BY ELIZABETH HAYES —
Mike Gregornik, physical education teacher, led students on a 12 day backpacking journey through mountain ranges and national parks in western Wyoming and northern Colorado this summer.
The group began by backpacking into the Wind River Range, a section of the Central Rocky Mountains with both the largest system of glaciers in the American Rockies and the tallest peak in Wyoming. The group spent six days there, hiking during the day and relaxing in the evenings.
They then moved onto the Grand Tetons, exploring a second mountain range in Northwest Wyoming and camping in Colter Bay.
After two days in the Tetons, Gregornik and his students drove north to Yellowstone National Park and explored a few of the park’s greatest phenomena like Old Faithful, the Boiling River and the hot springs.
Finally, the group concluded their journey in Colorado, where many students summitted peaks over 14,000 feet high. These peaks include Mt. Democrat, Mt. Brosse, Mt. Cameron and Mt. Lincoln, which exist in a tight cluster in Colorado’s center.
As a group, students discuss and decide the schedule for each trip. Using Gregornik’s knowledge of the land as guidance, the group has control over what they do, making each journey unique to the people on it. According to Shayna Moss, senior, this year’s group was able to come to a consensus very easily.
“We all talked and discussed our game plan for the 12 days, and we wanted to do something that everyone agreed on,” Moss said. “It was pretty nice because everyone was on the same page.”
Participation in this challenge varied within the group, with some students summiting four peaks, and some none at all, depending on personal fitness and fatigue from the previous days’ adventures. Despite this variation, many students loved the challenge, including Kevin McGuire, 2014 alumnus, who climbed Mt. Democrat, 14,148 ft., along with several other students.
“The biggest thing I was excited for was summiting a 14er,” McGuire said.
Because they were traveling at such high elevations, several students suffered altitude-related symptoms, which can occur when a person ascends to higher altitudes faster than the body can adjust. According to MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, anyone can get altitude sickness; it does not depend on physical fitness, but rather on the rate at which one is climbing.
“You don’t realize how harsh the altitude affects you until it starts to hit you. You can feel your breath getting much shorter and you realize you’re only breathing half the oxygen you normally would be at sea level. It makes your muscles burn faster. It’s pretty much like being out of shape,” McGuire said. According to McGuire and Moss, some students had to descend to lower altitudes to recuperate.
Despite the physical challenges the group faced, McGuire and Moss agree that it was a rewarding experience. Although backpacking is not for everyone, McGuire enjoyed it greatly.
“[I] would recommend this trip to students who are willing to throw a 40 pound bag on their back and hike eight miles a day in altitude,” McGuire said.
Gregornik’s trips spawned from his love for the outdoors.
“I wanted to offer kids the opportunity to go to actual wilderness areas,” Gregornik said.
According to Gregornik, one of the advantages of taking these trips is the flexibility of the schedule. By traveling over spring and summer breaks, groups are able to fully experience the land around them, without time constraints or day-to-day distractions.
“Even though it was a new trip … it was really successful. I really hope Mr. G keeps doing these trips and that the administration lets him, because everyone should go on a G trip once in their life,” Moss said.
As the leader and creator of the Wyoming trip, Gregornik wants his students to come away from this experience with a greater appreciation and love for nature. “[In the industrialized world,] we lose sight of what we have in our own backyard, and we need to protect it,” Gregornik said.
As evidenced by student responses, Gregornik’s intentions are having a great impact. McGuire found the trip to be reassuring.
“I went into [the trip] with a very strong appreciation for the outdoors, and I think it just really verified [it],” McGuire said.
“On the first day, when we were hiking, I was looking down and watching my feet, step by step … making sure I didn’t step on any roots or rocks or logs. When we stopped for a water break, I looked up and realized how pretty everything was. There was this beautiful mountain face that I wasn’t experiencing because I was too busy looking down on my feet … It made me want to always look up and enjoy all my surroundings,” Moss said.