High Sierra Leadership Expedition Reflection

1.This summer I embarked on a 23 day backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail. The experience challenged me in ways I never could have expected, thus allowing me to grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. During the 23 days of backpacking our group of 12 participants trekked through snowy mountains, hiked over arduous mountain passes, crossed flowing rivers with glacier runoff, cooked dehydrated food over portable stoves, and slept in tents. We did not see civilization for the entirety of the expedition, but we did meet interesting people from all over the world and witnessed sunsets over mountain ranges that I could not have dreamt of.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

A single day has yet to go by when I do not think about my experience on the High Sierra Leadership Expedition. When my mind wanders I see the golden hour illuminating the mountain faces until they glow. I see the wildflowers scattered around my feet and I hear the constant rush of water. I reminiscence on the beauty of nature and the most physically and emotionally challenging experience of my life. The John Muir Trail pushed me outside of my comfort zone numerous times every single day for 23 straight days. There was no way to predict the challenges and unexpected situations that each day brought, and from this I learned the value of truly living in the moment. On the trail, the map accurately shows milage, elevation change, and bodies of waters, but it cannot tell us the water level on a river crossing, how deep the snow will be or how our bodies will react to elevation. Once I accepted that every day would be long and require my full attention, I felt a release. No longer would my my thoughts be occupied by worries about the future or consumed by planning; instead, my attention focused on the present moment. Quite honestly, I did not have any other option, for gingerly walking over a fallen log with a 45 lb. backpack in order to cross a fast-flowing river made my senses hyper-active. Experiences such as this, seemed intimidating at first, but I had no other option except to push myself outside of my comfort zone. The JMT also exposed me to the power of the mind. When I felt physically and emotionally drained, I thought to myself, “I am here, and I am alive.” Repeating these words reminded me of how lucky I am to be surrounded by such natural beauty and how I am mentally tough enough to continue. I wholeheartedly believe that without this positive mindset, I would not have completed the trek. I take these lessons that I learned on the trail to heart, doing my best to live in the present and think with a positive mindset.

Experiencing these challenges allows me to grow in my daily life in Columbus, OH. Whenever I am faced with an obstacle or a tough situation, I remind myself of how I pushed myself mentally and physically on some grueling days on the trail, and I think if I could conquer that challenge, then this is menial. The High Sierra Leadership Expedition also helped me realize who/what I associate the most meaning with in life. On the trail, I could not communicate with family or friends at home, I could not appreciate a warm shower or a real bed, and I most definitely could not surf the web or post on social media. In the front country, I take all of these little things for granted, and when I was disconnected from it all I found that my heart ached the most for my family. My family provides me with constant support and motivation when times get tough, and not talking to them during the most intense month of my life pushed me out of my comfort zone. I learned how much I appreciate them and I realized that relationship truly are the most important things in life. I did not feel behind or left out because of not checking social media, and this helped me fully understand that in order to draw the most meaning out of my life, I need to cherish my relationships with people. Being pushed so far out of my comfort zone also taught me how to be self-sufficient. I carry this new-found knowledge with me in school by acting accountable for my actions and understanding that if I really want something then it is up to me to put forth the effort to work for it.

When reflecting on who I was before and after the trip I see a girl who is more determined, more grateful, and adventurous. Overall, I learned the value of entrusting your life to others, working collaboratively and I truly believe that I can do anything that I set my mind to.


Twelve participants embarked on the backpacking trip, and the majority of us began the journey with no prior backpacking experience; therefore, the first few days of hiking proved vigorous and taxing on the body and mind. I think we all internally questioned whether we were up to the challenge. On the morning of the third day on the trail, one of my peers vocalized his concerns to the group. He explained how he felt worried that he would not be able to complete the 190 miles and scared that he was slowing the group down. His concerns were legitimate, but he was psyching himself out too much. Everyone reassured him that he was not alone in his doubts, but that he had to believe in himself.I shared with him my techniques for coping with doubt, which included thinking positively, practicing gratitude for a body healthy enough to move and carry oneself up mountains and for having the opportunity to be out here enjoying the stunning views. I also stressed the importance of looking at the bigger picture. Yes, our body’s ached from the miles and weight of the pack, but that soreness would soon turn into muscle and by the end of the trip not only would we return physically stronger, but mentally stronger. This experience taught me that if we can push through hump, which already felt like the most challenging task of our lives, then any issue at home or at school will seem menial and we will conquer it with no problems.

Experience similar to the one described above interweaved themselves periodically throughout the entirety of the trip. These moments of weakness followed by reassurance opened my eyes to the power of maintaining a positive mindset. I learned that thinking positively makes every experience more enjoyable and makes every goal seem more achievable. From these experiences, I saw how having a positive mindset motivates those around you, and contributes to an overall well being.


This change is transformational and valuable to my life because I feel like I have adapted a new mindset that will allow me to be a healthier, more productive and more charismatic version of myself. When one is truly present, then he/she enters a state called flow, and we fully experience the things going on around us. Acknowledging this will prove valuable for all aspects of my life because life is sure to be filled with experiences and in order to grow from them, I need to be present.

The High Sierra Leadership Expedition also influenced my life, for I learned what it felt like to be pushed outside of your comfort zone, and grow from it. I noticed that while reflecting on the trip, I wouldn’t dwell on the bad stuff, instead I would reminisce on the experiences that made me feel alive. I found this interesting, that we remember things as better than they were, and I think that this can be partially attributed to the fact that it is often from negative experiences that we grow, which is vital for being happy. This realization relates to my future plans for I know that I will seek out experiences that facilitate personal growth for myself and others.


For more insight on my experience visit my blog  . 

For more photos visit my website.

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