Leadville Mountain Orientation
A narrative by Aspen Gau, a Leadville student in the Outdoor program at Colorado Mountain College. Students in the Mountain Orientation class explored the Mount Harvard Wilderness area in early October. Mountain Orientation, affectionately called “Mountain O”, was Aspen’s first outdoor orientation course. The course is a concentrated field experience in the Colorado mountain environment, with an emphasis on backpacking skills, safety procedures, ecology, geology, geography, and group dynamics.
“We aren’t seriously going up that are we?”
That was the question we were all asking inside our heads, but no one wanted to say.
Towering before us was 200 vertical feet of scree filled treachery; a ridge top whose summit seemed like it was an endless rockslide to the top. Kent Clement, our course instructor, had assured us that we should be completely safe as long as we didn’t do anything too dumb and follow the safety techniques that we had been taught just minutes before.
The “fast” group had already started their ascent. They were nearing the top by the time we embarked on our journey up the side of the towering pass, the rock sluffing, or sliding, down the hill with every step. At the top, there were three precariously perched boulders the size of cows, each one looked like the next strong gust of wind would send it toppling down the side of the hill. I was third in line, or as Kent put it jokingly, the most expendable person. He knew all along that this was a lot safer than it looked and the likelihood of anyone getting hurt was minuscule, and his jovial attitude reassured us of this fact.
Three quarters of the way up you could now lean a hip into the hill and still stand straight up. The loose gravel made travel slow and precarious, along with dodging rocks that could easily dislodge and send us sliding down the slope. I had been appointed the job of pushing said rocks down the hill, to make it safer for the group behind me, hence the expendable title. I had stopped to take a breather and allow the people under me to move to safer ground. The view was unlike anything I had seen in Colorado.
Sitting there at 13,000 feet, the highest elevation I had ever climbed to, I was awe-struck by what I saw. The valley below was a flourish of green and gold tundra. The mountain ridge stretched for as far as I could see and the towering peaks miles away were unobstructed.
It was in that moment that I knew that the outdoors is what I want to center my life around. I want to preserve and celebrate the beauty that I experienced on the side of that ridge line.
What Colorado Mountain College has shown me, and countless others, is WHY we are driven to build careers in the outdoor industry. Everyone has their awakening to what they want to do with their lives. Thankfully, Colorado Mountain College Leadville has given me the opportunity to achieve my goals as well as push me to strive in this field.