Hockadaisies Reach New Heights


Partnering with the High Mountain Institute, eight Hockaday students spent seven days living out of their backpacks in Leadville, Colorado.

Many Hockaday students in the past have attended a semester at the High Mountain Institute; however, for the first time, this summer eight Hockaday students, myself included, and two members of faculty embarked on an expedition alongside HMI.

According to the staff at HMI, this place is “where nature and minds meet,“ but according to me it is the coolest place on earth. The campus is filled with all kinds of wild flowers, swing sets and kind people. All around the campus there are areas where you can read or journal as well as walking trails, soccer fields and outdoor classrooms. Not to mention, the entire campus is set up to take advantage of the breathtaking views of Mount Elbert, which has the tallest peak in the states, as well as Mount Massivethe mountain with the biggest surface area of any in North America.  

From the moment we stepped off the bus we began to pick up on the overwhelming selfless attitude of HMI. Everywhere I looked I saw individuals helping one another without expecting neither a verbal nor material reward.

One of our leaders, Liz Andrews, even carried a watermelon for two days in her backpack to surprise us with it on the top of Homestake Peak.

However, before we even commenced our expedition we spent three whole days on campus, delving into personality tests and focusing on self awareness. We also studied our expedition inside out, learning to pitch a tarp, read a 50-year-old military map with hundreds of contour lines, how to ration food, set up a canister stove and how to efficiently pack our backpacks every morning.

Each of these days was exciting and stress-free. One night we planned a surprise ice cream party to celebrate Physical Education Teacher Melinda Nuñez’s birthday.

After finally arriving in the backcountry our leader Julia Stifler surprised sophomore Sarah Hodgson with an early birthday party, baking and decorating a gluten-free cake as well as bringing sparklers for everyone in the group.

Another night Andrews disguised herself as her imaginary cousin Luigi, teaching the art of backcountry pizza-making for two hours and holding her character and accent the entire time.

As well as our HMI leaders, Nuñez and Director of Finance Whitney Johnson were a huge contribution to our group bonding; it was clear they were truly members of our group who went out of their way to improve every moment of our trip.

Although I would go back and do it all again today, not every moment was as glamorous as sleeping in the woods may seem.

For example, most of the time we were not moving we had to wear rain jackets to protect from the hundreds of mosquitoes and biting flies. Hiking up Mount Galena took us 10 hours because for 80 percent of it we were balancing on boulders.

One night I walked a mile for drinking water and made mac and cheese in freezing rain without dry socks, shoes or any clothes for that matter.

Thankfully later in the evening we were blessed with the most beautiful and vibrant rainbow any of us had ever seen.

Arguably the hardest part was having to lead my friends. Each hiking day we had two volunteers to read the map, determine break times and keep the entire group happy and productive. These people were called LODs, short for leaders of the day. This task required me to step outside of my comfort zone, take everyone’s emotional and physical states into account and find my personal leadership style.

Although I learned tremendous things about reading maps, in the backcountry of Colorado it is not hard to get turned around and lost for hours. It happened quite a bit to be honest. One day when I was a LOD, I could not find our campsite for an hour and a half. During that time we hiked another two miles and crossed a rushing rapid with our 40-pound backpacks. And even after finding the campsite it could take up to an hour for my tarp group to decide where to put it because there were few spots that were not infested with mosquitoes, atop a dense field of wildflowers or dwindling on the side of a mountain.

To close our last night in the woods, we came as a group to the realization that the trip was not about the hiking or the scenery, for every moment of struggle was worth it for the friendships I made on our expedition; for every time I shivered for hours at night, having to do sit-ups in my sleeping bag, it was worth it for everything I learned about myself as a leader; for every hour I led my hiking group astray, it was worth it to establish my hopefully life-long love of the outdoors.

This might have been the toughest week of my life, but if it does not sound like the best week of yours then tough luck!

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– Emily Fuller – Video Editor –