This post was written by current Adventure Outings Student Manager, and former Wildcat Wilderness Orientation participant, Joy McCreary. She participated in our WWO Yosemite Backpacking trip in the Summer of 2016.

At Choose Chico Day in April of 2016, I nervously walked into the Bell Memorial Union to see what Chico State had to offer. As I wondered through a plethora of amazing clubs and organizations available on campus, my spirits lifted and I knew I'd find something right up my alley! I meandered down the stairs, and my eyes were met by a brightly colored sign displaying images of rock climbers, rafters, back packers, and bikers, that read Adventure Outings (AO). It was as if a light bulb popped up over my head and lit up, I was on a mission to find out more. I attended a meeting about AO's Wildcat Wilderness Orientation (WWO)program led by AO's Program Coordinator, Keith Crawford, where the nature of these 5 day expedition trips was explained and I was sold! I signed up for the Yosemite Backpacking trip and my journey as a Wildcat had finally begun.

Day 1

The night before the trip began I could barely sleep. I had never backpacked before, and even though I had trained a bit over the summer to prepare myself, I was nervous I wasn't going to be able to make it. It sunk in that I was about to be way out in the backcountry with people I didn't know and I thought my mom must be crazy for letting me do this! I laced up my boots and headed to the back of the WREC, where the AO equipment room is located, this is where I was met by the friendly faces of my leaders, Anthony and Makenzie. We were separated into cook groups, divided up our group gear, learned everyone's names and were on our way to Yosemite! My nerves began to fade as I got to know some of the other participants in the van. We bonded over childhood memories, music, T.V., and most comforting to me, being new to backpacking. We got to our campsite for the night and our leaders taught us how to set up a tarp and how to start a successful fire. We ate a delicious meal and discussed our route and wake up time for the following day. With full bellies, and excitement growing, we headed into our tarp shelter to ensure we got plenty of rest for our first big day of hiking!

Driving to Yosemite!

Day 2

We woke up, had a quick breakfast, loaded our gear into the van, and headed to the trailhead at Tenaya Lake. As Anthony ran shuttle and dropped our van off where we would end our trek, we had some personal time to sit by the lake and reflect in the journals provided by WWO, I still have mine to this day. When Anthony returned and we were ready to begin those who volunteered to be the leaders of the day studied the map and we were off! Day one consisted of a steep four mile hike to our first stop at May Lake, and let me tell you I have never been less sure of my survival. 40 pounds, or so, felt like an elephant on my back, but my caring leaders made sure we had plenty of water breaks and helped readjust our packs for more comfort. We stopped for lunch, learned how to read a map, and checked in with how everyone was feeling. With the leaders constant support, and everyone working together, we made it to the lake, all in one piece! Dropping my pack for the first time was the best possible relief, and I felt so light, happy, and proud--I felt like I could fly! We gathered together and talked about Chico State and the surrounding town, to better understand the place we would all be living in a few short weeks. During this conversation, a trip leader for AO who was working as a guide in Yosemite ran up and hugged our leaders. There were laughs and cheers, and I couldn't help but want to be a part of that camaraderie. At the campfire later that night we were introduced to a WWO tradition called "five minute bios", allowing every person to share their life story in five minutes. A few people shared and we all instantly felt closer, but I waited to do mine because this was the first time I had been asked to go back in time and share what was important to me. With a new found trust in each other, and our environment, we decided to sleep under the stars, dreaming of our next few days on the trail.

Backpacks off during a rest break along the trail.

Day 3

Today was the day I volunteered to be the Leader of the Day, I didn't think I was going to volunteer so early in the trip, but I felt safe and welcome in this new community of friends and I was ready to take the lead! We were headed to a campsite a little way off the beaten path, so I was going to have to use the orienteering skills we had learned the day before to lead us there safely. I was getting more comfortable with the weight on my back but was sure to provide the group with plenty of water breaks and check-ins to make sure everyone was doing alright. After a confusing trek through a seemingly uncharted land, we arrived at the breathtaking Poly Dome Lakes, and enjoyed that end-of-the-day pack drop feeling we had all come to know and love. As we dipped our feet in this pristine cool water, we shared laughs and stories for what seemed like hours. We cooked up some delicious dinners becoming more familiar with our backcountry cooking gear such as Whisperlite stoves, fry bakes, and "spondonicles" (a fancy term for pot grips.) As we sat by the fire that evening telling riddles and sharing more five-minute bios, I couldn't believe how close I had gotten to 7 strangers in just 3 days, and how lucky I was that they would all be in Chico when I finally got to school!

Backpacking through the pines.

Day 4

By this point, we felt like pros. We packed up our packs with ease and precision, swung them onto our backs, and set off to a campsite called Glen Aulin. I remember day four as the funniest day on the trail. We met cool rangers, continued to try and solve a riddle from the night before, and even had spontaneous water breakdance parties! When we reached Glen Aulin, the last campsite of our epic adventure, we were far from done exploring. We dropped our packs and headed up the trail to see if we could find a waterfall we had caught word of on the trail. We enjoyed that weightless feeling of hiking without our packs on and when we finally reached the waterfall we all sat to meditate and enjoy our natural surroundings. I thought back on all I had learned so far. I learned that I could walk for days with all I needed to survive on my back, I learned tips and tricks on getting around Chico and surviving the dorms, I learned how to read a map, I learned how to use new gear, I learned how to poop in the woods, how to start a successful fire, how to maintain a group in the backcountry, how to make some quality friends and so much more. That night I shared my five-minute bio, and ended it with my new discovery from this trip: I wanted to be an Outdoor Educator in the future.

Morning stretch circle.

Day 5

We reluctantly packed up camp, sad that our days in the backcountry had come to an end. On our way back I talked to Anthony and Makenzie about how to work for Adventure Outings, and they told me I had to apply to be an assistant leader online and that if this is something I really want, to sign up and go on some more AO trips. As we got closer and closer to the van we reminisced on all we had endured together. We had come 20 long miles and grown as individuals 10 fold. I had made friends I knew were going to be in my life for a long time, and we're always going to be down for an adventure. We loaded up in the van exhausted but fulfilled and headed back to Chico, our new home.

Joy enjoying some solo time.

Present Day

Today I can proudly say WWO helped make my dreams come true. On my Yosemite trip I met friends I still hang out with today, and I learned to accomplish and work towards the goals I set for myself, this has served me well as a Chico State student. I applied to be an Assistant leader as soon as I got to school, and once hired went to work learning all I could about AO. I started leading trips, working in the office, and after attending our Raft Guide School crushed my fear of whitewater. I can now be found kayaking and rafting almost every weekend, or drawing on our sandwich boards or office sign, the very same ones that drew me in way back in 2016! I was able to work my way through the ranks and am now the Public Relations Student Manager and working to become a Trip Leader. WWO and AO have taught me that hard work and dedication pays off, and I'll always be grateful for their introduction to having a career in the outdoors!

For more information on Wildcat Wilderness Orientation visit our website.

Your Author, Joy!