There were eight of us.  We walked single-file in a driving rain with forty-pound packs on our backs, heading into a three-night outing.  I could feel rain soaking into my skin through my expensive, high-tech raincoat, and suddenly remembered I’d had this problem before and meant to do something about it.  Worse yet, this was my idea of fun.  How did I get here?! Photos by Seth Jones

I’d done it before.  In the summer of 2013, I enrolled in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s (ADK) Teen Backpacking Adventure along with my cousin and a friend.  It was by far the highlight of that summer.  We knew that any subsequent trips could never beat the initial amazing experience-but we just had to go again.  After our second trip (the one with the rain), we realized we were completely wrong.  The adventures only got better.

Teen Backpacking Adventure up Gothic's
On the way up Gothics

From the start, Seth and Thea, our guides for both trips, made us welcome and comfortable.  They were not only very knowledgeable, but also funny and easy to relate to.  They described the plan for each day and taught us the basics of backpacking, like what to bring and how to pack our bags so as not to kill our backs with weight.  Hiking in to our base camp, a lean-to near Johns Brook Lodge, we learned more about our fellow hikers while playing games, telling jokes and attempting to solve riddles, traditions that would serve us on both trips.

The diversity of the itinerary both between trips and day-to-day meant there was never a dull moment.  Even when the weather went sour, Thea and Seth rearranged the schedule so we could hike and explore another part of the Adirondacks.  On the plentiful good-weather days, we hiked many High Peaks, including Big Slide, Armstrong, and Gothics.

Teen Backpacking Adventure camp life
Camp life

All of the mountain hikes, both the ascents and the peaks themselves, were absolutely beautiful, and reaching the summits was so gratifying that the excitement of taking on another made us want to keep climbing no matter how tired and hungry we were.  We found it quite funny how a plain peanut butter and jelly sandwich tastes like gourmet food when it’s eaten on a peak.

When we were done with our daily hikes and had cooked and eaten dinner, everyone helped clean and dispose of waste carefully, storing food in bear canisters and broadcasting contaminated water-routines we learned so as to “tread lightly” in the woods and avoid attracting animals.  This was all part of Leave-No-Trace camping, methods we practiced throughout the trips.  After dinner we explored the beautiful and seemingly endless stream below our campsite, hopping from rock to rock and wading up to our knees.  After a tiring day of climbing, I found a sense of peace in this quiet and secluded area surrounded by trees.  The only noise we heard was the flow of water around our legs and the sound of animals and insects getting ready to rest after a long day, just like us.  Johns Brook was the perfect place to relax.

Round Two

Teen Backpacking Adventure summit of Armstrong
On the summit of Armstrong

That second summer adventure, in 2014, was the one that started so unpromisingly, all of us arriving at Johns Brook a dozen pounds heavier from accumulating rain.  Somehow, hanging our soggy clothes and unpacking for the night, we managed to feel a completely unreasonable optimism for what lay ahead.

My favorite hike, part of that year’s itinerary, was Gothics, via the cable.  The trip began with a typical ascent through the woods, but about two-thirds of the way up the trees gradually receded, replaced by flat expanse of rock that stretched very steeply upward.  I assumed our guides were going to show us an alternate path around the rock, but they began ascending it instead.  The climb was very intimidating,  but completely worth it.  At the end, everyone was so proud and extremely glad we’d had this opportunity to test our courage with this unique experience.

Both extended backpacking trips gave me opportunities to do things I wouldn’t normally do on my own, like clambering, astonished, across an open rock face.  I was especially thankful for the chance to share these experiences with close friends while making new ones.

Teen Backpacking Adventure big slide
On the way up Big Slide

My cousin and a friend who joined me on both trips said that their favorite part was “meeting new people” and “being able to spend time with [these] great people in the beautiful Adirondacks.”  By the end of the trip we were all very close, and nobody wanted to leave.  The second summer, another cousin who’d joined us gratefully pointed out the pleasure of “not having to worry about school or work and just being detached from society for a little while.”

These trips gave me the opportunity to enjoy the Adirondacks in a unique way with people I was close with, and became closer to, and to form strong bonds with other participants as well.  I will always remember the amazing, fun, adventure.  And remember, if Thea says to pack light, listen.

This piece was first published in “Adirondac”.

Colette Piasecki-Masters is a rising sophomore at Ithaca College, where she is contemplating a major in biology.