By Melanie Mandell
As a tribute to Colorado College alumnus Ritt Kellogg ’90, a skilled outdoorsman who tragically died in an avalanche, the Kellogg family established the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund in 1993. Each year, this fund provides students the means to carry out incredible backcountry trips in the U.S. and Canada for 12 days or more. Through a rigorous application process, students may propose virtually any trip they can dream of — from rock climbing in the Cirque of the Unclimbables in northeastern Canada to sea kayaking off the coast of Alaska.
During late July and early August of this past summer, Isobel Steenrod ’21 and Hub Hejna ’21 hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 165 mile thru-hike that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe, in a mere 16 days. Initially, the team anticipated the trek to take 18 days to finish but instead they reached the end two days early after picking up the pace. With some gorgeous views of the Sierra Nevada mixed with a few bear and butterfly run-ins, this trip was one for the books.
Melanie Mandell: What inspired the trip?
Isobel Steenrod: We were inspired by a shared love of the outdoors. Each of us had previously done a NOLS course and loved it, but wanted to try a self-supported trip. We chose the Tahoe Rim Trail because it was a thru-hike, but it wasn’t going to take us months to complete.
Hub Hejna: We were interested in submitting a proposal to the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund and wanted to come up with something realistic and achievable. The Tahoe Rim Trail was a perfect length and had logistical advantages since it is just a big loop.
MM: What was the most challenging aspect? The most rewarding?
IS: The most challenging aspect for me was catching up to Hub whenever we had to go uphill, but he would usually wait at the top. The most rewarding was during the middle of the trip when we had settled into a routine and could look at the map and see our day by day progress.
HH: The most challenging aspect of the trip was having to adjust to the elevation (we were both in the midwest prior to the hike) and pushing through the days where we planned to hike long miles. By the end, our progress was visible, and it was rewarding to watch ourselves get into a rhythm. On our first day we hiked five miles, and ended the trip with several 15-plus day miles.
MM: What was your personal highlight from the trip?
IS: My personal highlight was when we were hiking along a ridge line in a field of wildflowers overlooking Lake Tahoe. A breeze started blowing and it carried thousands of small butterflies with it. It was like walking through a waterfall of butterflies.
HH: Along with the wildlife sightings (bears, etc.) and incredible vistas my favorite part was being able to relax at camp without a cell phone and detach myself from reality as much as I could.
MM: Did you see any notable wildlife?
IS: We saw two bears. I was very afraid of both. At the beginning of our trip, one was hanging out at a popular day hike overlook and was not scared of humans at all. It would run up to us, then we would yell, and it would run away, then it would loop back and do it again, until we finally scared it off. The other bear was way more skittish and ran off as soon as it saw us.
HH: Yes — we had two bear sightings and several run-ins with chipmunks trying to steal our food. We were prepared with bear spray and bear cans and were cautious with those interactions. Another cool moment was when we saw thousands of butterflies floating down the mountainside as we hiked along the ridge line. Along with the wildflowers, it was a pretty spectacular thing to witness.
MM: What was the best camp meal?
IS: Our camp food wasn’t very diverse; we had two options for breakfast and two for dinner and we would just switch. My favorite was cheesy hash browns with cut up beef sticks for breakfast.
HH: One of our staples, and my personal favorite, were pancakes for breakfast. We decided to get some pancake mix at the convenience store during our re-ration and it was a great call.
MM: Do you have any funny stories/camping mishaps?
IS: One night we tried to cook beans and rice and cooked the beans for literally like 45 minutes after soaking them for a few hours, and they were still like little pebbles instead of beans.
HH: Honestly, everything went incredibly smoothly. It was kind of funny camping just off the trail on our last night since we were only two miles from our endpoint — that meant there was a lot of day-use traffic passing us and it was ironic we decided to stay there. We just wanted to get off the trail the next morning and have breakfast as our first front-country meal.
MM: Do you have any advice for those applying for a Ritt Kellogg Expedition?
IS: My advice for people looking to plan Ritt trips is to really make sure you have all the details worked out. We were able to be flexible with our day-to-day mileage because we had done lots of research about water sources and campsite locations beforehand.
HH: My advice would be to keep your proposal realistic and concise, but more than anything I would urge people to just go for it. The RKMF is a super cool part of Colorado College.
MM: If you could do it again, what would you do differently?
IS: I think if I could do it again, I would have done a longer trip, like the Pacific Crest Trail. The RKMF opens a lot of doors for access to wild places, and it would be incredible to use the fund to overcome logistical challenges to get to more remote places.
HH: I would want to incorporate some kind of activity into the expedition. It would be cool to secure some funding for some kind of fly fishing trip in the mountains.