Reports from a BRX Backpacking Debrief

By Anne Mead

Walking up the dirt road to the Blue Ridge Expeditions base camp tonight, three smells greeted my nose: shampoo, pizza, and campfire. Why? Because the BRX crew returned from their backpacking trip today, were able to take showers, were surprised with pizza for dinner courtesy of their leaders, and because campfires are a perfect gathering point for a debrief. Steve and I joined them to hear about their trip and to deliver some much appreciated homemade apple crisp and vanilla ice cream.

An informal debriefing format that we like to use at GRP is called Rose Bud Thorn (RBT). Your rose is your favorite part, your bud is something that you are looking forward to, and your thorn is something that you didn’t like so much. We tend to go in rose thorn bud order to intentionally end on a positive note. Sitting around the campfire, expeditioners took turns to speak about their experiences and takeaways from the backpacking trip.

“My rose was getting to the last campsite at the top of the mountain, having the sun come out for the first time in a long time, and seeing all of the surrounding mountains poking out through the clouds in the valleys. Oh, and the scrambled pancakes for breakfast. And the fern clearing. And also that I got to borrow clean, dry socks. My thorn… I guess you could say the rain, or the actual thorns, but those weren’t even that bad. My bud is canoeing, the sweat lodge, and continuing to get to know you all. And seeing my family again later.”

Throughout the backpacking trip, expeditioners gained leadership skills, learned to embrace challenging weather, bonded over the struggles and rewards of traveling through the woods, and learned a ton about local plants and the environment. Apparently, their last campsite on top of the mountain had grass so tall that, once they laid down their bottom tarps, they didn’t even need their sleeping pads for comfort. That night, it was clear enough that some opted to sleep outside of the tarps to enjoy a starlit sky far from any urban light pollution.

A unanimously mentioned takeaway from the trip was that they all felt more independent, and they all recognized that their willingness to get things done independently determined the success of the group. Some examples of this included setting up tarps, filtering water, and cooking on their own. I observed this beautiful optimism and new-found knowledge showing through their words after just a few days in the woods together. The last time I had seen them was during their climbing day near the start of the session. This time, they were visibly more comfortable outside, with each other, and with themselves. They were more autonomous in that they knew what needed to get done at any given time and helped each other without expectation of praise. They were fluid moving around the campsite and functioning around each other. There was a lot of laughter and smiling over the memories of shared experiences. Their optimism is what really struck me. Even talking about the rain, I got the sense that they appreciated it as an opportunity to practice mental and physical fortitude, which are huge life skills that take practice and support to dial in. Listening in on their backpacking debrief reminded me, once again, of how getting out with others is so helpful to our existences. I’ll save some stories for the expeditioners to share with you, but stay tuned for future updates!
-Karin Perk, Climbing Coordinator and Expeditions Intern