Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Blue Mountains: All About Attitude & Altitude

This is a slideshow I made of all the pictures from my weekend in the Blue Mountains:

I spent three days in the Blue Mountains of Australia hiking and challenging myself mentally and physically while learning in the outdoors. Nature is an entity of both insurmountable beauty as well as power. To be engrossed in it and truly become one with nature is a privilege and gift as well as a potential danger. The power of nature showed itself in these three days and didn't hold back one little bit. It challenged our group on our hikes with different terrains, slippery rocks, high hills to climb, and rainy weather. There were man-made poles and ropes to hold on the most dangerous parts of the path that required the most caution. It was easily observable how fragile humanity is in the presence of the power of nature in these moments. Nature demands respect from those who experience it and consistently reminds us that we are but a small speck in this large world and forever will be unable to achieve more power than nature, although we may have our small victories. These three days were just that, victories.

Before I had come to Australia I had researched the Blue Mountains and it was definitely on my to-do list. It was awesome to experience something I had read about and seen pictures of in real life right before my eyes. In the distance of the mountains it really did look blue as light refracted off the fine oil mist of the world’s most ecologically diverse tract of eucalypt forest. The first day of hiking I saw the expansive views across the Jamison Valley, beautiful forest views, rode the Scenic Railway and was brought up right before the Three Sisters. The second day I saw many waterfalls, a great view of gorges, forests, and cliff lines at Evan’s lookout, and Grose Valley. The third day I saw Wentworth Falls to end the trip with the most stunning natural waterfall and a swim.
The journey started in the early morning with a train to Katoomba. It took about 2 hours to arrive there. During that time I watched the scenery out my window and contemplated the journey I was about to undertake. I met up with my cabin group for the first time at the buses. They were all very welcoming and friendly and I was excited to get to know them more. We took a quick bus ride and arrived at Scenic World. There was a statue reenacting the three sisters. We looked around the gift shop for a bit and I took a peek outside to get my first glimpse of the three sisters. Then we rode down the Katoomba Scenic Railway, the steepest railway in the world at 52 degrees. It was a fun ride as we slipped down into the valley.

We learned about the history of the area as we walked past what once was a coal mine and then started our hike for the day. It started off with a leisurely stroll. We walked a path in the forest that was surrounded by art. I learned about some of the plants and trees around me and we spotted our first of many waterfalls on the trip.

The objective of the day was to reach Echo Point and see the Three Sisters. It was quite the journey to get there. We climbed the Giant Stairway. It was about 1,000 steps straight up, I counted them and it was actually 861. It was extremely physically challenging. My teacher had made me the leader as we walked up the stairs and it was different to be the leader because I had to make sure I was going the right pace so that everyone could keep up and stay together as a group. There were points when I felt like the stairs would never end, but they eventually did and it ended with a great view of the valley we had just climbed out of. It was so beautiful and green and the perfect reward for all our hard work climbing the stairs. It really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and I was proud of myself for completing the stairs, the view was definitely worth it. From there it was a short walk over to Echo Point. The views from Echo Point were absolutely spectacular. They were by far the best of the entire day and I stared in awe at the valley and the Three Sisters for a bit.

Then our group went to Coles to grab some food for the week. I grabbed food that was easy and could be eaten and accessed quickly during the long hours of hiking ahead of me. We then went to the cabins and settled in. They were very nice! I wasn't expecting the accommodation to be so awesome. My cabin mates and I got the fire going and warmed up while having dinner. The weather still wasn't ideal so we decided to have the campfire indoors in our room. A little part of wildlife decided to enter our cabin as we found a lovely little butterfly on the floor and became friends with it. We even named it ‘Lily’. Our whole class rounded up in a circle and enjoyed each other’s company before heading off to bed early. We were told that the next day would be the hardest hike of the trip and it certainly was.

I woke up in the early hours of the morning for a run with one of my cabin mates. I was hoping to spot kangaroos and we did! We saw two in the fields and stopped to see them. They even majestically hopped out of sight; it looked straight out of advertisement for Australian tourism. That had made my day already!

We started the 8 hour hike by looking out over a valley. My teacher pointed out the path we would be taking. It was awesome to see from there where we would be walking. We were handed a map and compass and learned how to use them to navigate our way throughout the day. The terrain was very difficult throughout the day. The rain made the rocks slippery and the dirt into mud. There was a lack of traction and it was very easy to slip and to possibility get hurt. There were many moments when I didn't think I could continue on the path. I learned to stop, take a breath and access the possibilities. All I needed was to logically navigate the challenges and take my time. I gained confidence as I continued the hike. There was even a point in the hike where we had to hold a rope and scale the edge of a cliff. I found it easy, but a slip could have had dangerous consequences. Like the day before, we went down into a valley and had to climb back out. After all, what goes down must come up. There were more stairs to climb and more challenges to overcome. I wouldn't have been able to get through this day without the people I was surrounded by. The conversations I had helped the time pass. We even were singing songs as we trekked the bottom of the valley. Before we started the climb up the stairs back to the top of the valley, there was a waterfall. At the top we saw the same waterfall from a different perspective. The top of the climb had the most beautiful view. I felt an indescribable amount of achievement after conquering the challenges of the day. For a finale that could only be made possible by nature, a rainbow appeared from the center of the valley and rose to the waterfall we had started from at the beginning of our ascent.  All the hard work of those 8 hours was worth it once I saw the rainbow and the beautiful view from the top of the valley. That day reflected life as well. Hard work, persistence, and doing your best earn the best views and outcomes.

That night we set right out to drying our clothes and shoes. The rain had done a proper job of drenching everything we wore completely through. We huddled around the fire for hours. Then there were campfire games inside again. The games reminded me of home as we played many that I had previously played in my leadership program at home. The rest of the night my cabin stayed up and chatted throughout the night. The next day was a hike to Wentworth Falls.

The hike to Wentworth Falls was my favorite day. There were so many waterfalls and it was the most beautiful day in my opinion.  It was the perfect last hike of the trip and I loved my group. We all had so much fun together and there were many laughs on our journey. One of my best friends and I started the hike as the leaders of our group. We lead up to the first waterfall of the day where we stopped for moment. We stood in the middle of the falls. On one side was the waterfall and the other was the drop off with the view of the valley right behind it. Our teacher told us about how someone had hoped over the gate and stood on the rocks on the drop off side to take a picture. They fell and the rocks were too slippery to regain footing. Someone had fallen off the side of the waterfall to the depths of the valley. I couldn't even imagine. Whoever did that took an unnecessary risk and questioned nature’s power and tragically fell. At the bottom of the hike we reached Wentworth Falls. My teacher challenged us to take a dip in the freezing cold waters below the falls. I decided to take the challenge. From my group, it was 3 girls and we were all swimmers who decided to take the plunge. We counted down and dove straight into the waters. I screamed as my body was shocked by the freezing temperature of the water. We swam out to the falls and back. We went straight to our clothes to warm up and then continued the hike. The rest of the hike didn't take too long. There were more stairs and my legs were done for the day. Somehow I drew up enough strength to complete the last giant staircase of the trip. It wasn't long before we were done and back on the bus to the train station. Sarah and I decided to get some coffee and cake before the train arrived. There was a fire in the cute little cafe and it was nice to relax and warm up with a hot drink by the fire.

Nature is always a refreshing escape from the everyday for me. It reminds me that there is green, blue and all the lovely shades of nature in the palate of this beautifully painted world. There aren't just drab shades of gray in a city’s tall skyscrapers and smog-filled air. There are places were civilization isn't the main presence and where authentic, untouched beauty can be viewed at every twist and turn on a trail through captivating wilderness. There are places that feel like home that aren't in a building, but in the authentic landscapes of humans past. These places remind me of where I should be and where I belong. There are places like this and they are gems in this world to brighten life’s experience. 

I loved being in a cabin with four people I hadn't previously met. I was worried about it, but we all bonded really well and I felt like I fit in with them. They all became my new friends and I feel like I know them really well now. Being on a journey or sharing an experience with people is an easy way to get to know them and to bond. This class was the catalyst to developing new relationships. The last day of class we all wrote to each other and I was amazed at all the new friends I was surrounded by and the loving environment our class had become. It was a great conclusion to the class. We were all together one last time to share a smile, a laugh, and recognize each other for the great people we are with a few kind words.

I learned about teamwork as my groups trekked through the Blue Mountains and experienced challenging terrain and weather. There were many moments when I felt like I couldn't do something and a friend was right there to help me. I couldn't reach the top of a rock and I felt stuck when a friend reached down a hand to pull me up. I fell in the mud and my friends made me laugh it off. I was scared to jump into the cold waters of a waterfall, but two of my friends were there to encourage me. It is hard to go through life alone, everyone needs help sometimes. It shouldn't be shameful to ask for help when it is needed. We were all there for each other in this journey and each person in my group made my experience that much better and unique as I chatted with new people along the paths.

Preparation for this trip was essential. I had looked at all the recommended items to bring on the trip and made sure I was fully prepared. I was so glad I had purchased a rain jacket before coming. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without my Gore-Tex raincoat to keep me dry and warm. The second day hike in rain for 8 hours would have been absolutely miserable. Preparation is important in anything we do in life. We also prepared for the hikes each day with maps and a compass in order to know where we were and where we were going at all times. It took conscious effort and thought to reach our destination each day. There were times where there were forks in the road or the path wasn’t even visible. That is when being prepared pays off. These forks in the road also exist in a life’s journey. They are points where we are faced with a choice. The decisions we make in life will lead us to our ultimate destination at life’s conclusion. We must know where we want to end up in life in order to be on the right path and make the right choices to find that path.

From taking Learning in the Outdoors I have come to discover that journey, adventure and experience are education in themselves. I am appreciative of the opportunity I had to learn in an nontraditional yet effective environment compared to the traditional classroom-style of learning I have become accustomed to at university. It was refreshing to get outside and I believe that I learned more about myself than I ever could by sitting in a classroom. I believe that education should challenge one to learn about themselves as that is ultimately the foundation of the future for each individual. If you don’t know who you are, how will you ever be able to know what you want to do and be happy? Education should facilitate this process and this class definitely has done that for me. I have gained a deeper understanding of the person that I am now and the person that I want to be. I know I am capable to accomplish more than I thought I could achieve and the only entity that could stop me from achieving my dreams is myself. I have come to know myself in these journeys and I must say I like the person I have come to know. She is unstoppable, fearless, and ready to go into the world and make a difference in the lives of others. Also, I have learned how influential attitude is on mood and life’s outlook. I love being optimistic and positive and I strive to remain that way. My teacher said after the second day hike in the pouring rain, “You make your own weather in your mind.” It is so true that you decide your attitude. There are some things that you just can’t control in life and there is no point in being upset or stressed about those things. You should focus on what you can do, change and control. What I have learned in these experiences turned lessons I will apply to my future. These experiences have become a part of me. It is undeniable that I have been changed by my journey in this class and I will spread an optimistic attitude, motivation and a drive to pursue nature with the people I meet in my life’s journey. These will be my teachings and I will spread them to all who want to listen.

This is a reflection video I made for my class project. I had to record how I was feeling during my experience and reflect after the trip:

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