To kick off an amazing summer filled with trips aimed at helping students make new friends and get acquainted with college life through the outdoors, the Wildcat Wilderness Orientation staff piled into a van and ventured into the Thousands Lakes Wilderness. The purpose of this trip was to fully prepare our staff to be the best leaders and teachers they can be. The adventure started right away! What should have been a 3-hour drive turned into 5 because of good old Google Maps. Interestingly, we met a man who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. He must have been making really good time because most hikers are only in the Tahoe area at this time of year. As we ventured on to find our trail head the views got more and more scenic so we knew we had to be getting closer. We could see the snow capped Mt. Lassen in the distance for most of the drive. When we finally found our way to the trailhead we were greeted with some thunder which was the perfect time to go over how to keep a group safe in a thunderstorm. When a thunderstorm is heard there is no need to panic. The most important thing to do in all situations in the backcountry is to stay calm. When you first hear the storm moving in your direction it is important to move into a safe area. If the storm is very close you should spread out your group and assume what is known as the lightning position. It is best to insulate yourself by getting on your sleeping pad and making sure you are wearing shoes. Then squat down into a ball, feet together and head tucked, and wait there in that position until the storm has passed.

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After reviewing a few more concepts, like map and compass use, we were off. The first 3 miles of the trail were kind of spooky. The trees had been badly burnt in the recent past and it resembled the forest in Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, but the hiking was easy so we made up for some of the time we lost on our long van ride by hiking fairly quickly. We passed by a few small lakes and it was evident that this area has been extremely affected by the drought. After we crushed the first 3 miles we started to gain elevation and our pace slowed down a little bit. We were actually quite fortunate for the clouds because it saved us from getting sunburned and overheated. We passed through a few marshy areas where the mosquitoes were horrible and we had to stop to apply bug spray. After that we were off hiking again, gaining more and more elevation and thankfully leaving the mosquitoes behind!

When we finally reached our campsite it was breathtaking! We came out of the wood and up to this lake that was surrounded on one side by dense forest and on the other side towering rock faces with patches of snow. The lake had grassy shores where we set up our kitchen and shelters. A few people soaked their feet in the cold river and treated water for the group while the rest of us started to prepare for dinner. While backpacking we do not skimp on eating delicious food. One cook group ate orzo pasta with zucchini, bell peppers, onions and prima rosa sauce and another group ate burritos. 

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We made a nice little fire for light and the whole group sat around to discuss a few more topics about WWO. This was a really good session for the new leaders to ask the leaders who had already been on WWO trips all the burning questions they had and share new ideas. After the sun went down the energy of the group followed and we decided to call it an early night. We discussed the plan for the next day and hit they hay. Throughout the night, we got sprinkled on but we all set up out shelters well so no one was wet.

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Once the sun rose people started stirring. As everyone woke up some cook groups started heating water for tea and coffee while others started treating water and others started preparing for breakfast. Just like dinner we had gourmet backcountry meals. One group had cheesy hash browns, one had bagels, cream cheese, and lox and the last had fancy oatmeal with granola. Once we had all our dishes cleaned and pack packed we headed out on the trail once again. 

To be continued…

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