In the Woods–Reflections from Yosemite

In the fading light of a long mountain day, our group gathers in our final evening circle. And what a day it has been. An alpine start allows us to climb to 11,000 feet and a commanding view of the Clark Range. An afternoon trek with full packs leads us to our last night in the backcountry, on a granite slab above Rafferty Creek. And as we settle in to reflect on our week together in Yosemite’s high country, we are suddenly illuminated by the first rays of a full moon rising above the steep ridge to the east. There is silence as all eyes watch the sky glow with a soft light and the lengthening moon-shadows of the trees that surround our camp. It is a while before anyone speaks.

It is moments like this that define the experience 8th Grade students have during their week in Yosemite. It is a time like no other for these young teenagers, certainly one that will be long remembered. From scrambling to the top of Mount Hoffmann, to watching the sunrise above Cathedral Peak, to howling with coyotes in the Lyell Canyon, and feeling the coming of winter and the fall of the year, our 8th graders experience the timeless beauty of America’s most iconic national park. It is a week of physical challenge and shared struggle, of laughter and tears, with the kind of raw emotion that leads to unexpected personal growth and lasting lessons in group cooperation and sharing. 

In their journals, students try to find words to capture these moments, to keep hold of the drama the high Sierra wilderness presents. It is not easy. Yet somehow, each student is able to paint pictures with their words that would make John Muir proud. As one 8th grader wrote in her journal this year, “When I look around, all I can think about is how grateful I am to be in the center of Mother Nature’s work and beauty. Yosemite is enormous, inspiring, and makes me feel that I am halfway to heaven.”

Eric Kielich
Associate Head of School
Dean of Students, Upper School