October 8, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Alanna Jackson | Photo courtesy of Spencer Torres

From Sept. 22 to 26, packs of Colorado College students fled campus to soak in the last slivers of sunshine before the start of a surely chilly autumn in Colorado Springs. While plenty of students enjoyed campus-based programming or worked during block break, a sort of silence fell over the campus as students rested, spent time with friends, and embarked on outdoor adventures. 

Some students partnered with CC Outdoor Education to relish in the beauty of Colorado’s mountains. Spencer Torres’24, served as a First Year Outdoor Orientation Trip (FOOT) leader. 

Torres is a baritone saxophone player, dance workshop member, Sounds of Colorado College host with Ellen Moore ’23 (listen in on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.), and an avid backpacker. 

During March of 2021, Torres and his friend Grace embarked on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, which can be seen by all on Instagram under @graceandspencerhike. After taking a little over five months to complete the 2,190+ mile trek, Torres returned to CC with an itch to continue romping outside. 

Back when Torres was a first year in 2019, while not selected for a Fall FOOT Trip, he secured a spot on a Winter Start Outdoor Orientation Trip (WOOT) to Bear Ears National Monument in Utah. When Torres received the email from Outdoor Education requesting leaders for this year’s FOOT trips, he remembers thinking “I have to do this.” 

According to Torres, FOOT “introduces first years to what you can do over a block break — the explorative and adventurous side of block breaks.” For the trip Torres led, his group of ten trippees and his co-leader, Sam Rodriguez ’22, trekked through an area which lay only about two and a half hours north of CC. 

The area is officially called the Indian Peaks Wilderness, but Outdoor Education recently internally renamed it the Indigenous Peaks Wilderness. The backpackers hiked a total of 28 miles on the Double Bypass Loop. 

Each day, the group woke up around 6 a.m. or earlier. They devoured a breakfast of oatmeal,  along with bagels smothered in peanut butter, jelly, and Nutella. They had hot chocolate to wash it all down. 

While on the trail, the group marveled at the rising peaks while chomping on goldfish and granola bars. Many of the trippees — with hometowns in California, Minnesota, and Hawaii — had never explored this part of the United States before. The changing of the aspens to a honey-hued yellow coupled with sights of squirrels, chipmunks, deer, pikas, marmots, and, as Torres claimed, “the perfect moose,” left the group in awe of the beauty. 

Torres recalled that one of the most memorable moments of the trip was when Kupai Marx ’25, originally from Hawaii, saw snow for the very first time. Marx built a snowman in honor of this exciting moment.

During lunch time, the backpackers stopped to prepare meals that usually involved tortillas, which, according to Torres, “are excellent for backpacking since they usually cannot get squished.” 

They took longer breaks for lunch, chatting and playing hacky sack. After completing around seven miles each day, the backpackers settled at a campsite. They cooked meals of mac and cheese, stir fry, pasta, and quesadillas. 

One of Torres’s favorite parts about the trip was the ability to disconnect from the internet. 

“We didn’t have cell service the whole time, which was the best thing ever, because we were able to get to know each other without social media,” Torres said. “I sound like such a boomer, but it was so nice to be truly outdoors without technology.”

The crew grew close and enjoyed being outside without the academic pressures that comes with the Block Plan. 

“FOOT gave first years the chance — especially after a potentially stressful first block — to get off of campus and to make new friends,” Torres said. Everyone bonded over the difficulties of trekking through the backcountry at over 10,000 feet of elevation, all while carrying water, clothes, food, tents, and sleeping bags. The trippees even started calling Torres and Rodriguez their “mom and dad.”  

The group’s favorite campsite was situated on a cliff — a perfect spot for stargazing. They spotted three shooting stars. “It was one of the best shooting stars I had seen in my entire life,” Torres said. “It had the perfect crest, and everyone saw it. If [they] had sat down fifteen seconds later, [they] wouldn’t have seen it.” 

Looking at the collection of constellations and the expanse of inky darkness, the crew shared their knowledge of the cosmos and reflected on how appreciative they were to be nestled in the mountains together. 

For those who want to get involved in Outdoor Education or who may not have been selected for FOOT, there are many other opportunities so “do not be discouraged,” Torres said. 

Getting involved in the outdoors can be intimidating, but Outdoor Education has many activities for all skill levels, from stand-up paddle-boarding and beginner hikes to mountain biking and skills workshops. 

Registration for clinics and trips is available on Summit. There is also financial aid available, and the Ahlberg Gear House has all types of supplies, from clothing — which is free to rent — to outdoor essentials, like helmets, camping stoves, snowshoes, and sleeping bags. 

If you want to lead like Torres and Rodriguez, there are Ahlberg Leadership Institute trainings and certifications that you can sign up for on Summit. 

Who knows — maybe you’ll be spotting wildlife and munching on quesadillas in the Colorado wilderness this nextblock break.

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