Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course (WTC) 2017 - Kaweah Group

  • Updated: October 29, 2017
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

Past the break is a very long quasi chronological sequence of photos following the 2017 Wilderness Travel Course in Orange County with most being specific to Kaweah Group led by myself and Paul Warren along with a staff of extremely hard working volunteers.

For more information on what WTC is and how to take the course see the official site here. More posts on WTC by me can be found here.

This was the sixth year since we launched Kaweah Group as the third group in the Orange County section of the Wilderness Travel Course.  After having such a strong group in 2016 this year's had a lot to live up to.   Fortunately we ended up with an amazing group of people who blew us away the very first night with how much fun we were having and followed that up with one of the most active years on record.

This was also the end of an era as it was the last year volunteering for a good number of the staff including long time Whitney Group leaders Edd Ruskowitz and John Cyran and Kaweah staffers and personal friends Paul Warren and Laurent Hoffman.

Due to this 2018 will see Modjeska Group and Whitney Group being retired and the launch of two brand new ones named Olancha and Ritter.  And of course the concentrated awesomeness that is Kaweah will continue.

Wilderness Travel Course consists of 10 classroom sessions, an all day conditioning assessment hike, a two day bus trip to Joshua Tree for nav & rock scrambling, a snowshoe, and a three day two night backpack at 9,000' in the Sierra in the snow.

Classroom Sessions
January 10th to March 14th, 2017

We changed locations again this year after the Murray Center in Mission Viejo turned out to be a bit too far south for some people.  Fortunately the hard work of Garry McCoppin got us in at the Calvary Church of Santa Ana which was a little more centrally located and gave us more room to work with.

The first night is always an exciting mass of chaos as 60 or so strangers arrive and we get them sorted out into three groups.

Orange County Wilderness Travel Course 2017 Staff & Students

Staff & students of Orange County WTC 2017

One of the major topics of the course is map and compass navigation and we spend a good amount of time on it both in the class and outside.

Modjeska group hard at work at navigation
Modjeska group hard at work at navigation

We also spend class 4 presenting various types of tents and sleep systems to give everyone an idea of what is out there.  Instructors bring out their own tents, set them up, and walk everyone through the ins and outs they've discovered through years of use.

At the same time we present various types of stoves and explain the pluses and minuses.

We also occasionally try to liven things up...

Conditioning Hike To Mount Wilson
January 29th, 2017

The conditioning hike is the first official opportunity to get outside and hike with everyone and it's a big day.  Groups generally do a 15 mile, 3500+ ft day.

That means we meet locally in Orange County before the sun is even up, check gear, and carpool to the mountains.

This year Kaweah went up Mount Wilson from Sierra Madre.

One of the nice things about Wilson is the literal coffee stop at the summit (which happens to be a drive up if you approach from Red Box)  Having come up the long way we were happy to take advantage.

We came down in the dark which wasn't a problem as everyone had their 10 essentials along!

Afterwards all the students and staff were invited out to get a post hike burger.  And for the first time I can recall we ended up with just the staff!

Joshua Tree Nav & Rock Scrambling Weekend
February 11th & 12th, 2017

As always we had a theme for the weekend and we let the students vote.  When there looked like there might be a deadlock between animals and enchanted forest we stepped in and worked out a bipartisan deal to make the theme Enchanted Animal Forest.  Suck it US government!

That of course led to...

*cough*  I mean this...

The staff that came out the night before had a quiet night around a campfire before the main event started Saturday morning.

Saturday morning we had a bit of excitement when Bill's white gas stove had a slight malfunction and briefly appears to be in danger of advancing from merely on fire to  actually exploding.

The minute people were off the bus we started hussling them over to the park benches, stowing gear, and getting helmets on.

Fortunately there's always time to look fabulous!

First up we practice rock skills in a controlled environment and coach students on technique before we head out to apply everything on a peak climb.

Modjeska Group arrived just as we were leaving to take over the stations for their group.

Meanwhile it was time to actually apply those scrambling skills we'd been practicing.  The bump on the right is 4,377' a third class peak that would be our goal for the day.

Nora on the Advanced Chimney.

After the canyon we make a hard turn and head for the summit.

The last bit is a 3rd class scramble and we have staff located at key locations to help everyone through.

Up top it was costume time and we assembled an impressive collection of trees, animals, unicorns, and *cough* horned gentlemen.

Back in camp we kicked off the happy hour, lit the campfire, and enjoyed live music by Bill Payne.

I was briefly kidnapped by masked ruffians who sounded a lot like our friends over in Modjeska Group.  I was returned about half an hour later bloodied and apparently having been provided with additional alcohol.

Mornings suck and they're even worse after a big party so we in Kaweah Group like to do what we can to make it easier.  Not by sleeping in of course because we have too much to do!  But we do cook up breakfast burritos for everyone as we motivate them out of bed before dawn with the power of song

After everyone is up the main activity of the day is navigation.  And that starts with a diorama exercise where students draw a map from a model we created.

Then we head off into the field for applied map and compass work.

Finally we found everyone again and got them back to ride the bus back home.

Snow Travel Day To Mount Waterman
February 26th, 2017

Snow travel day started precipitously...with precipitation!

Nevertheless everyone met us pre dawn in a wet parking lot and we carpooled up to Angeles Forest

So southern california.

Our trailhead was open but just barely.  We followed a snowplow in the last section.

We strapped on snowshoes and climbed the side of Mount Waterman amid periodic snow.

Due to a slight miscommunication our group ended up split between an awesome little mexican food joint down the hill and some random burger establishment but both groups seemed to have fun.

Snow Camp At Rock Creek
March 10th to 12th, 2017

Which brings us to the last great class outing and the thing everything has been building to for the last 9 weeks, snow camp!

We meet the buses locally and here students and staff take a minute to practice setting up their 4 season tents.

Randy was so excited to get off the bus Kristen had to help!

And we're off!  And excited!

While the area is closed off there are some cabins in the area that are active and bring guests up via snowmobile.  So the snow on the road gets graded and we got passed by the vehicle responsible..

We arrived at camp after dark and set about putting up tents and digging out the food box.

The next morning students got a good look at where we'd led them for the first time.

This was a record amount of snow for the years since we've been coming to Rock Creek!

After getting everyone up and moving we set off around the lake on snowshoes.  Our main activity for the day was a snow shelter building competition.

After finding an appropriate location we had everyone stomp around flattening the snow before letting it set for a short period.

Then we got to work.  I did a quick demo to give everyone an idea of what to do, divided them into teams, and they were tasked with building a snow shelter.

Afterwards we break down the shelters (LNT!)  Some groups do so in a slightly more assertive manner than others.

We do a quick avalanche talk including digging a pit before heading back to camp.

Back in camp we rallied staff and students and dug out a snow table big enough for the entire group to sit at.

Dinner was hard to photograph due to the darkness, amount of headlamps, and steam from the boiling pots but there was a sizable amount of food for all.

The next morning we set out once again this time to practice glissading skills.

Afterwards we packed up camp and proceeded on to our other Kawah Snow Camp tradition, the World Championship Kaweah Snoshoe Races!

This year the winners heat had the biggest controversy in it's history

At least until it was pointed out interference with the other racers wasn't technically against the rules that is...

After that we donned our costumes for a quick photo shoot.  The fusion theme the students picked this year was rastafarian aliens.

And with that it was time to head for the bus.  4 miles down the road and we were picked up and carted down the mountain.

Back in Bishop we sat down to a massive feast of salad, greasy pizza, and beer.

And then some of us went on a coffee crawl...

That ended up also visiting a brewery...

And found more friends on the way back...

And even ran into friends from last year who just happened to be in the area.

After all that we piled back into the bus and settled in for the long 6 hour drive back to Orange County.  Fortunately we had such outdoor themed cinematic classics as Cannibal the Musical and Cliffhanger to keep us entertained.

After snow camp there was just one more class and then we wrapped up that phase of the course with a late night visit to Yogurtland that was so heavily attended it was standing room only.

Summer Experience Trips

That marked the end of the classroom portion of the class and now we had summer experience trip season to look forward to.  This year there were just too many to list.  See here for writeups of all the adventures I led.

Of the many notable things that happened this summer a big one was Victor Gomez setting the unofficial WTC record by taking part in 21 experience trips including many tougher trips.  In addition to that Jennifer Jones did 13 (not counting several private trips), Lubna Debbini did 8 despite having to fit in a minor round of spinal surgery, and a number of other people far exceed the required 2 trips.

Reunion Party!

In April we had a Kaweah WTC Alum Multi Year Margarita Mashup at Avila's in Lake Forest.  About 40 people showed up spanning all 6 years since the group was started.

October 27th, 2017

Finally in October the summer experience trip season was officially done and it was time to celebrate with the official end of the class.

All the groups from all four geographic areas gathered at Joshua Tree Lake near Indian Cove for a giant party!

This was the first year we were at Joshua Tree Lake.  Previously we would hold in at Indian Cove Campground but getting the necessary spots has become increasingly difficult / damn near impossible the last few years.

Joshua Tree Lake had plenty of parking, plenty of room for tent camping, and a giant lake which allowed all four areas to set up in close proximity so we could intermingle.

There was food, drinks, and a giant cake shaped like a mountain courtesy of Kim Crane!

A glow in the dark theme had been decided by the graduation coordinators so everyone was plenty decked out by the time the sun went down.

Students who finish all 10 classes, 4 outings, and at least 2 experience trips receive a certificate, a patch, and the adulation of their peers.

Victor received unofficial recognition for his unofficial experience trip record

And there was fire!

Edd Ruskowitz, John Cyran, Bill Payne, Kim Crane, and a few others provided live music for all us late into the night.  We finally closed down and cleaned up around 2:30 am.

And with that WTC 2017 was officially over.

It was an all around amazing year and as a reflection of just how strong the entire year was 8 2017 students are joining the volunteer teaching staff in 2018

WTC 2018 Incoming Staff Meeting

As for everyone else we've continued to see them on trips, pizza paddles, climbing nights, and a host of other activities and look forward to future adventures!

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