Students in the wilderness

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Snow shovels and snow shoes wait to be packed in the university van

Snow shovels and snowshoes wait to packed in the university van.

REC 412 Wilderness Expedition, an outdoor education class Sarah Striegel, the expedition's medic Spencer Hagen Kevin Tatsugawa, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Sport Science Snow shovels and snow shoes wait to be packed in the university van Bjorn Bagnall (foreground) and Spencer Hagen examine a map in the pre-dawn of departure day 

No St. Cloud State class demands more effort, metes out more pain, carries more risk or delivers more rewards.

Kevin Tatsugawa’s REC 412 Wilderness Expedition class left campus May 12 on a 21-day trip to Cloud Peak Wilderness, a rugged area of the Bighorn National Forest near Sheridan, Wyo.

As they drive west in a university van, the seven students will ponder the physical and mental challenges that lie ahead.

They’ll battle dehydration, altitude sickness, trench foot and body sores.

Interpersonal conflict, combined with fatigue, will test their self-control.

Expedition roster

Kevin Tatsugawa's REC 412 class is:

Bjorn Bagnall, Lakeville
Elizabeth Lewis, Buffalo
Aaron Schmidt, Blaine
Brandon Dwyer, Apple Valley
Zach Bauer, St. Cloud
Sarah Striegel, Champlin
Spencer Hagen, Byron

Isolation and loneliness will cause some to dissolve into tears, some to escape through sleep, some to find a spiritual place that only quiet contemplation can deliver.

At the expedition’s core are two days and three nights of solo camping -- a test of self and spirit based on the vision-quest practices of pre-modern societies, according to Tatsugawa, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Sport Science.

Students will be above the tree line with nighttime wind chill readings in the teens Fahrenheit. No watches. No cell phones. No books. No fishing gear. No knives.

“I’ve had a few complaints in the past about the solo camping,” said Tatsugawa. “My response is ‘If you get bored out there, what does that say about the company you’re keeping?’ ”

Solo camping also has practical purposes.

“By then they’ll be sick of each other and sick of me,” said Tatsugawa. “The solo experience is a chance to get a break from each other and kick back.”

Solo camping, which includes a fasting option, is also a period of rest and recovery.

Expeditioners will do 13 hikes, sometimes with full packs. The shortest hike is three miles. The longest is 17 miles.

Documenting the expedition is Bjorn Bagnall, a junior mass communications major. Bagnall expects to shoot eight hours of high-definition video for a 30-minute feature. The Lakeville native is using Department of Mass Communications gear through an independent study project. 

"Twenty-one days is what I'm nervous about," Bagnall said. "The challenge of living outside society for 21 days."

Bagnall said he and his classmates will acquire the types of leadership and problem-solving skills unavailable in the typical classroom.

REC 412 is part of the Outdoor Education minor program closed as a result of the university's strategic reorganization.  

The Cloud Peak Wilderness is the the most remote portion of the 1.1 million-acre Bighorn National Forest. Home to golden eagles, elk, deer, black bear and bighorn sheep, it features a glacier and 13,167-foot Cloud Peak.

The tentative expedition itinerary:

Day 1 (May 12)
Leave 5 a.m. from St Cloud. Drive about 12 hours to Middle Fork Campground in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Camp near the van at 7,800 feet in elevation.

Day 2 (May 13)
Hike 4 miles. Camp at a small lake at end of Seven Brothers Creek at 8,750 feet.

Day 3 (May 14)
Hike 4 miles. Camp at Upper Frozen Lake at 10,400 feet.

Day 4 (May 15)
Instruction on hiking in snow, tying knots, belaying and other mountain hiking and camping skills. Camp at Upper Frozen Lake.

Day 5 (May 16)
Hike 3.5 miles. Camp at the top of Mather Peak at 12,348.

Day 6 (May 17)
Hike 5 miles. Camp at Lost Twin Lakes at 0,334 feet.

Day 7 (May 18)
Climb Bighorn and Darton peaks. Camp at Lost Twin Lakes.

Day 8 (May 19)
Hike 7.5 miles. Camp at Paradise Lakes at 10,095 feet.

Day 9 (May 20)
Hike 8 miles. Resupply and camp near the van at Middle Fork Campground.

Day 10 (May 21)
Hike 7.5 miles. Camp at Rock Creek at 8,700 feet.

Day 11 (May 22)
Hike 13 miles. Camp Beaver Lakes at 8,800 feet.

Day 12 (May 23)
Hike 6.5 miles. Camp at Spear Lake at 10,000 feet.

Day 13 (May 24)
Climb Black Tooth Mountain (13,005 feet). Camp at Spear Lake.

Day 14 (May 25)
Hike 3 miles. Solo camping at Lake Eunice at 10,150 feet.

Day 15 (May 26)
Solo camping at Lake Eunice.

Day 16 (May 27)
Last solo camping at Lake Eunice.

Day 17 (May 28)
Hike 2.5 miles. Camp at 11,500 feet on a ridge south of Cliff Lake.

Day 18 (May 29)
Hike 7.5 miles. Camp at Middle Cloud Peak Lake at 10,400 feet.

Day 19 (May 30)
Climb Cloud Peak (13,167 feet). Hike 10 miles. Camp at Florence Lake at 10,900.

Day 20 (June 1)
Hike 17 miles. Camp near the van at Middle Fork Campground.

Day 21 (June 2)
Wake up, pack up and leave at 7 a.m. Drive about 12 hours. Arrive in St. Cloud at 7 p.m.

Story and photos by Jeff Wood

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