entirety of the cosmos had brought us together in this place, just as it was meant to be.
Jenae McCarroll is a high school teacher for The Traveling School, a program that takes girls throughout the developing world while earning high school credit. This career has taken her from Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa to Ecuador, Peru and the Galapagos. Growing up in both California and Colorado, Jenae is passionate about the outdoors, and loves the challenge of incorporating backcountry skills with international and cultural awareness.