Ninth Graders Row Down Colorado River

By Jenny Li ’19 and Alex Goldstein ’19

A six-hour bus delay caused participants of Upper and Lower retreat to arrive at campus at 11:15 p.m. and 12 a.m. respectively.  The complication was due to a miscommunication of dates between the school and the bus company.  However, the students arrived at school safely.

“The bus situation was just a miscommunication, [and] when I think back on retreat, the first thing I remember is how fun being on the river was with my new and old friends. . . I don’t immediately remember waiting for the buses,” Upper River participant Mia Nelson ’19 said.

Those who sought out a more physically challenging retreat chose to canoe on the Upper Colorado River.  The 84 participants arrived at school on Oct. 12 earlier than the Lower River students in order to attend the Hoover Dam tour and drive farther up the river. The other 135 students departed at 7 a.m. and arrived at a campsite near Blythe, Calif. after a five-hour bus ride.  In both retreats, students were split into small groups of around 12 people and each group had a faculty leader and a naturalist.

On the first night, students learned how to pitch and take down tents and how to paddle their canoes. On the Upper and Lower River retreats, the participants canoed to their stops every day, paddling a total of 17 and 31 miles, respectively. Because of the higher number of dams in the Upper River area, the water had less current than the Lower River, resulting in a more demanding canoeing experience.

Each morning, the groups left at staggered times in order to start canoeing early. While on the river, groups stopped at points to get in the water and play games.

“I loved stopping at sandbars. The rest of my group and I would get to meet up with others and hang out on little sandbars in the middle of the river. We all swam and floated together,” Lower River participant Georgia Salke ‘19 said.

When arriving to a different beach alongside the Colorado River every afternoon, students would unpack their duffel, backpack and tent supplies that were transported on their canoes. The long days ended at the campsite for the night where everyone would pitch their tents, eat dinner and enjoy an evening activity.

The retreat seemed to widen the students’ views of the water available towards them in the city, and it also gave them an opportunity to learn more about themselves.

“During our time on the river, I learned things that I never knew or even would have cared about before. . . I think we all learned things, not only about ourselves, but about the true power and beauty of the river and the impact of the possibility that the water may not be there when we are adults,” Cypress Toomey ’19, who attended the Upper River trip, said.

The last night of the retreat offered a change from the previous nights. The Upper River students slept outside under the stars and had the option to watch the sunrise during a morning hike.

“The scenery [was] amazing, from the sunrise to the star-lit sky at night.  I loved seeing the tarantulas and hearing the coyotes howl early in the morning. . . My favorite thing about the retreat is seeing HW kids thrive in an unfamiliar environment [and] getting outside their comfort zone and realizing they can succeed at anything they put their mind to,” Athletic Trainer and Upper River trip leader Robert Ruiz said.

On the last night, both retreats had a campfire where students and faculty were given the opportunity to show off some unique talents.

The Lower River students had the opportunity to participate in a sunrise paddle. They woke up at 4 a.m., loaded their canoes and watched the sunrise from their boats.

“My favorite part of retreat was the morning when we slept on the canoes. When I fell asleep against my canoe, it was pitch black outside. When I woke up about an hour later, I opened my eyes and the sky was bursting with beautiful reds, pinks, yellows and oranges. It was very magical,” Lower River participant Avery Keare ‘19 said.

The faculty chaperones enjoyed watching their small groups bond and grow over the course of the week.

“There were some people I knew that were not excited about retreat, but in the end they were glad they came,” Ninth Grade Dean Betsy Ilg said.

Overall, the students said that they appreciated the experience at both river trips.

“On the last day, I had never felt more dead and alive at the same time…I was sad to leave the river but the memories and friendships I’ve made will stay with me forever,” Lower River participant Madeline Kim ‘19 said.

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