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Nine Things I Learned in the North Cascades

9 Things I Learned in the North Cascades

I recently spent three weeks in the Northern Cascade Mountain range with eight other kids from across the country. We spent our days hiking and rock climbing, carrying everything we’d need on our backs, and sleeping under tarps at night. Here’s what I took away from this amazing, life-changing experience:

1.      If you can’t name it, don’t wipe with it. When you have to carry everything you’re going to need for three weeks, toilet paper doesn’t always make it on the list. So, you have to get used to using leaves and as you can imagine, you want to make sure you’re not using poison ivy.

 

2.      After a while, your waterproof rain gear isn’t so waterproof anymore. For 20 out of our 21 days in the Northwest, we experienced no rain, which is weird for such a notoriously rainy climate. But on the last day it started to pour and we had had one more mountain to hike up and over to get back to base camp. Everyone had to whip out the rain jackets and rain pants (which look as cool as they sound.) But three hours into the hike, all of our rain gear started to soak through and our instructors confirmed that in such extreme conditions, it’s hard to be completely immune to the elements.

 

3.      There are three types of fun. That’s what our instructors told us on the first day of the expedition. They explained that the first type of fun is like riding a roller-coaster—it’s awesome while you're doing it, and afterwards, you’d probably want to do it again. Type two is like hiking a mountain: it might be painful and strenuous in the moment, but the feeling after the fact is incomparable, and you’d maybe give it another try sometime. Lastly, there’s the third type of fun… which is like breaking your leg. You probably wouldn’t try it again; probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.

 

4. Get used to being homesick. When you’re spending three weeks in the middle of the forest, hiking 12 hour days, and your family is thousands of miles away, you start to miss home. But the right people can fill those holes. Ever since my expedition, when I think of family, I think of 8 new faces. Those three weeks were the hardest of my life, both mentally and physically.And to be honest, I don’t think I would have made it without the incredible support system that was my team. You have to have each other’s backs.
 

5. There’s nothing like fresh mountain air. One of the first things I noticed when I came home was the smell of a city. Department stores smelled almost toxic to me and I could only sleep at night with the window wide open. I realized that it’s easy to take this planet for granted sometimes.
 

6. Don’t carry more than you need. This idea followed me home after my expedition. I realized how many things I owned and kept in my room that I didn’t necessarily need. It became obvious to me that I should have never worried about not having that cool new sweater, or a trendy bracelet. Those things just aren’t as important as they once seemed.

 

7. Some things are always going to be out of your control. The biggest stressor for me in the wilderness was weather -- the only element that was entirely beyond my control. The thought of a thunderstorm or hail storm terrified me, thinking about a heat wave hitting us as we ascended a peak made my hands clammy. But I realized eventually that my worrying can’t stop the wind and all I could do was be prepared to weather the storm—literally!
 

8. Complaining won’t help anyone. I, along with the other 8 kids in my expedition were carrying the same weight, covering the same amount of miles and gaining the same elevation. We were all sore and tired and maybe had a blister or two, but none of us complained. Because instead of asking for pity, we gave each other support through our shared experience. We were all going through this together.

9. Lastly, it’s so important to get outside. Not everyone has the luxury of living close to the mountains, but if you do, go explore! If you live in a city, go find a park and soak up the sun. It’s so vital to immerse yourself in the outdoors, and take in nature, even if it’s just once a year.

 

 

Photos: Katya Lien

 

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