Stories from the Field

A Year of Firsts

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Armstrong Scholars 2022 cohort with resupply angels

This was a year full of firsts. 

It was the first year that a substitute leader had to be called into the field. It was the first year that after six months of planning and preparation with each other—the Armstrong Scholars co-leaders had to say farewell mid-trip. 

It was not the first time that scholars stepped up to an unexpected challenge and it would not be the last time they worked together to overcome long, emotional days.

Armstrong Scholars 2022 cohort on a vista

It was the first time they waved goodbye to a leader—10 days too soon—and wished her well on a road to recovery.

The Armstrong Scholars 2022 were a resilient bunch. They faced smoke, illness, countless COVID tests, a double pass day, a few rainstorms and oodles and oodles of tortillas. True challenges of not only their physical fortitude but their emotional maturity and mental toughness. These trials, which could have broken them down instead served to mold them into a strong community built on giggles, stories, vulnerability, nights under the stars and days under tarps. 

Our lucky group got the joy of getting to know three mighty female educators Molly, Kaitee and Amanda throughout their 14 day experience; and we had the joy of getting to know 12 bright and engaging young people.

Willow, mature and discerning
Amy, pensive and luminous
Maggie, reflective and authentic
Sage, unyielding and perceptive
Leslie, inquisitive and observant
Nicole, wise and resilient
Mia, eloquent and mighty
Sienna, sentimental and supportive
Dara, brave and a ray of sunshine 
Fiona, lively and strong
Lilly, passionate and kindly
Sam, swift and sure

Armstrong Scholars 2022 cohort walking down a mountain trail

We started our journey at May Lake, plodding slowly through the wildflowers, the boulder fields, taking in the views—Tenaya, Cathedral, the Clark range and a sea of granite as far as the eye could see. We spent our first night at Raisin Lake and proceeded for the next few days to head deeper into the backcountry; a quick stop at Glen Aulin and then a journey up Cold Canyon to the raging Return Creek. As we headed out that morning, the smoke from the Oak Fire settled onto our path. This hurdle was followed by another when co-leader Kaitee tested positive for COVID and the trip was rerouted up a grueling trail to Summit Lake for a devastating evacuation. At Summit Lake our group met Molly, said hello once more to Kim and waved goodbye to one fearless leader. We headed out to spend the next few days exploring the Virginia Lakes basin and began to reset and realign after the challenges of the previous days. Scholars learned to do bear can laundry (a backcountry luxury), saw a black bear and weathered our first storm together! After our time in the Virginia Lakes basin we hiked with light packs to our resupply at Summit Lake, a lovely spot for our Resupply Angels to land.

Armstrong Scholars 2022 cohort with resupply angels

Fresh produce and massive sandwiches filled our bellies while we shared our reasons for embarking on this trip and our admiration for Joie and the scholars that came before us. We welcomed some cloudy days and sprinkles as we made our way to Matterhorn Canyon—widely agreed on as the most beautiful spot on our jaunt. It was a tough hike through the canyon, we enjoyed solo time, learning about powerful women and a few creek dips before finding camp nestled at the head of the canyon.

Armstrong Scholars 2022 cohort sitting in a circle in a valley

We faced our toughest challenge the next day heading over two passes to find a campsite at a beautiful lake before landing at our last site—Peeler Lake. We spent two lovely days at the lake enjoying beautiful views, expansive meadows, one heavy thunderstorm, a fancy dinner and a morning of rainy solo time. We lit the daisy candle for the last time that evening and welcomed not only Joie but all of our departed friends and family, gave thanks for each other’s company, watched the sun depart and reflected on the weeks of learning and growing with each other. In the words of one scholar, “Pink cotton candy clouds, golden mountains and a glimmering lake fill the canvas. We will forever share this beautiful moment together, along with Joie, and our loved ones who have passed.”

Armstrong Scholars 2022 cohort with trail leader and a lake in the distance

In the month since our trip has ended, we’ve had time to reflect and to reframe those parts of our lives that were so touched by our journey. As we continue to process and enjoy the glow of the end of the Armstrong Scholars trip, we are so grateful for the support of the Armstrong and NatureBridge communities that were able to make this trip happen.

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