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.”
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.
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.