"Have you ever…" Part II

Last week, half of the members of our latest cohort of graduate students posted “have you ever…” questions, sharing the triumphs and tribulations of our nine-day backpacking trip and challenging you to create your own “have you ever” story. This week, the rest of the students tell their stories.
Ashley Kvitek

Have you ever hiked to the highest point you’ve been in your life, seen the sun rise over the mountains surrounding you, and felt on top of the world?  At the tail end of our 9-day backpack through our new home, we stayed at Juanita Lake.  During our night there we watched the full moon rise, got up at midnight to try getting a view of the meteor shower, and then went on a sunrise hike up Boulder Butte, sitting at 7372 feet above sea level.  It was a short hike full of blister pain and pre-caffeine attitude problems, but at the top there was a 360° view of the white-topped mountains of the North Cascades.  As I watched the sun come up and wash over my new home, I had a moment of clarity that told me, “I am here, and I am ready.”  It was a magical sight and a special moment for me- this is my time, and I am finally in it!

Boulder Butte

Sarah Bernstein
Have you ever been so worried that you would run out of food on a backpacking trip that you decide to pack some fancy shmancy meals only to realize on the second night of your trip that you just want macaroni and cheese? Have you ever made mashed potatoes on day two that are SO bad you would rather pack out the extra weight than eat those mashed potatoes? A few things I learned about eating on a backpacking trip: One, salami and cheese gets old, greasy and mushy fast. Two, peanut butter for lunch and macaroni and cheese for dinner is simple and relatively light weight, plus it tastes pretty great after carrying 50 pounds on your back for five to ten miles a day. And finally, you will
be hungry, but not THAT hungry, and in the end the chances of starving in the backcountry when traveling with nine other friends is pretty small.

Sarah Bernstein and Susan Brown cook a meal at camp.
Jess Newley demonstrates the yumminess of mac ‘n’ cheese.

Jess Newley

Have you ever taken in a wilderness experience with all 5 senses?
…smelled the vanilla bark of a Ponderosa Pine?
…listened to the creaking of a 5 year old burn site in the wind?
….watched a magical sunrise over a 360 degree range of mountains?
…. tasted the goodness of mac n’ cheese after carrying it 60 miles?
… felt the chill of glacier water on your head, falling from 50 feet above?

Jess Newley takes a dip in Rainbow Falls

Have you ever felt so connected with a group of smelly individuals?
…. laughed so hard you thought you may dirty a precious pair of clean undies?
… watched a group come together in tough times and carry extra weight from an injured team member?
… shared your deepest secrets in the secret game, when it wasn’t really a secret game at all?
… felt so much support around you, you could face your biggest fear?
… laughed, cried, shouted with joy, screamed in terror, all in one day?

Team Sailing Rock comes together

Have you ever witnessed wildflower season at its peak?
… noticed the stunning contrast of fire weed in the middle of a burn?
… been so overwhelmed by beauty, you took 1,300 pictures in 9 days?
… seen your professor get so excited about a Naked Broom Rape?
… tried to remember the names of so many flowers, your head hurt?

Wildflowers at sunrise near Boulder Butte

Have you ever felt so sad to put your 50 lb. backpack away?!
…had so much fun you never thought was possible?
… learned so much without a textbook?
…experienced your home in a whole new way, on a whole new level?
…felt so free and carefree you never wanted to return?

Elation at snowline

Susan Brown
Have you ever envisioned seeing your first mountain goat for an entire backpacking trip, and on the last day, finally seen six all at once? Mountain goats have always intrigued me, and I always keep a special eye out for them whenever I am in their territory. I have spent hours staring at mountain peaks through binoculars, only to be disappointed again and again by mountain goat-shaped boulders and snow packs. Until finally, on the very last leg of our trip, a sighting! Six goats, as white as the snow, were gracefully traveling up to the ridge of Cascade Pass. They looked like… mountain goats (imagine that!), yet this was still one of the most wild and exciting experiences of the trip!

Susan Brown and Christen Kiser look at mountain goats from a distance.

Jacob Belsher
Have you ever realized how lucky you are?  Have you ever been disappointed by a road?  Have you ever felt the animal sleeping inside you start to wake up?

Erin Soper
Have you ever laced up your boots, donned your pack and set off for nine days that would leave you changed in ways unforeseen?  Yes, our expedition through the heart of the North Cascades was physically challenging: beyond the switchbacks, stream crossings and changes in elevation, on two occasions the nightly temperatures dipped so low I found myself shivering uncontrollably.  Clouds of mosquitos followed us, burned remains from the first night’s dinner provided a unique taste to every meal, and extreme tiredness led to uncontrollable laughter.  Through it all, the rewards were bountiful.  I was awed by the stark beauty and incredible wild flowers seen while hiking through old burns.  Crossing snowfields provided respite from the hot sun.  Above all, the classmates I began this trip with became friends.  When injuries cut my trip short, my biggest regret was not being able to complete the trip and share the experience with my friends.  Thankfully, our year in the North Cascades has just begun and many more adventures await.

Erin and friends on the trail.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Newley, Sarah Bernstein, Ashley Kvitek and Erin Soper.



  1. Saul Weisberg

    And imagine, it’s just beginning….


    What a trip! You are all the best and Earl favored you, as the great pics show! Here’s to much more such poking around!

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