• Expedition: Apr 11-16, 2010
  • Environmental Studies Academy and Merced Boys and Girls Club
  • Yosemite National Park.

Students from the Environmental Studies Academy in Martinez joined us for our second wilderness expedition of the Spring season (but it sure felt like winter though).

After surviving a cold and wet preparation day in Yosemite Valley, we awoke on our first day of expedition with the promise of better weather in the sky and a fresh dusting of snow on the cliffs around us. However, as we began our hike up and out of Yosemite Valley's steep canyon, we discovered that our path was covered in multiple feet of snow from the days and weeks of winter weather that had come before. The hiking was slow and at times involved traversing snow slopes, but we carefully made it to the top of Nevada Falls and the official wilderness boundary. With only one mile left to travel before making it to our camp at Little Yosemite Valley, we pushed ourselves beyond our limits, breaking trail through shin-deep snow. We arrived in camp to find two feet of snow still covering the ground and quickly got to work shoveling out our tent spots, setting up our homes and getting dinner ready before our feet and toes froze completely.

Our second morning we again awoke to another gorgeous blue sky with morning sun emerging through the tree. Luckily we found a dry patch of pine needle ground in the full sun and were able to lay out our soaking shoes, socks, and pants from our previous day's adventure. We establish a sense of place with a fun activity building a replica of the state of California using only natural materials. Within this replica we created an amazing model of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, locating Yosemite National Park and Martinez in relation to it. We learned about the importance of this mountain range as a water source for both the agriculture of the Central Valley and as drinking water for the Bay Area. Then we looked more specifically at Yosemite itself and talked about its first people's, the arrival of the pioneers, and how this land came to be protected by law. We also had a great discussion about the mission of the park service and the complexities of park management. We were then joined by two mentor teachers from the Yosemite Institute (who had hiked up early in the morning to meet us). Adam and Mara led us in a field science research project to test the water quality of the Merced River both at the campground site and slightly upriver as well. Comparing the two sites, we found that the water quality was good in both locations with little difference between the two test sites. The water quality tests will be repeated both mid-summer and in the Fall, and the three sets of results will be compared to see if there is a measurable human impact on the water quality after the heavy summer camping season.

After our academic morning we split into two groups to tackle some physical work: one group dug the campfire pit out from under feet of snow while the other group went to collect downed wood to lay in the sun. By making the necessary preparations today, we were increasing our chances of having a campfire the next night despite the wet conditions. We then dried off again in the sun with an in depth topographic map lesson. We found that our first day we hiked over five miles and 2,120 feet in elevation! Impressive! We ended our day with some nature journaling, sketching and reflecting on our present moment.

The next day we had another great adventure through the snow, this time heading upstream along the Merced River for a dayhike to the Bunnell Cascade. We traveled much faster than expected despite the snow, giving us plenty of time to relax once we reached the cascades. That night we reaped the rewards of the previous afternoon's hard work and preparations: enough dry wood for a campfire! We shared stories and appreciated all that we had experienced together and learned from one another. It was a very special, heartfelt evening, with the message of the Desiderata (read by Andy) echoing in our hearts and minds.

Our last day's adventure was the descent back down into Yosemite Valley along the snowy path we had forged the very first day. The steep snowy slopes that made our feet heavy on the way up were now treacherous and icy, making our descent even slower and more deliberate. We hiked for hours that day, at times passing packs and punching steps, but finally made it down to the Valley floor for a late lunch and a late goodbye. Thank you Tribe, you will be missed!

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