At this point each crew is probably working like a well-oiled machine. They have had seven days of experience and now know what to do and how to do it, so they really have a system of packing and hiking down. They also have worked out the kinks from the dynamics of their groups, and have become experts at getting along with each other. In the aftermath of Solo they are more appreciative than ever of each others’ company and contributions, and many have probably made resolutions to be even better company for others and make more contributions to the group. They have a lot going for them now.
I’ve been asked what a typical night is like on the Expedition. The crews usually get into camp before sunset, say at 5:00 pm. They scan the area for the best spots to put their shelter, their kitchen, and their food storage. During the first half of the trip the instructors and coleaders took responsibility for these choices, but by now they have taught the sophomores how to make these decisions themselves, and let them do so with just a little oversight in case they are headed towards a bad decision. Once locations are chosen, everyone puts down their packs and starts unpacking.
The hikers first pull out clothes that are more appropriate for the weather than the hiking clothes they are wearing (which are probably a little damp with sweat). They change and on a clear day hang up their damp clothes to dry. Then they pull out all the group gear that makes up their shelter and kitchen. While some put the kitchen together and start cooking, others build the shelter and rig a storage area for their food for the night. Called “bear bags,” the storage area consists of a bag hung from a tree. In an area where there were actually bears these would be about 15 feet above the ground, but in the Henry Coe we have never encountered a bear and worry more about mice getting our food, so bags hung at chest height are just fine.
The first course of dinner is hot water that students can use for soup or hot chocolate. That is usually ready just about when the shelter is completed. The crew gathers around to enjoy their hot drink or soup while the cooks finish cooking dinner. See my post from day 3 about meals for more information about what they might cook. After dinner they clean their dishes and put all food away in the bear bag. Hoisting the bear bag up to chest or head height takes the strength of most of the crew, so that becomes a team-building exercise that they perform each night.
After dinner is a great time for the daily debrief, a conversation about the day’s events directed by the instructor and intended to help the hikers learn from what they experienced. In experiential education circles the wisdom is that people don’t learn from having experiences, but from processing those experiences. Debriefs are a great way to process the day’s experiences. Most instructors like for the debrief to take place in a circle, with no flashlights but perhaps a single candle, but methods vary.
Once the debrief is over the hikers generally go straight to bed, even though it is likely only about 7:00 pm at this point. In the woods there is a tendency to go to sleep and get up with the sun. The hikers head to their shelters where they lay out their sleeping bags, and they talk themselves to sleep.
I should say a bit more about the shelters. Each group has about nine sophomores who split themselves between two or three shelters. The shelters consist of plastic ground tarps to keep the hikers off the ground, and a waterproof fly to go over the tarps and keep the rain off. In pleasant weather the fly will be set high off the ground to allow for more headroom, ventilation, and views, but when there is a chance of rain it would be set lower to ward off any rain that might otherwise blow onto the hikers. In truly rainy weather the fly can be augmented in clever ways with extra plastic ground tarps to seal the otherwise open ends, and the hikers can place their packs on the long sides of the tarps to form walls. I’ve slept comfortably in these flies in all sorts of weather, from clear nights when I could see the Milky Way to stormy nights when the wind gusted to 60 miles per hour and three inches of rain fell in a few hours, to a night when we got six inches of snow.
I’ve added number of pictures from previous years to help you get an idea of what nights and the shelters are like.