It’s a beautiful sunny day out here on the Feather River. Day two in a whitewater kayak for a classmate and myself. We’ve practiced our rolls, learned some technique, and the big test is in a few river bends. The infamous “Paxton's Ledge” followed by the “Room of Doom.” Doesn’t sound so scary right? Well sure, it’s not so scary when you're floating high above the water in a huge raft. When your center of gravity is taken down to whitewater kayak level, things change. A small three foot wave, which is nothing for a raft to go over, now becomes something that resembles a tsunami wave.
I take on Paxton’s ledge with Lauren Tango behind me. I run the short drop, stay upright and continue on my way. As I try to catch an eddy, the eddy monster grabs my boat and takes me under. While I am under the water, Tango decides she also has to stick her head in this low oxygen environment. Us girls have to stick together. Her boyfriend Chase is so appalled at the scene he paddles up close to her and dives under the water saying something like “I can’t watch this!” One by one, we all pop back up. Us girls are out of our boats and draining them of water, while Chase is making sure his girlfriend knew she wasn’t alone down there. Everyone has a strange, giant smile on their face. How could we all be happy after every one of us went face in, upside down, and spun in circles under the water surface?
We’ve all been there. The feeling that we can’t breathe, the panic setting in, lungs full of our “last breath”. However, not many can say they have felt this while stuck inside a plastic death tube with water rushing up their nose and into their ears. Some might call these plastic death tubes white water kayaks. Those who have been there…this is for you.
For one reason or another all of our efforts of staying upright have failed, and we are now experiencing the world from a whole new angle. An upside down angle. Here’s some advice. Keep your head tucked to your chest and your chest pressed against the top of the boat. Unless you're looking for the river to rearrange the way your face looks, keep that head tucked! Don’t worry, the big rocks will just hit your helmet...really...really hard. But your face will stay just as pretty as it was when you started. Hopefully you can set up for your roll with ease. However, most of the time, the river has a different plan for you. It’s not just going to let you have an easy time. Why should it, right? Now, here's the fun part. You're going to try to combat roll. If this is your first time attempting this, just breathe! Metaphorically of course, because there's very little oxygen down there despite the fact that water is essentially H2O (O for oxygen? More like O for Oh my god I’m dying). The water that has now entered the inside of your brain through your nasal passages is making you think “Get your head the heck out of this place now!” But you actually have to wait. And keep waiting. Every part of your body has the privilege of coming out of the water before your head gets to. Meaning that hopefully before you ended up upside down in a hole you took a good deep breath of air instead of shouting your favorite profanity. This is because if you're a beginner there is a good chance that you will miss your first roll trying to get your head up first. You’ll get one quick glimpse of the outside world and BAM! Water is going up your nose again, and oxygen is nowhere to be found.
So, now your head is tucked, you are set up, your arms sweep your paddle across the water, you snap your hips, and you keep your head down until it naturally rolls up and out of the water. A lot to think about, right? If done correctly, however, the reward is sweet...sweet oxygen. Your first breath is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Suddenly the world makes sense again, and for some strange reason, you have the urge to stay inside that plastic death tube. The worst part is, you actually begin to like it.
-Written by Lauren Huseby
The 2016 week long Eel River excursion has been completed! This trip was filled with fun splashy rapids, delicious food, and fantastic company. The one common thing every class member took away from this trip was the fantastical beauty of the vibrantly green Eel River. At every campsite on this trip we viewed the tracks of a certain silent observer of our group. I feel like this individual can better express the true beauty of our trip than I can myself. Enjoy this take on the Outdoor Rec Eel River trip 2016.
A collection of photos taken by Veronica Ruvalcaba
'Phish!' 'Clang!' 'Zip!' 'Splash!' "Everything has a place, put like items together!" "Let's set up the tarp first!" "Is it really gonna be raining?"
He forced opened a bleary round eye and glared at his surroundings. What was this awful noise that irritated him so? A snort that could bend an oak blew through his nostrils as he rolled onto his massive brown flank and to his feet. The once green grass that had been crushed beneath him gasped painfully for air but was unable to move, pressed flat against the ground. He shook the flies from his thick hide and padded quietly to the overgrown train trestle and promptly halted, taken aback by what he viewed, and more so, what he smelled.
Two legged creatures scurried all along his beach and in and out of large colorful mats floating in the river. They set a shiny box here, a wooden thing there, crawled in and out of bright colored shelters which flapped uncontrollably in the wind, and how they stunk! It seemed every time one of the creatures would wave their arms over their head (which was all too often) a new and even more pungent stench would blow across his sensitive nose. Three of the things gestured towards the trestle and began to lope towards it. Why were they tormenting him! Didn't they realize this was his beach? He turned and trotted downriver along the tracks towards a less crowded part of his domain while swinging his massive head side to side to rid his sinuses of, ugh, that terrible smell.
Broken down train tracks which line the Eel River Canyon. Izak Lederman photo
"Honk, Honk, Honk!" He swiped an angry paw at one of the geese as the young couple flew past. Stupid birds. Noisy for no reason, and they were disturbing his fishing hole. This break from the wet of the stormy weather that had persisted through the day and the night previous was his window to eat, and it seemed he would now be forced to wait again. His river would be much more peaceful once spring was over and the annoyance of honeymooning geese was finally gone.
"Here, this is the spot for sure!" "Finally, Tim, we're tired man!" "Foreals brah, did you guys know we went like 20 miles today?" No, no, no! The dumb birds weren't squawking needlessly, they were running from the multitude of floating mats and the gangly individuals piloting them that had bothered him the day before.
He splashed his way out of the river and up the green hill near the long riverside beach that was now covered with things that did not belong. Fine, let them make their useless shelters and sleep on his beaches. The coming storm would surely do away with this nuisance. He dug his large paws into the sand as he traced a ring around the beach to warn other creatures of the river away from the bright shelters and noisy items the foreign animals had brought with them. As if the ever deepening pungency of their hairless bodies was not enough.
Left and Middle: Izak Lederman photo. Right: The silent observer's print, Irshad Stolden photo
The morning after the wet rains was truly beautiful. The morning mist quickly burned away in the heat of the sun and the residents of the river emerged from their shelters. Fish leapt for the flies that hovered close to the surface of the emerald green river water. Multitudes of small birds twittered a call to the morning light, thanking it for its warmth. Even the nighttime crickets were awake, though only to run from hungry lizards who were energized by the sun rays. He flicked his ears back and forth taking in the sounds of the early day. He stretched out to his full majestic length and released a contented growl deep in his throat. He emerged into the daylight and scratched his wide back along the aqua green serpentine boulder he had taken shelter under for the night. Sinking his claws deep into the sand he wandered forth to experience all which this new day had to offer.
Vibrant sunny day on the River! Izak Lederman photo
It was late in the day when the floating mats reached him yet again. He let loose an angry snort and his spine arched in frustration. It was time to deal with this disturbance once and for all. Just as he began to move towards the fleet of mats a screech rang across the canyon and the creatures at the rear of the pack pointed and shouted with delight. A bald eagle soared over them, seeming to scout their path downstream through the swift moving river. He narrowed his eyes at the predator. Why were these creatures given such a mighty escort? He sank his claws into a stump in confusion.
He observed the pack of outsiders once more and noticed something which puzzled him. A sleek river otter bounced through the water near the shore, seeming to play a game of hide and seek with the mat riders. They were oblivious to this playful creature as they continued downriver. Several of the mats began to ram each other and splash water in their opponents faces. "Yaaaah incoming!" "Pull his skirt!" "Splash water in his boat!" One of the creatures rolled under the water and popped back up slightly further downstream yipping with happiness. They were playing! This he understood, he too enjoyed splashing about the river in the bright daylight.
The group moved past him and continued on their current willed journey. He cocked his great head and listened to the distanced elated sounds coming from the mat riders. They seemed so enamored with his home, and they had not harmed any of his precious river (save for disturbing a few moody geese). The eagle and the river otter welcomed the little fleet, and the river carried them forth without complaint. He wandered along the shoreline following the scent trail left behind by the outsiders, no longer irritated, but intrigued by these strange new creatures that seemed to only wish to view the green shores of his river and play little games in the sediment filled water.
Left: Rick rowing a 'floating mat'. Right: Sunny perch pointed upstream. Izak Lederman photo
He followed them through the mixed reds, blues, and greens of the boulder fields of his river, along the sandy shores, and among the mixed foliage of rolling green hills for the next two days. The river was blessed with shining sunlight and cool breezes. He watched as the odd little troop of mat riders traveled euphorically through the winding canyon shouting with glee every time they encountered something new to their foreign eyes. They gestured wildly at every wonder of his river whether it be a trickling waterfall, a colorful butterfly, or a bright red cliff band high in the canyon. He grew increasingly content as he viewed their ever playful and excitable demeanor. This was right. His domain was indeed impressive. The river otter continued to frolic alongside the little pod and even allowed himself to be viewed on the creatures' final day in his canyon, which seemed to bring them much joy.
"All these new colors bro!" "We will miss you Eel River!" The mats passed around the final snaking curve of his river and he rose to his powerful hind legs to watch as the final colorful craft disappeared behind the shroud of conifer trees that marked the border of his lands. The bald eagle flapped her way back up the canyon carrying a freshly killed trout to her nest and her famished week old chicks. The parting of this escort signaled the end of the mat riders foray through his river. The water was green and peaceful in the late afternoon shadows, even the geese were abnormally silent. He was pleased with the effect the beauty of his river had on the outsiders. He dropped to the ground and blissfully kneaded the soft earth with his weighty paws.
Laser pointer tribute at final camp. Izak Lederman photo
As he turned upstream a breeze fluttered through his broad snout. He sneezed audibly and his lip curled up in disgust. That awful smell, he would not miss. What kind of creature doesn't have the decency to bathe? His hide rippled as he shook his head to clear his nose, or replace that smell with anything beside it. After one final glance downstream he padded softly away from the shore, and with his stubby tail flicking in the wind the mighty bear melted into the shadows of the maple trees lining his softly flowing river.
Written by Jonathan Simenc
A collection of photos taken by Izak Lederman
There has been a bit of a time gap between this and my previous blog post. You are clearly wondering where I have been, and what has been keeping me away from the words that I so greatly enjoy sharing with you. It is quite sweet of you to ask after me, so I shall tell you what I have been doing. I also hope that I may pass on some friendly advice to anyone who has an itch to participate in some similar activity, but might not quite know where, or how, to begin.
Over the past month Northern California has been blessed with ample amounts of rain in the form of several large thunderstorms. These storms have encouraged the river gods to supply boaters with consistently good flows for paddling activities. Every nearby whitewater enthusiast has emerged from their comfy Subaru homes to take full advantage of the spring rapids popping up throughout the numerous creeks and rivers of the north state. As an excitable kayaking novice, I viewed this as my opportunity to better my water skills and learn from experienced paddlers.
I do not tell you this to seek some form of affirmation. I tell you this because I am doing something which I never thought possible for myself. Though my immediate family is not made up of whitewater enthusiasts I do have several extended family members who have pushed the boundaries of whitewater paddling; but due to their great humility and my own disinterest I didn't learn of their river feats until I decided to test out whitewater sports for myself. The little that I did know of kayaking came from a commercial for GoPro I saw on television, or the one scary photo behind the shopping list on our family bulletin board of my cousin Dan dropping off a big waterfall. These things forced me into the awfully common mindset of 'I could never do that'.
Though never at the forefront of my mind there was always a desire to participate in such an activity as whitewater kayaking, and until this last year that desire was always trumped by the unfounded belief that 'I could never do that'.
Many people hold on to the common misconception that outdoor adventure sports are only done by professionals, when in reality the majority of adventure sport participants are 'weekend warriors', or people who enjoy outdoor activities at a comfortable level purely for their own enjoyment. This misconception creates an invisible barrier around the realm of adventurous outdoor activity which deflects countless desires from individuals who wish to participate in adrenaline pumping outdoor fun. It pains me now to hear someone say, 'I could never do that' or 'I want to, but I know I couldn't' in reference to a story someone told about an outdoor excursion or a photo/video they have seen of an adventurous activity. There is truly only one thing you must do in order to participate in whatever they believe they cannot. This one thing is the common seam for beginning to participate in any adventure sport whether it be whitewater kayaking, skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking, or even base jumping. All you must do, is seek it out.
So many great ways too adventure in the outdoors!
Photo Credit: Top Left-Izak Lederman, Top Right-Sierra Speer, Bottom Left-J Simenc, Bottom Right-Saylor Flett
Here are a few tips/techniques for seeking out a way to begin your outdoor fun:
1. Phone a friend. Often people hear of an adventure sport from a participant of one, and just as often that participant is more than willing to teach you a few things. Outdoor communities are welcoming, take full advantage of them!
2. Find a class. Learning the skills necessary for an outdoor activity is often only a google search and a phone call away. This is always recommended for learning how to play outside safely. A great place to do this for all you people near Quincy, Feather River College Outdoor Leadership Program!
3. Use social media. In today's world we are able to connect with tons of folks online, and guess what, some of these folks push the sport you wish to do! There is no shortage of Facebook (and other social media) groups full of excited people waiting to introduce you to their outdoor community.
4. Don't fall into the misconception of Adventure Sports! Adventure Sports are for EVERYBODY. All you gotta do is have the desire to participate.
Adventure sports breed a community of fantastic friends! Photo Credit: Veronica Ruvalcaba
I hope this can aid you in seeking your adventure, I promise it will be well worth the trouble. I'll be waiting here in Quincy stoked and ready to enjoy some outdoor fun with all you new adventure sport enthusiasts! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go play outside in a river.
*Special thanks to Rick Stock, Saylor Flett, Colby Elliot, Pat O'Connel, and many others for spurring forth my own passion for whitewater and adventure!
Written by Jonathan Simenc
Most of the Adventure Based crew on our final day at camp
I've been trying very hard to think of a phrase that could really sum up the Adventure Based winter camping trip. I've tried everything from "Waking and walking in a winter wonderland" or "Snow angels and sleds" to "Wish we were warm" and even "Sleeping in a snow cave makes you slimy". None of these worked for me, and they were all much too alliterative. I now believe I have found the truly perfect phrase to fit the entirety of our winter camping trip. Ready for it? "Butter Looks Tasty." Now, before you judge my choice allow me to explain the basis for this phrase (and also recall that I have creative license here and there is nothing you can do about it).
You are probably thinking, who doesn't like butter? It makes so many things taste great! Let me stop you right there. I am aware that things credited to have buttery goodness often are quite delicious, but this is not what I mean when I say snow camping can be summed up with the phrase "Butter Looks Tasty". Let me paint you a mental picture.
Imagine you are well fed. In this hypothetical day you have already eaten a full three meals and are now cleansing your palette with a post-dinner snack. From your seat on a luxurious foam pad placed on the outer rim of a ditch dug into the snow you notice a rectangular shaped food item wrapped in a brilliant cloak of gold and red paper. This thing suddenly commands every bit of your attention. Seemingly of their own accord your fingers begin to undress this marvelous treat. Your mouth begins to water as your salivary glands have lost all control in anticipation of the bliss that is to come. You hear nothing but the ripping of paper, you feel nothing but the desire (stop freaking out, this is about butter, remember?) to devour every last bit of yellow goodness beneath the paper outer garment. This will not be a nibbling affair, oh no, this will be all chomping and gulping. Nothing else matters, save for this moment...
If it was unclear to you, what was just described was the intense desire to eat an entire stick of butter. This is something that will undoubtedly happen to you should you choose to spend many hours camping in the snow, and I shall tell you why. Snow camping you see, is an awful lot of work. This became rather apparent to our Adventure Based class at Feather River College as soon as we ventured away from the dual wheeled van and into the backcountry of Lassen National Forest.
Though all this work was necessary to be relatively comfortable on this trip, the payoff was amazing. Every tour we took through the backcountry was fantastically beautiful. Very few things can compare to the scenic value of a mossy conifer forest blanketed with pillowy sheets of snow, and our class was lucky enough to spend over half a week in this environment. We received a full variety of gorgeous weather on our trip. Rain, hail, and snow greeted us when we arrived at camp, however when we left our little clearing there was nothing overhead save the sun in a cloudless sky. The class took in incredible panoramic views of snow covered peaks above the greenest of trees, saw rolling grey clouds reflect the topography of the Lassen caldera, kicked our way through fog and ice to Brokeoff Peak, and a lucky few were witness to the rarest of occurrences as Saylor Flett, our class instructor and renowned champion of the longboard skis, gloriously ate snow in what I'm told was a skiing wipeout of epic proportions.
Our stellar instructors Rick Stock (left) and Saylor Flett (right)
Now for the big question: what does all this have to do with "Butter Looks Tasty?" Prepare yourself for the big answer. The above anecdotal description serves to accurately depict the large amount of work and play which is required to successfully and happily camp in the snow for several days and several nights. All of this energy spent in the snow makes a person quite peckish. This hunger extends far past wishing for a nice meal. The peckishness (which IS a real word...creative license, remember?) one develops grants them two things. One: a caveman-like desire for the bare essentials their body needs to continue to function. Two: What is commonly referred to as an iron stomach, or if you prefer, MBS (Mighty Bowels Syndrome). Add these two together and what do you get? An overwhelming desire to consume a stick of butter. The fat helps to keep you warm, the salty-sweet taste is more delicious than anything else you've got with you, and you're in the middle of the backcountry surrounded only by people with the same cravings as you, therefore nobody will judge you. Therefore, "Butter Looks Tasty" is the only phrase which can correctly capture all the feelings of exhaustion, contentedness, longing, and wonder that are created through the experience of camping in the snow. I now refer you back to paragraph three, in which was described the feeling of wanting the blessing of a butter stick more than anything else. That my friends, is what snow camping is all about.
Written by Jonathan Simenc
Photos by Izak Lederman
Because photos are fun. Credit to Izak Lederman and Lauren Tango
The winter camping trip has been completed, marking the end of the snow season in the Outdoor Rec Adventure Based class at Feather River College. Now, since we are officially between Adventure Based seasons (snow and river) I feel it is a fine time for a fully out of season post (also I need more time to figure out how to write about the snow camping trip). Here comes a piece about rock climbing!
Rock climbing is a sport which has a plethora of its own unique terms. Non-climbers find it difficult to understand what all these words (which are seemingly absent from the English dictionary) mean. Even climbers often have trouble keeping track of all the language and lingo used in their favorite outdoor sport. To mitigate every person's confusion I have compiled a list of some of the words and phrases a climber may use along with their definitions. I hope you can all find this to be helpful.
The author climbing a rock. Truly, a real life rock. Photo Credit: Jason Weinrich
Glossary of Climbing Terms
Alpine Butterfly - A mythical insect which leads climbers on the safest path to the top of the mountain.
Arete - "A rat" pronounced with a Russian accent.
ATC - A magic device which grants the holder the strength of many men, allowing for Ape Type Control.
Belay - An unpopular form of dance derived from ballet, the cause of many craning neck injuries.
Beta - New Zealanders use this term for when someone is performing at a greater lever than they were previously. "They are doing beta than last time."
Black Diamond - The ship commandeered by Captain Jack Sparrow after the Black Pearl was destroyed.
Bomber - An affectionate term used for the seagulls which circle popular ocean crags.
Bowline - The act of using a bow and arrow to place a rope at the top of a climb for safety (a very old technique, not highly recommended).
Camelot - The legendary home of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Everyone knows that.
Crimp - A way to make the edges of a pie look crisp and neat.
"Climb on!" - Rock. Rock is usually what you should climb on.
Clove Hitch - An ancient marriage rite involving garlic.
Daisy Chain - Bling worn by hippy climbers or simply the florally inclined.
Dyno - A common tribute climbers make to the Flinstones family pet.
Flake - Yet another sought after attribute for a delicious pie (see ‘Crimp’).
Gaston - The villain in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, attributed as lead vocalist in the manliest song ever sung in a musical.
Gri-Gri - A word which truly makes you question whether the letter R should ever follow the letter G.
Harness - A less well known lake near Loch Ness containing an even more elusive monster.
Heel Hook - A synonym for 'spurs'.
Hex - A dangerous type of spell used in various forms of witchcraft.
Jug - My favorite instrument, by far.
Knee Bar - A popular New York pub for knee height dwarves.
Live Rope - A snake.
Mantle - That wooden thing above your fireplace.
Nut - A delicious snack which provides the body with necessary fats and proteins.
Offwidth - When a crack you wish to climb is not the perfect size, rendering it useless and unclimbable.
Pitch - Boiling hot tar poured over castle walls to scald intruders on ladders. Very useful in climbing.
Multi-Pitch - When attackers are persistent and 'Pitch' must be used more than once as the pitcher climbs higher.
Piton - A powerful goddess of the sea (male form: Triton)
Prana - A popular climbing brand. You thought it was an Amazonian fish? What a ridiculous notion.
To Be Pumped - When a device (pump) is used to provide oxygen to a climber at high
Quickdraw - A term used for the way a cowboy must react if finding himself involved in a duel.
Sling - Your arm goes in this after you fail to use it properly to set an anchor and fall to the ground.
Soloing - Spontaneously bursting into song on a mountaintop.
Toprope - *See 'Bowline'
Tufa - Ugly cousin to the tuba. To play a tufa you pinch it between thumb and all other fingers while screaming at the top of your lungs.
Whipper - A mean and brutal climbing instructor.
Zazzerbranz - Not a real word, but the real end of this term list.
Two climbing photos of me that I think are really awesome cool. Photo Credit: John Holt and Joe Simenc
Written by Jonathan Simenc
The skiing crew on a resort day. Photo Credit: Sierra Speer
It is February 25th, and tomorrow our Outdoor Rec Adventure Based class at Feather River College will begin our four day winter camping trip. This trip is the culmination of everything the class has learned thus far in the Spring 2016 semester, and it marks the end of our class official skiing season. The snow will not be leaving the mountains, but the Adventure based class will be shifting its focus from snow sports to whitewater sports.
Since we have reached this important milestone in our class I figured it would be a good time to do a quick recap of what Adventure Based has been through thus far.
The semester began with introductions to cross country skiing. We learned basic techniques for moving uphill and also a few for going down. Every time the class went out on a trail for a cross country ski day we staggered up the hill in a ridiculous gaggle looking like a group of drunken geese that couldn't figure out their V formation. Everyone would occasionally fall on their face, have no idea why, and then get up after refusing help and try to race around the 'established' line to regain their place. It was a total mess. Eventually we did begin to get the hang of sliding around on cross country skis, and as soon as we were nearly comfortable our skis were taken away and replaced by big, fat, scary ones.
The first time I wore telemark skis they felt massive and unwieldy. They were difficult to push uphill (using skins attached to the underside of the skis) and terrifying to come down on. On our first day with tele skis in the backcountry at least half of the class obtained knee trauma. Fall, knee bend, pop, ouch, get up, keep skiing (falling). Regardless of this, when the first telemark day was over everyone was excited about the new faster skis. Next we went to a ski resort and practiced the difficult telemark skiing style under instructor supervision. At the resort we began to understand how turns on skis really feel when linked together correctly. We also became aware that skiing wipeouts can get really gnarly. After our time at the resort we spent nearly every class day skiing in the backcountry around Plumas County and had two more beautiful ski days at resorts in Tahoe.
Throughout this semester we have learned many snow skills including how to build snow caves, how to obtain information regarding avalanche terrain, avalanche rescue techniques, winter camping techniques, and of course, skiing techniques. My fellow student Sierra Speer created a wonderfully edited video documenting our class's struggle in learning how to ski as well as how amazing skiing can flow once it's done correctly. Look for the author to be stuck in a tree for the majority of the video.
Written by Jonathan Simenc
Video Credit: Sierra Speer
*Here's the Youtube link if Weebly doesn't let the video work:
Have you ever heard someone say that they couldn't live in a small town because there 'isn't enough fun things to do'? I often find this to be a humorous statement. I am fairly certain I could list off countless more 'fun things' to do in a small town than a large city, but I am rather biased. I live in a small town that is in the perfect location to allow maximum daily fun in a mountainous outdoor setting. Four adventure buddies and I proved this fact when we participated in four separate outdoor sports in the same day.
Our four sport day was a kind of tribute to the beauty of Plumas County. There are few other places I know of, where a similar feat could be accomplished with the same short amount of driving time. We are quite fortunate to have access to these wonderful activities offered by the town of Quincy, and its close proximity to the surrounding area of the Plumas National Forest. Biased or not, I'll leave it to this small town to discredit any large city from having more 'fun things' to do.
*The five adventure buddies are:
Chase Cowen, Izak Lederman, Alec Leonardini, Jonathan Simenc, and Lauren Tango
Written by Jonathan Simenc
All photo credit to Izak Lederman
"Got enough American cheese on your ankles there?" My friend and gear room co-worker Chase pointed at my feet and we shared a laugh. He was right, every piece of the ridiculous tape job I had done on my ankle joints looked exactly like the ready packed cheese squares a lazy sandwich maker may purchase at the supermarket. Ugh. The next day and a half was going to hurt. The time had come for the Adventure Based class at Feather River College to venture out into the snow for a day and a night. This event is called the Winter Shakedown, and the entire class was stoked. The Winter Shakedown's purpose: to discover what adjustments must be made to our packing choices and practice the skills necessary for a longer snow camping trip which will take place later in the semester. Though I recognized this objective, the only thing I could imagine was spending a day and a night in the ankle crushing agony of the torture device known as the 'telemark ski boot'. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but my poor bony ankles really felt like these boots had it in for them. Luckily, this awful feud between my ankles and the blue boots of death was soon to be removed from the forefront of my mind as an even greater adversary was about to present itself to me, and every other member of the class.
We arrived at the Buck's Summit parking lot around noon. The class piled out of the dual wheeled van and prepared to venture off toward an unknown backcountry camp site. Sunscreen was applied and sleds were rigged with camping gear in a fairly orderly fashion. I know it was fairly orderly because there were no comments regarding our preparation speed heard from our instructor, Rick Stock. Once all our gear was properly arranged in sleds and our backpacks were strapped tightly to our bodies we skied off in pairs along the Buck's Creek trail loop. My ankles were crying a bit but they were not weeping as before, when I had been required to walk across the hard asphalt of the parking lot to the snow. For some reason they felt slightly better with skis strapped underneath them. Take that, you villainous boots.
Student Lauren Huseby and the hut building clearing. Photo Credit: Sierra Speer
Rick eventually ushered us off the hard packed snow (ice...it was ice) of the trail and into a large clearing. Before we had left the college Rick had informed us that there would not be snow enough for the class to make snow caves to sleep in. Snow caves require a snow bank wide and deep enough to hollow out into a shelter capable of fitting several people, and there had been no new snowfall for a week or two. Instead of snow caves we were to attempt to build Quinzhee huts (pronounced kwin-zee) in pre-established groups of two. The only obvious difference between a Quinzhee hut and a snow cave is the outer shell. A snow cave is dug out of a ready-made snow bank, while Quinzhee huts require that the snow 'bank' be built before any tunneling may ensue. Luckily the snow in the clearing was sticky and soft, easy to shovel into a large pile. After a quick glance around the clearing myself and my hut building partner Jack chose where we wanted to build our Quinzhee. The majority of the clearing was bathed in early afternoon light. The growing shadows of the trees surrounding the clearing told that our spot would be in the sun the longest, which would provide us with warmth for a longer period of time. It was about one o' clock PM. The time had come to start digging. Jack and I pulled out our extendable-but-still-far-too-short-for-digging-standing-up shovels and took our first few jabs at the snow. 'Crunch'. 'Crunch'. 'Crunch'. Only about a kajillion more shovelfuls to go.
As I delved deeper into my poor excuse for a tunnel and began to shape the dome-like ceiling of the hut I felt more and more like an architect. I kept hitting my face on the walls, though. I wondered if architects did that much when they were building and designing stuff. I piled snow on the sled and sent it out of the tunnel for Jack to dispose of (we had a system: I would excavate our sleeping space while Jack pulled away the snow over this awesome snow stair system he had made) and told him, "I feel like an architect in here bro!" I got no response. He couldn't hear me on the outside of the partially excavated snow hill. Scary. I popped my head out of the tunnel and said again, "Man I feel like an architect!". He responded with, "You look like one, you know, with those sunglasses on." Ah. That's why I kept hitting my face on the walls. I sheepishly took the sunglasses off, noted that I could now see, and headed back to continue being a mole.
The next two hours went by pretty quickly. Rick again came by to tell us that we were all meeting at four O' clock and probably wouldn't be sleeping in a hut tonight. No, I thought, we were going to finish. After deciding this I worked furiously with my perfectly-sized-for-digging-laying-down-or-sitting-small-collapsable-shovel as I tapped into my inner mole...or maybe inner worm. At one point a quote from the movie 'Holes' entered my mind: "Moles don't eat dirt, worms eat dirt." Would eating the snow in between sled loads help speed the process? Digging in a cave for two and a half hours can get you to think some pretty weird things. At one point Lauren Tango (a fellow student in the process of building a perfectly shaped Quinzhee hut on the other side of the clearing) came by and shouted to me, "It's pretty intense in there huh?" I yelled back on impulse "Freaking terrifying!" I didn't think about that comment until later, but yeah, it was a little scary in there.
Jack takes a tour of our Quinzhee hut. Video Credit: Jack Lacey
As the final call went out for the class meeting I put a few finishing touches on the cave: A shoddily dug trench down the middle of the cave for ease in putting on our boots in the morning, a quick scrape of the walls and ceiling to round out their shape so as to keep drops of melting snow away from our sleeping area, and a poor attempt at leveling out the two platforms where Jack and I would be sleeping. I arrived at the class meeting late, but happy and full of pride that Jack and I had nearly finished our hut. We had succeeded! It was then that I realized I was soaking wet, and absolutely freezing. My hands were in a ton of pain as they were chilled to the bone from my sopping gloves, and I was sure my nose was beet red. The sun was almost gone. That day, though full of stoke-worthy success, had been a strange whirlwind of discomfort from feeling strangely hot to being freezing cold and nothing in between save some ankle pain. Ankle pain? In all the excitement and exhaustion of digging a hole in the snow I had somehow forgotten. HA! Take that, boots from hell.
Some hours later snuggled in my sleeping bag in the relative comfort of the Quinzhee hut I started awake. I recognized I was in the hut I had dug. I felt so proud. Then I felt...ugh. I had to pee. I swung my legs out of my sleeping bag into the trench next to me only to see...them. There they were, blue as ever, tongues akimbo as they smiled wickedly at me. The Quinzhee hut had been vanquished, but the two scourges of ankles everywhere remained, and they had found me in my weakest hour: trapped in a Quinzhee hut needing to urinate with no other form of footwear. Good move ankle crushing boots of death...good move.
Written by Jonathan Simenc
By the end of last semester, my professor Rick Stock had convinced me to do something that quite frankly seemed insane at the time: to enroll in a semester long outdoor recreation program. With only a veracious love for nature and dreams of adventure, I decided to cancel all other classes in order to focus solely on the program.
On Tuesday, January 15, our first day out, I was worried about what I had gotten myself into. I had countless bruises to both my body and my pride from hard falls; I was convinced that I would never be able to keep up with the much fitter 10+ guys in the class; I was frustrated by my slow pace and lack of fitness; I had a headache caused by a combination of exhaustion and dehydration; and thus my spirit was almost broken…
Before I could hobble away from the van after that first day (to lick my wounds, cry, and consider quitting), I was invited to join the gang for a post-first-day-out celebratory dinner. And because I was ravenous, I consented and agreed to meet them at the local hot spot Pangaea.
And as I sat around that long wooden table, with people who both intimidated and fascinated me, my whole prospective began to shift. My body was just as spent as an hour prior; however my resolve began to strengthen. The people around me were just as amazing as before, their experience and skill level still vastly surpassing mine, but I could now see myself among them.
I could become the strong and adventurous Denali I had always wished to be. I just had to take control of this experience, rather than letting it control me. I made a decision then and there to become the Denali I wanted to be.
Since that night I have been better able to overcome the challenges and embrace the joys that are a part of my transformative journey. Though, there have still been times that I have felt defeated, scared and completely overwhelmed. The first day raft guiding for instance:
I was intimidated by it all, the quick thinking under pressure, the pushy water, the dangers of the river itself, and most of all the responsibly of the guide. To have other people’s lives dependent on your knowledge skills and leadership? I t was all too much. Again, I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into? I simply couldn’t do. This wasn’t me. I wasn’t skilled enough/strong enough/tough enough...But then I remembered why I was doing this; who I wanted to be.
I decided to try it again the next day. I had a wonderful teacher and began to better understand the natural flow of the river and predict its course. Each day I was better than the next. And so, by the end of the week, my professor Rick awarded me most improved raft guide!
Ever since then I have taken every guiding opportunity I could find. I love the feel of pushy water, the rush I feel when I guide a perfect line or make a particularly tight turn, the mutual accomplishment and adrenaline shared by the entire crew… To say that I am addicted would be a bit of an understatement.
And that addiction has led me to opportunities I could never have dreamed about a few months, even a few weeks ago. Through a great recommendation my professor Saylor Flett, I landed a job this summer working on the Klamath as a guide for Adventure Whitewater www.awwrafting.com. Imagine that; I’m going to get paid to do something I love!
The journey of this year has opened my eyes to the endless opportunities that the outdoor world has to offer.And what’s more is that I now know that I have the strength and confidence to experience that world to it’s fullest. The love and encouragement I have felt all along this semester-long journey has brought me to the person I am today. I was welcomed with open arms and open hearts.
There is one day on the river that stood out above all others. I felt like the entire semester’s worth of experience came together in one harmonious moment, and I felt central to it all: joshing with my brothers and leading my crew.
I feel ready to embrace the world’s wide open spaces. Though I may not have all the skills needed to do so YET but I can and will one day.