The Cliff Lake trip provided students a compact idea of what a backpacking trip looks like, including unexpected showers of rain and a refreshing dip in an alpine lake — it was all about water!
The group, including 14 students and two faculty members, started hiking up to Cliff Lake on a sunny Friday morning. This was many folks' first backpacking trip, including myself, so we went over how to pace out the trail and how to follow basic hiking manners. The “red light” and “caterpillar” system were imprinted in my mind. Whenever someone had to pause during the hike, they would yell “red light!” and the whole group would come to a halt to observe the situation. The caterpillar formation was our next tactic; every once in a while when there was a gap spotted in between the line of people, the faster group would stop and wait for the other half to catch up. With these pacing rules, the group would not disperse individually and stick together throughout the whole journey.
The group hiked about five miles in three and a half hours, with plenty of breaks during the trek. The most challenging portion of the trip was the large incline prior to reaching the lake. Many of us were already demotivated since we had already hiked for so long, but we encouraged each other and persevered. I vividly remember one experienced campmate saying, “Don’t try to measure how much more we have to go. Just do it.” By the end of the incline, I was filled with a sense of achievement as I encountered the great body of water: a gorgeous alpine lake.
Then we became aware of the bruises on our hip bones from carrying the heavy backpacks. However, we could not whine for long; the group set up the tarps and snuggled in their sleeping bags with their warmest clothes in case of rain. That night after the grand hike, the whole group slept like a log - with indeed a lot of logs surrounding us!
Thanks to the tarps, the group did not wake up drenched in the rain that visited the campsite overnight. In the morning, right after we made pancakes for breakfast, rain started to drizzle on us. The whole group ran to the tarps and made sure that all the backpacks and equipment would not get flooded, then settled in. People prepared to endure the rain in many ways; some took out a book, some started a movie, and some looked for dried mango to munch on. A few of us gathered around in our sleeping bags and played card games, which encouraged the group to get more intimate and close. It was a lot of fun talking to people who I have not had a chance to befriend before. The beauty of camping with strangers is that one can end up creating deep new friendships and connections.
The lake reflecting the rays of sunrise was truly beautiful; I felt lucky to wake up with the charming view, breathing in the fresh air. To take advantage of the pleasing view, a couple of people went fishing while others attempted to climb the “cliff” for which the lake is named. The best way to enjoy the lake, in my opinion, was going into the water. When water coming from the sky was starting to stop, the group decided to voluntarily submerge ourselves in another form of water: the lake. The dirt hiding under the clear lake water was mushy and the weeds that we stepped on were slippery, but the swim was totally worth going through all of them. It was indeed a little chilly after getting out of the water, yet refreshing, awakening, and rejuvenating.
Night comes very fast in the woods. Once we hear “hot drinks!” signaling that boiled water is ready and dinner is getting cooked, the group immediately dug through their bags to find headlamps. Without a headlamp, one cannot see anything in front of them past 8:00 in the evening. People also got extra layers along with their headlamps because the darker it gets, the colder it feels. Nothing is better than a hot tea, hot chocolate, or hot coffee on a cold night by the lake. Therefore, hot water is precious in the campsite because not only it is used for drinking and cooking but also cleaning and sanitary purposes. Once I was out in the wilderness, I started to appreciate the small things that make my life much convenient that were hard to access in the woods.
On the last night of our trip, the whole group circled up to debrief our days at Cliff lake. At that moment, we turned off our headlights and took in the dark surroundings in silence. I closed my eyes, emptied my mind, and focused on absorbing the present. Even though I had a lot of fun throughout the whole trip, there was always a corner of my mind that thought of the homework and tests I had to deal with when I got back. I reminded myself about how memorable the past few days up in the lake have been. As I went to bed that night, I knew I would cherish my Cliff Lake experiences—all about water!—for a long time in my memory.