Climbing the Distance at Pinnacles National Park

Guest blog by David Jaeger

David Jaeger, one of Civicorps’ 2019-2020 Jesuit Volunteers, recounts a three-day camping trip with ten Corpsmembers at Pinnacles National Park.

We’re now almost two months into the COVID shelter-in-place in California. Though I’ve been fortunate enough to get out of the house for a few short hikes during this time, I’ve been reminded of how grateful I am for some of the excellent outdoors trips that Civicorps makes possible.

In March, ten Corps Members from our academy, job training center, and recycling team were able to join us on a three day trip to the breathtaking Pinnacles National Park. Not only did we have the chance to see caves, miles of open valley and many feisty racoons- on Sunday, but we were also able to try our hand at rock climbing.

David Jaeger with Corps Members at Pinnacle National Park.
David Jaeger with Corps Members at Pinnacle National Park.

Civicorps Members after the climb at Pinnacles National Park.
Civicorps Members after the climb at Pinnacles National Park.
On Friday, March 8, we piled ourselves into two vehicles and traveled south for a two hour trip. As per usual on Lauren’s trips: we began with an opening circle, tried our best to let go of the things that were stressing us out in our busy everyday “lifeworld” of Oakland, and then donned our alter aliases.

Quickly, we noticed that there were some early hangups for a few of us on this trip—our CMs had a lot weighing on their minds and hearts—and we weren’t exactly sure what the weekend would bring. Nevertheless, we came into the trip with an openness to whatever it would bring.

“We came into the trip with an openness to whatever it would bring.”

Our first part of the trek consisted of a short hike to the caves. As we squeezed through tight spaces and climbed stairs in the dark, we finally emerged to a view that overlooked the open valley, a great way to start the trip. At camp, JV Caleb and I cooked several packets of beef and veggie burgers, and most of us enjoyed socializing together along the campfire this evening.

Corps members hiking seven miles of rain at Pinnacles.
Seven miles of rainy hiking at Pinnacles.
Saturday, I think, was the most difficult day for me (but also very rewarding!), and undoubtedly for several of our group members. After limbering up with some group stretches, we undertook a long and rainy seven mile hike on the trails. From the get-go, we had some doubts about whether we would have the energy to make the entire hike, and we weren’t sure what the weather would bring us in the open trails. Roughly put, we had some vibrant and encouraging personalities who helped to balance out the “doubters” in our group, and this helped us all to persevere through all the ups and downs of this day.
Another highlight of this afternoon was making friends with the park rangers! If you have the time and opportunity, this is a location that is definitely worth a visit.

As we settled down for the second evening, we were visited by lots of frisky raccoons who attempted to take a seat in our van and enter into our food boxes.

It’s my hope and trust that everyone in our group would agree that Sunday was a great day for us. This day was the flip to daylight savings, but we had no problem waking up before the light of dawn and sharing some quiet company by the fire.

Civicorps Members hike at Pinnacles National Park.
Going from the frisky raccoons to the climb.

By 8 a.m., we were packed out of our campsite and met our climbing guides at the entrance of the park. One of our guides brought her newborn baby along with her partner on the trip! They were adorable.

Corps members rock climbing at Pinnacles National Park.
Scaling the rock face at Pinnacles.

Corps Members with Park Rangers.

All of us, even the most reticent, tried at least once to make it to the top of the three-graded levels of rock wall that we faced. Those of us who doubted our abilities were quickly encouraged with verbal support (along with some good-natured joking, of course) from our fellow tripmates. At the end of the trip, our guides commented that they’d never had a group like us, and that we were one of the most enjoyable groups that they had ever taken out.

“Those of us who doubted our abilities were quickly encouraged with verbal support.”

With four or so hours at the rock face, we were all worn out, and we took a refreshing snack break before we said our last goodbyes to Pinnacles.

It’s difficult to put into words how much we all cherished this experience. By the end of the day, several new friendships had blossomed—many of the Corpsmembers were making plans to go to the movies together, and sharing stories and laughs as we drove back to Oakland. “When is the next trip?” was the constant refrain I heard among the attendees in the days after our return to school.

Corps Members after hiking and climbing at Pinnacles
Conquering new heights and ground.

Trips like these, I think, are some of the most beneficial life experiences that Civicorps provides to students. After all this “sheltering-in” passes, I have no doubt that the opportunity to go out again as a group into the trails will be all the more appreciated.

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Backpacking and Camping in Point Reyes

By David Jaeger

Jesuit Volunteer, David Jaeger, had the opportunity to co-lead an outdoor trip with 8 Corpsmembers to Point Reyes National Seashore.

I will quickly admit that I am not the best driver in the world. After receiving this warning, six Corpsmembers confirmed my self-evaluation shortly after hopping into a van headed northwest from our West Oakland academy site. After a few rough turns out of the parking lot and onto the highway, the driving went much more smoothly, and about an hour later, we arrived at the Bear Valley Welcome Center (all in one piece, as we’d hoped). When on the trail, there is a Civicorps tradition of using “wilderness names.” So, after we stopped for a sandwich break, we swapped our ordinary names for new monikers, did some stretching, and had a short team ritual to take us away from the mindsets we normally inhabit and towards an attunement to the trails. Now prepared, we set off on an hour’s hike towards our camping spot in the coastal valley for what would be a short but memorable backpacking trip.

Our group of 8 Corpsmembers and 5 staff, pitched tents at our campsite by the trail and quickly trotted down to the beach path just in time to see the sun setting and giving way to a beautiful near-full-moon. Osa* and Socks* even (bravely and enthusiastically) fully immersed themselves in the frigid ocean before we made the short trek back to our campsite. As things would have it, the fire would be a bit tricky for us this weekend- two of our three camping stoves weren’t working well at all. Nevertheless, we were still able to enjoy our pot of spaghetti and cooked vegetables. After we had some warm food in our stomachs, we headed back to the beach to try our hands at making a bonfire.

Our second attempt at a fire was stubborn and meek at first, but with enough kindling and about half an hour of effort, we had a fire worthy of s’more-making and were more than warm enough to become engrossed in several games of Mafia. After the game, we began the proverbial campfire ghost stories and we were quickly engrossed in Ya-you’s* tales of haunted hotel rooms and stealthy campsite visitors, followed by Bread’s* first venture into story-telling improvisation (regrettably cut short). After a few hours of our bonfire circle, the flames died down and in the quiet night we slept, for the most part peacefully, until dawn.

All of us spent the next windy morning on the beach, where we enjoyed the feeling of ocean waves on our flesh, let our feet dig into the sand, and explored or reclined while taking in the view of the coast and open sky. As we walked back and neared our vans, someone in our group astutely pointed to a clearing in the woods- and lo, there was a group of six elk grazing in the distance. We would have loved to have spent many more hours in Point Reyes, for there were many trails and sights that we did not have the chance to tread, but perhaps in the future, Corpsmembers and staff will take another trip to explore its beauty.

Before heading out, we ate our lunch at a trailhead and as a group, we transitioned back into our everyday names and roles. In our closing circle, we noted that almost all of us appreciated the opportunity to get away from the hustle of the city, to learn more about each other’s histories, to reflect, and attune ourselves to life on the trail, if only for a day. So, don’t let our appearances fool you. Everyone on this trip, whether it was their first time camping or the 300th time, transformed in some way or another, immersed with a new appreciation for each other and with new insights into ourselves and to this vast world we find ourselves in.

*Wilderness Name

Tervell: Big Steak
Roderick: Bread
Autumn: Wildlife Autumn
Keyone: Devon
Damario: Birdbox
Anthony: Bucko
Rosalinda: Osa
Jesus: Oso

Lauren: Ya-you
Eli: Moth
David: Stinging Nettle
Carl: Socks
Danny: Lil Steak

P.S. The driving went much more smoothly on the way back to Oakland also, just so you know.

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#NoFilter, Just Nature

“This is beyond me!” Mani* shouts as she realizes how tough carrying a 65L backpack is while hiking up a mountain. Corpsmembers ahead of her would hear her and shout back, “but you’re doing it!” The support and encouragement to move forward was the highlight of this year’s week-long backpacking trip in the Tahoe National Forest.

Backpacking is not an easy feat, it requires physical and mental strength that for some, proved to be challenging. But as a group, Corpsmembers persisted. On our first day, Corpsmembers hiked 1.1 miles to Island Lake. We encountered a friendly camper, Johnny, who showed Radio* how to start a campfire. Radio really enjoyed this so much that he proclaimed himself the “pyro starter” and started all our campfires for the rest of the week.

By next morning, we set foot on the trail to Glacier Lake. This was the toughest trail in the whole trip, this 5.1 hike was moderately difficult, ending with a very stiff climb on a rocky mountain top. But at the top of the mountain was Glacier Lake, which nestles at the base of the Black Buttes in the Grouse Ridge. A site for the heavens. Corpsmembers swam in its deep clear water, freezing to the touch, but refreshing to the soul.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover, everything is a new experience and you don’t know what you like until you experience it.” – Bucko*

Bringing our Corpsmembers to the wilderness allows them to escape and unplug themselves from society.  We find solace in nature, its beauty and sound permits each and every one of us to connect with ourselves. We learn to silence the noises in our heads and meditate to the wind blowing in the distance, the croaking frogs on the other side of the lake, the Black-capped Chickadees singing their pure chickadee-dee-dee call. At night, the cold wind breezes over the warm waters of Rock Lake, causing mist to rise under the bright half-moon. Nature is therapy.

“It was soothing it made you think about life, it cleared your head and gave you free space to think about things in your own life.”   – T*

Around the campfire we made s’mores, played rounds of the game Mafia, and shared scary stories. While we laughed over jokes, we also cried. In this moment of escape, we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. We held each other’s hands to fight through our own personal challenges in the real world, knowing we had one another for support.

As we approached the end of our backpacking adventure, we felt accomplished. We hiked over 18 miles, visited and swam in 6 lakes, encountered various species of flora and fauna native to this region. The site of Golden-mantled ground squirrels, Brown Bullhead catfishes in the lake, and an abundance of butterflies and bees only reminded us of how powerful nature is to our bodies.

At times of anxiety, we were able to be happy. On a challenging hike, we worked together and encouraged each other to fight through the pain in our legs.  Together we persevered, only to prove how resilient we all can be in different environments. We learned to live in the moment, “#nofilter, just nature.”

*Before we set on our adventure, we gave each other trail names. Mani, Bucko, T, Mo, Radio, Dolfo, and Rosie were the chosen names of our Corpsmembers, Jesus, C-9, and Ya-You were staff and volunteer’s trail names. 

Enjoy more photos below!

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10-Day Backpacking Trip!

On August 21, two Civicorps staff took a group of seven students up to the Emigrant Wilderness for a ten-day backpacking trip. This was a once in a lifetime experience for these youth — most of whom had never left Oakland.

Throughout the trip, students and staff grew in strength and spirit. One participant, Anton, experienced a profound moment nearly every hour. During appreciations on the last night, Anton said he had always been depressed and never knew what it meant to be happy, but being on this trip in the wilderness, he felt happy for the first time. That night, we climbed the granite slab 500 feet under the full moon and watched as Anton saw his first shooting star. Another student, Ratcha, learned to swim on the trip, with the help on many of his fellow participants. Avante, while standing on top of a mountain, looking out over the valley and lakes below, said being out in the wilderness made him realize, “You really don’t need much, no cars, no TV, not too much.”

10-Day Backpacking Trip / Civicorps

Students were interested in the local flora and fauna as well. One student, Emily, was keen on identifying edible plants, including wild onion, which we found plenty of. Another student was regularly identifying the birds of prey above us. We were even able to watch an osprey swoop down to Jewelry Lake and grab a fish, flying back to the top of a lodge pole pine to feast. Angie would curl up in her tent with the Audubon Guide to California Flora and Fauna as the sun set, brushing up on the local wildlife.

10-Day Backpacking Trip / Civicorps

Through all the challenges of hiking multiple miles a day, gaining and loosing up to a thousand feet of elevation, and carrying 50 pound packs, the team remained strong in mind, body, and spirit. As Avante said, “Today was great because we walked for many miles now we are at the last lake. I’m kinda sad to leave the wilderness because it made me think a lot and it has changed me in many ways.”

The team each grew in its own ways, whether in self-awareness, as Anton and Ratcha did, realizing happiness and admitting to needing help from others, or in physical stamina, as Angie and Emily did, pushing themselves up and over hills despite burning calf muscles and aching backs. Over ten days in Emigrant Wilderness, each member of the team learned a lot about the enormous natural world as well as about their inner selves.

10-Day Backpacking Trip / Civicorps

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