During my last week of school this May, I got a surprise far better than good grades. A call from Sierra Club Headquarters in San Francisco confirmed that I had won the "Best Internship on Earth" through a short video contest. Needless to say I was both excited and grateful for this incredible opportunity to travel, explore, connect, and share my experiences through video and online media. From my base in San Francisco, I'll be participating in an array of Sierra Club Mission Outdoors outings, including Volunteer Vacations, Inner City Outings, Military Families and Veterans Initiatives, and Local Outings, as well as other exciting programs at Outdoor Nation and at the Sierra Student Coalition training in Puerto Rico!
For my first trip, I headed to Yosemite, with high school graduates from Sacramento or "Sac City" as they called it. We left their school, Grant Union High, at 7 a.m. Seven vehicles carried our group of eleven volunteers, eighteen students, and innumerable pounds of supplies and equipment. It would be my first time to Yosemite, and most of the kids' first time as well.
These were not just any kids though. They were the top scholars in their class at Grant, and part of the school's GEO Academy -- a division providing a rigorous environmental science and design curriculum. After four years of hard work, this was their celebratory senior trip. Most had never spent a night in the woods, and each of them was excited for this three-day adventure to such a renowned destination.
Along the route to Yosemite, Kitty, our trip leader, recounted the story of Theodore Roosevelt's fateful camp out with John Muir in the park, during which Muir convinced him to return the land to federal control. This was the first step in the park's preservation.
As we drove into the valley, I couldn't help but put my camera down, and gaze in wonder at the granite cliffs towering above our SUV, and the Giant Sequoias growing straight and tall from the valley floor. It was among these trees that we pitched camp, my new "Minibus" tent feeling quite secure below the canopy. Nearby, some of the boys set their tent up, near the camp's perimeter, to ensure an easy midnight sneak away to scare other campers or lie by the Merced River and watch the stars.
Much of our time over the next few days was spent hiking, gathering firewood, cooking, and playing games around our campsite. Yosemite Falls was our first hike, and along the way, the students got their first glimpse local fauna -- a doe and her faun, feeding in one of the numerous meadows. On the second day, we paused from our fun for a volunteer project of re-painting old trash cans. Through this small task we not only helped keep the park beautiful, but also fostered a sense involvement in the park's well being.
Before leaving on the third day, both volunteers and students embarked on the most challenging hike of the trip -- ascend Sentinel Dome. While not as challenging of an ascent as better known Half Dome, Sentinel offers a similarly stunning panoramic view of the glacially carved valleys and peaks that make up Yosemite. As I raced two of the students, to the top, someone shouted "it feels like Everest!" -- none of us were mountaineers, but we felt similarly accomplished!