SPRING VALLEY — Most teens would picture summer camp as a 5- to 10-day camp filled with sunshine, water activities and friendship. When Hall High School senior Tony Victor of Ladd went to camp last summer, it was quite a different scenario: He fought snow, saw a wolverine and traveled in a group of four during a 30-day camp. From June 19 to July 20 in Wyoming, Tony and 11 other teenagers joined three instructors to travel 119 miles in the Foothills to the highest peak in the Wyoming Mountains.
Victor attended NOLS, National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyo. Campers met at the Noble Hotel in Lander, and were taken to Dubois, Wyo. by bus to be dropped off at the trailhead. There was only one problem: the bus got stuck in a snowdrift and the campers had to walk to the trailhead through the snow. The snow was a continuous problem for the campers as they had to camp at times on the actual road and make up their own trails since the trails were snow-covered. This definitely emphasized their map-reading skills, which is one of the goals of the camp.
There are many types of camps offered by NOLS. Victor originally was going to do the mountain-climbing camp. He instead chose to do the camp designed to learn mountaineering skills. This camp included mountain climbing. Of course, one must be physically fit to attend these camps. Victor had to get a physical and fill out an application to be considered. He had heard about the camp from his sister’s friend who attended the camp previously. One of Victor’s hobbies is mountain climbing, so he had some preparation for the physical demands of the camp.
He felt one of the hardest parts of camp was not being able to eat when you want. Campers could only eat what they were rationed, so they may not be full at the end of the meal. Food consisted of anything that could be rehydrated. They had pasta, potatoes and vacuum-packed peppers and onions. Fresh onions and garlic were delicacies.
Campers were given a skillet, a pot, a fry bake, a portable stove and lighters. Victor said that he learned to make pizza on the stove with the help of the flour and yeast they were given. Food was washed down with water they carried in water bottles and filled in streams. Sometimes they had to use an ice ax to get through the ice to get water.
Not all items for meals for the week were carried at once. At the start, a camper’s pack weighed about 75 pounds. Besides the cooking utensils and food rations, campers had sleeping equipment, layers of clothing, etc. Their first ration of food lasted six days. On the seventh day, campers hiked to a trailhead to meet someone on horseback who would give you the second rationing of food. They got up at 3 a.m., hiked 14 miles, got their food, and hiked 14 miles back to camp. They returned at 6 or 7 p.m. at night.
The next rationing was not as easily met. It was the Fourth of July, and the campers sat in the rainstorm waiting to meet the horseman. Unfortunately, their timing was off and they missed him. (There is no communication because cell phones are not allowed and probably would not work in the mountains. There was a satellite phone to be used in case of emergency.) Since they could not call the horseman to see where each other were, they had to sit and wait in the storm for the horseman to return. The last ration was for 15 days and increased their pack weight to 90 pounds total.
Hiking expeditions usually ended around 6 p.m. Campers would set up camp each night, usually on the snow, and then cook dinner. Many nights were spent reading. Campers brought their own books and shared. Victor read “Into Thin Air” and “On the Road.” The group shared the seventh book in the Harry Potter series. The book was a paperback and separated into three sections. A new section was brought to each meeting point of the food rations. Campers also wrote in a journal, immortalizing the events of the day.
At the end of camp, the group was broken down into three small groups of four. Each group selected a leader, and Victor was named leader of his group. The leader was in charge and read the map to get the group where they needed to be. The instructors started out ahead of them a day. Each group allowed a few hours in between each group as to not get too close to one another and to as a courtesy to any campers and to not impact the environment.
The instructors had set up their camp one day when they were separated. A bear came and ripped up their tent and tried to carry off their backpacks. The instructors scared the bear away but had to make camp elsewhere. Since there is no communication, they left a note to the campers who were following to set up camp other than what was indicated on the map. They told the campers there was a problem bear in the area and left directions to an alternate site.
The end point of the hike was New Fork Lake. They met the instructors for the last night. The night was filled with stories, and in the morning the campers were thrilled when the bus brought them real food for breakfast. Victor was especially surprised at the end when his father, Bernie Victor, met him at the Noble Hotel where their journey began. He had plans to fly home alone and was excited to see his father and spend time with him, telling stories of the camp and telling him of his experiences climbing three to four peaks in the Wyoming mountains. One of these was Gannet Peak, which is the highest mountain in Wyoming.
Victor is still in contact with some of his fellow campers and instructors via Facebook. One camper was from Nepal, and will be helping with expeditions at Mt. Everest. One girl is from Maine and just finished her first long hike of a long trail, taking off a semester of high school to complete this. Tony climbs with a guy from Minnesota. They meet at Devil’s Lake State Park by the Dells in Wisconsin. Staying in his cabin near Devil’s Lake when Victor was younger, he saw people climbing and was intrigued with the sport. He also snowboards and kayaks. He would like to train for a triathalon and also climb the north wall of the Eiger in Switzerland. He said that he would need much more experience to accomplish that. His dad is hoping to do some mountain climbing with him this summer.
In summarizing his experience in Wyoming, Victor said that he loved the wilderness and enjoyed the lack of stress it invites. He said, “I now have an appreciation for experiencing the outdoors. Now that I know what is out there and how much of it is out there, I want to do more.” He made the decision to attend college out west, recently being accepted to the University of Colorado in Boulder.