March 4, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Tia Vierling | Photo by Daniel De Koning

Entering Colorado College as a Winter Start can be challenging for even the most adaptable students. Making friends, taking classes, and getting used to campus on a different schedule from most other first-years can feel frustrating and even alienating.

This frustration is one of the places where Winter Start Outdoor Orientation Trips (colloquially, WOOT) come into play. Like First Year Outdoor Orientation Trips (FOOT) in the fall, WOOT backpacking trips offer a chance for new students to come together in an adventure-filled outdoor environment, fostering friendships and gaining outdoor experience along the way.

This Block Break five, two different WOOT trips took to the trails.

James Hanafee ’22, who took on a group of eight first-years and one winter start, has extensive experience leading outdoor trips. He first became an Outdoor Education leader his first year at CC and has taken groups out on trips ever since.

It’s important to Hanafee to “expose people to new… experiences, new friends” and “expand upon people’s abilities to engage with the outdoors in a meaningful way”— a sentiment  reflected in his WOOT trip, which took students to Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.

Douglass Peecher ’24 and Jesus Lara Rivas ’25 also led a WOOT trip to New Mexico, taking on the Frijoles Rim Trail over an excursion that lasted four days — nearly all of the Block Break.

This was Rivas’ “certification trip” as a backpacking leader, and he was excited about “getting more people outside” with his WOOT adventure. Peecher and Rivas took out five Winter Starts and two fall starts on their trip.

Each trip had a challenging first day, to say the least. As opposed to FOOT trips, WOOTs, which occur in the winter rather than fall, must often contend with snowy, wintry conditions.

On the first day of Hanafee’s trip, the backpackers “had to basically break our own trail.” That evening, it “got to the high 10s,” leaving the trippees with a frigid first night. “People’s socks were wet, and we only had one working stove,” Hanafee said.

Peecher agreed that the first day was hardest for his crew due to the snow. Not only did they have to struggle their way down into a ravine, but also come up the other side. On the way out of the ravine, Peecher said his trippees were “postholing” in the “deep snow.” Backpackers had to dig flat spots out of the snow for their tent platforms.

But all three leaders felt that their trippees kept up a positive attitude. “You cross a boundary when you… bear with [the challenging conditions].” Rivas said. “It’s cold… challenging… [but even though] the first night was really hard, the second day was happy.”

Peecher agreed. “The further we got, the warmer it was,” Peecher said. The snow that had been such a challenge became a benefit when Peecher and Rivas got into a section where they were “dry camping.” “We carried water in 10-pound dromedaries and supplemented that with snowmelt,” Peecher explained.

Hanafee observed the same mood shift in his WOOT trip. “People perked up” on the second and third day—especially when a second stove was fixed. “We shortened our miles… our last night, we were sitting around singing songs and roasting pineapple over the fire.”

The breathtaking views from both trips most likely helped. Hanafee’s group got to “enjoy the beautiful scenery of New Mexico… made more beautiful by the fresh snowfall.” Peecher noted that his trip got to “see some amazing views and introduce people to the backcountry, which is why you do it, really.”

Rivas grinned as he said that the people on his trip had recently grabbed a meal together and still chat over GroupMe. “[These are] people I’m now still in contact with,” he said, pulling up the group chat. It seems that despite the challenges, this year’s WOOT trips carried on the tradition of bringing new students together.

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