Over spring break, Trinity’s Director of Recreation, Kevin Johnson, led a group of ten students on a week-long rock climbing and hiking excursion through Arizona. For several years now, Trinity’s Outdoor Education program has organized these exploratory trips over winter and spring break for small groups of students who are interested. These trips provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to fully engage in outdoor activities with members of the Trinity community from all different niches of campus. The group consisted of six seniors, two juniors, one sophomore, and one freshman, with varying levels of experience in camping, hiking, and rock climbing. Some students had been on these trips before in previous years and saw this trip as an opportunity to practice and improve their climbing strategies, while others were newer to this sort of thing and were looking to try something different.
The students arrived in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday, March 16th, and headed to a campground at the Lost Dutchman State Park just outside of the city. The site was right in the midst of the Superstition Mountains, a trail that contains some of the state’s most spectacular desert wilderness and scenic beauty. The campground was located at the base of one of the site’s main mountains, so many of the students spent the first day hiking to its peak. The terrain included a mixture of dry, barren rock, as well as green shrubbery. It was a 4800-foot vertical, so it took several hours of strenuous hiking to get all the way up and back down. However, the students were able to refuel afterwards with a hearty dinner they cooked themselves.
Throughout the trip, different members of the group would rotate through different daily jobs to make sure things ran smoothly. These jobs included leader of the day, cook, cleaner, and journalist, with each role giving everyone a sense of responsibility and purpose. The leaders of the day would create a plan for that given day, including whether to go to climbing or hiking, what site they would be going to, what time everyone would wake up and go, etc. The cooks were responsible for preparing breakfast and dinner, and the cleaners would hand wash cooking supplies and tidy everything up after each meal was done. The journalist would record a personal anecdote from that day into a notebook that has been brought on these outdoor trips for many years now. One could go through it and read first-hand accounts from students over the years who attended the trips to the Florida Everglades, Joshua Tree National Park, Grand Canyon and more.
Three full days of the Arizona trip were spent climbing. The first climbing day was spent at Queen Creek Canyon, a scenic location looking over mountainous landscapes and clear blue skies. The level of difficulty of the different climbs varied greatly, giving each student the opportunity to challenge themselves regardless of their prior climbing experience. Some of the more experienced climbers were actually lead climbing, meaning they were the ones ascending the route for everyone. This style of climbing is very advanced and takes a lot of skill, given that the lead climber is not being suspended by a top rope above them.
Several students on the trip had experienced a good amount of indoor climbing before, but limited experience climbing outside, so getting the chance to do it outdoors in such an amazing environment was very eye-opening. “I found the entire trip to be extremely liberating. I was able to push myself outdoors in ways I have never done. It was my first time rock climbing outside and I found a new appreciation for this sport. I learned to love it so much I have even begun to climb now that I have come home to Hartford,” stated Jordan Ragland ’20.
After several days in the Phoenix area, the crew traveled by van south to Tucson where they remained for a majority of the rest of the trip. Two more full days were devoted to climbing in the Tucson area, with each site having its own unique characteristics that shifted the levels of difficulty and intensity of the climb. No matter who was on the climbing wall, everyone on the trip was extremely supportive and encouraging. Several athletes were on the trip, including Chris Dean ’22 of the men’s basketball team, Alex Sinson ’20 of the women’s ice hockey team, and Chandler Solimine ’19 and Jordan Ragland ’20 of the field hockey team. Most of the activities throughout the trip required teamwork and leadership qualities that these athletes could relate to their athletic experience.
“It was incredible to see the group grow together and act as such a tight knit team with everything we did. When someone would be climbing and struggling a bit, everyone below them would be cheering for them and supporting them until they reached the top. It sounded like the sideline of one of my field hockey games. Even when we did things like cook dinner everyone was able to contribute in their own way and it was amazing to see how everything came together so well,” said Solimine.
Sinson added “I think as an athlete you spend so much time training specifically for your sport and not really being able to explore other ways of being active, especially something like rock climbing that requires so much equipment. Having the opportunity to go on a trip with other Trinity students, some athletes and some non-athletes, was an awesome way to gain appreciation for other sports, learn about a super cool sport, and meet new people.”
Throughout the entire week the weather could not have been better, with almost all cloudless, sunny days and air temperatures in the mid-high 70s. Despite the warm temperatures, the group reached such high elevations on the approach to the climbing sites or on the hikes that they encountered snow on the ground in the mountains. Hiking through the change in environment from the dry desert to snowy greenery all in one mountain range was a fascinating experience.
On the last full day in Arizona, everyone went to Saguaro National Park, one of the state’s most popular visitor sites. The Park is known for its massive saguaro cacti that fill its land and its striking views of the desert landscape. The elevated points of the park allowed visitors to see for miles and miles into the desert and further off mountain ranges that stretch along the horizon. Everyone was able to soak in the last day of beautiful clear, blue skies and views of the great desert, all the while reflecting on an incredible week spent with a special group of the Trinity community.
“The OE spring break trip to Arizona brought together a great group of students from different corners of some of the best programs we have at Trinity,” said Johnson. “Our group consisted of students from all grade levels, varsity athletes, presidents of social houses, Quest leaders, and talented musicians. The OE spring break trip has grown to be an experience that students look forward to each year. The opportunities to converse while eating dinner around the campfire after a long day of activity really brings people together. Although there was a lot of technical information taught while rock climbing in the St. Catalina Mountains, the social connections between peers is where most of the learning happens on these OE trips."
- Written by Chandler Solimine '19