Robert won $250 for the best entry into the FSPW 2012 High School Essay Competition from Plains High School, and another $250 for writing the best overall essay of the year. His “Most Memorable Wilderness Experience” essay appears below.
Bear Spray and Lightning Bolts
It all began on a calm summer day in July. I had been attending the Montana Natural Resource Youth Camp (MNR YC) Conservation Leadership School (CLS).It was a beautiful Wednesday morning as we had a packed schedule of a visit to the Seeley Lake watershed and then an overnight stay deep in the Bob Marshal Wilderness.
The drive was lengthy but we made the best of it as our supervisor related facts about the area where we were to be camping. She explained about bear awareness and what to do if we encountered a bear in route to our destination. The previous day was spent learning about animal safety and properly preparing for an endeavor as this one. We arrived at the trail head just after lunch. After checking and rechecking all of our gear we waited to embark. One of the adults decided to check her pepper spray to make sure that it was functioning properly. She was far enough away from the group but the wind changed directions and we became the unintended targets.
The hike was an entertaining six miles with lots of joking amongst the group. We crossed several mountain streams that flowed in to the main stream that we would later camp beside. As we hiked however the air became more and more static. Our hair started to stand on end and any metal instruments that we had started maintaining a charge. After several glances at the trail behind us, we realized we were going to be caught in a thunderstorm. Thoughts of being caught hiking in a storm such as this kicked the pace into overdrive to get to the campsite.
Sitting around the fire eating dinner and having a good time, we heard a thunder clap that seemed to shake the entire valley. The rush of adrenaline coursing through my body was intense because it was the first time that I had ever had this type of experience. There was a lighting flash against the dark sky, a short time later, we heard another thunder clap and figured that we had some time. Unfortunately we were drastically wrong. In the blink of an eye we were bracing ourselves with anything we could find to keep us from being knocked over as gust after gust hit the camp. Acting on adrenaline and instinct, we quickly made our way to the tents a short distance away. No sooner had we hunkered into our tents the rain came. Torrents of rain mixed with gusts of wind pulled against the tent with such force that we thought we would be torn from the ground and tossed around.
The storm soon passed but we left the safety of our tent with caution. Not knowing if there was another stage of this storm or if it was over. Luckily, the storm had passed. We gathered around the campfire and· nursed it back into a blaze. -Something that a lot of people never fully appreciate in life is the comfort of a fire. Sure most people use a fire for warmth during the winter but when you are in the wilderness it means something so much more. We sat around the fire in silence, just appreciating the comfort of the fire. Later our leaders talked about safely storing food and after cleaning up dinner, we roasted marshmallows and told stories till it was time for bed.
I awoke to a beautiful blue sky on a chilly summer morning. As we tore down the camp and prepared for the hike out, we ate a quick breakfast and embarked on the trail towards civilization. Every little detail of this experience will stay with me forever. It is something that opened my eyes and greatly built upon the respect I have for nature.