I was at the gate one Friday this summer when the parents came to pick up the girls from Ladies of the Cascades – I don’t get to see that all that often, and it always makes me smile. The bonds formed, particularly in that group, are so special, and the sense of accomplishment and pride oozing from the group was palpable.
It reminded me that the first Opal Creek backpacking trip left Jawbone Flats 10 years ago, entitled “Opal Creek Wilderness Backpack.” I arrived at Opal Creek in 2005, and immediately began scheming backpacking trips for kids. I had come from OMSI, where that was a lot of my job, and knew first-hand the amazing, life-changing experiences backpacking trips could be. By 2007, staff with backpacking experience and Wilderness First Responder certifications were in place, permits had been secured in the Opal Creek Wilderness, and it was time to try it out.
Kaola Swanson and Claire Lukens led the first trip. I will never forget the radio call into Jawbone that night from the ridgeline announcing they had made it to camp. Here’s where the coincidence comes into play – the very first group we sent out there happened to be all girls. We didn’t bill it that way, but it just happened. All of the girls let out a huge collective “Woo-hoo!” over the radio. It was a very special moment. I knew we had started something that would continue to grow for years. I was brought back to that moment on that Friday evening in the dusty parking lot, as I watched the girls say long goodbyes and make plans for next year.
This year, our Expeditions kids will have backpacked through four different Oregon wildernesses, and rafted on two of Oregon’s beautiful rivers. Way back when, these concepts were merely dreams. Of all that we do at Opal Creek, the backpacking trips are really my favorite. They speak to and by their very nature get to the heart and soul of our mission. Extended time in wilderness is vital to our existence and happiness, in my opinion. Over the past ten years, we’ve grown this program from that handful of girls in 2007 to 105 kids this year, ages 8 to 17. Here’s to the next ten years.