Wyoming Catholic College is the only college in the country that requires its students to participate in outdoor expeditions. In fact, each freshman class, upon arrival in Lander, heads out to the beautiful, unique Wind River Mountains for a three-week backpacking trip. This trip becomes the foundation for everything we do to form mind, body, and spirit. As a result, I wanted to experience it, and joined one crew for four days, along with our head chaplain, Msgr. Daniel Seiker.
Having backpacked extensively myself, I was looking forward to the experience. Quite simply, the views and quietude of the backcountry can only be accessed by walking there. No scenic byway can replicate the beauty of the backcountry. It’s as if God saves the best of His “First Book” for those who work hard to see it.
In addition to my typical reasons for enjoying backpacking, I also was eagerly anticipating my first observations of a WCC expedition. Our system is focused not merely on teaching outdoor skills, but on the notion that one’s faith, fortitude, leadership, and openness to God’s will all improve when we distance ourselves from man-made things. The camaraderie that results is unparalleled, too: such is the reality of backpacking more than 100 miles in three weeks in very rugged terrain, replete with sometimes-challenging weather.
The crew we were joining was one of our girls’ groups; our freshman class, for the purpose of this backcountry expedition, is split into four crews, two for young men and two for young women. With the expertise that our upperclassmen and graduates have gained, this particular crew was being led by one of our alumnae and two seniors. For a society that promotes some pretty absurd ways for women to gain confidence in their abilities and in their leadership, it seems like WCC has found a profoundly simple and effective method—learn leadership outdoors!
As the picture of Msgr. Seiker shows, we actually rode in to agreed-upon trailhead by horseback. This was necessary to cover the 13 miles, up to the Continental Divide, in one day. Thereafter, Monsignor and I hiked in to camp near Sheep’s Lake (pictured), where he offered Holy Mass on the glorious Solemnity of the Assumption. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a congregation that was more thankful for the Eucharist.
Though the girls summited Mount Geikie the following day, Monsignor and I stayed at camp, drawn like magnets to the promise of a lake full of rainbow trout. We did leave some fish in the lake, but had a very successful day of fishing, which culminated in some much-welcomed fish at supper.
Keep in mind, though, that our students learn to be backcountry gourmet chefs—mealtime is dominated not by quick, tasteless freeze-dried food, but by innovative dishes that take time, and much conversation, to complete. It is precisely this kind of approach that builds a strong community of friends, flying in the face of fast-food fanaticism.
After hiking with the crew on Saturday, and after Monsignor celebrated Mass at sunrise on Sunday morning, he and I bid our hiking compatriots adieu, and headed out. Though tired—we had covered thirty miles by horse or by our own feet in four days—we were also inspired by the very special young people with whom we had spent four days.
For anyone thinking that our Outdoor Leadership Program is a mere add-on to attract students to Wyoming, they are sorely mistaken: this program shapes and forms our students into leaders who can handle adversity, lead with virtue, and honor God’s will. To the Class of 2017, hats off to you, and God bless your upcoming experiences here!