Gonzaga students chase cheap thrills in great outdoors
College students going wild at spring break party destinations has been the subject of police reports, headlines and even movies.
But let’s not forget that many students release the pressure of midterms by scaling mountains, running rivers, biking trails, muscle-powering into snowy retreats and other outdoor pursuits.
Following are reports from four groups of Gonzaga University students who pooled their skills and enthusiasm to knock off amazing adventures on budgets that could serve as models for erasing the national debt.
They found value in sharing their passions and pushing their limits. Some made lifelong friends. Off on a weeklong break from school, many of them say they learned lessons – and something new about themselves.
Spring break outdoor trip reports
Following are trip reports from four different groups of Gonzaga University students who launched week-long budget adventures to Canyonlands National Park in Utah, the Powder Highway ski areas in British Columbia, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in Alberta and Yosemite National Park in California.
MOAB GROUP: Slickrock deal
Even with fuel running $4.70 a gallon, resourceful adventurers have ways to keep a 1,000-mile road trip within a student’s budget.
“We had five in our smallish SUV, plus all our climbing and camping gear, and we squeezed in one more who just needed a ride to Utah,” said Mary Jantsch, a junior in public relations.
“One person had to ride with the gear in the back. It was tight. Maybe illegal.
“We hadn’t made many plans. The trip and the group just kind of happened in the last few days before spring break.”
They left snowy Spokane and blitzed south to the parched slickrock landscape of Moab, Utah. They arrived just before midnight and crashed on the red earth of canyon country.
“Most of my outdoor experiences have been in the mountains,” said Jantsch of Kansas City, Mo. “So I woke at 6 a.m. It was like Christmas morning. Others were still sleeping, but I was so excited: What was I going to see?”
She hiked to a perch in the slickrock and just sat and soaked in the desert spectacle.
“That was worth the trip right there,” she said.
Ditto for Brett Bollier, who hopped onto the Moab bandwagon three days before the trip launched.
“My parents were expecting me to come home for spring break, but I called and said I had this incredible opportunity: a road trip to a new place with new friends, going camping, climbing and mountain biking. They said go for it.”
Bollier, a junior in mechanical engineering, strapped on his camera that first morning and followed Jantsch to the overlook.
“I was so excited; there was so much to photograph,” he said.
The trip payed dividends to nonclimbers, who reached new personal heights tied in with experienced climbers on local rock routes, including a site called Wall Street.
Then the mountain bikers swayed the group to rent bikes in Moab and experience the famous Slickrock Trail – a 10-mile route through rolling waves of sandstone.
“I don’t have much mountain biking experiences, and I was terrified, but it was cool,” Jantsch said.
“We decided day by day what we were going to do,” Bollier said, noting no shortage of options for anyone who hikes, bikes or climbs.
“We were mostly just excited about being outside,” Jantsch said. “We left snow in Spokane and had a phenomenal week of 75-degree days.
“It was cheap; that was the appeal,” she said, explaining how they camped and cooked meals on backpacking stoves.
“We were doing something really cool without paying an arm and a leg. The campsites were only $10 a night. We had the gear.”
Bottom line: “We split the cost of gas, food, parks pass and campsites; add the bike rentals and the trip still cost only about $200 each,” Jantsch said.
The cheap thrills on this trip won’t be easy to forget, especially for Bollier. “I came home with more than 1,000 photos,” he said.
ASSINIBOINE GROUP: Big-footing
Students who signed up for a trip organized by the Gonzaga Outdoor Center took spring break one step at a time – on snowshoes.
For Olivia Hull of Seattle, the expedition was a giant leap.
“I’ve never done a snowshoe trip,” said Hull, a junior majoring in international business and marketing.
“Six days on the trail? This is definitely the longest I’ve been out in the cold.”
From the Canmore, Alberta, area, the group of eight students led by David Gilbert, shouldered heavy packs and began trekking into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. The Outdoor Center rents equipment necessary for this sort of trip since few students own sleeping bags, pads, tents and snowshoes suitable for winter camping.
“(Gilbert) warned everybody up front it wasn’t going to be an easy trip,” Hull said. “That caught my attention and made me want to do it more.
“He said it was going to suck at first, and he was right.”
The group had to trudge 17 miles the first two days, gaining 1,700 feet of elevation.
“At the end of the first day we were all hurting, looking sad and cold,” Hull said, beginning a quote that might set a record for using the wintery four-letter word that makes most people cower.
“It was cold, especially in the tent that first night. Even in the 0-degree bags we borrowed from the Outdoor Center, it was cold. And it wasn’t any better waking in the cold morning, our feet cold and feeling like cement and trying to put them into cold, frozen boots.”
Her ah-ha moment came on the second day even before they reached their destination at the base of Assiniboine’s spectacular pyramid peak.
“I remember the last really steep uphill of the day,” she said. “Just making it to the top was rewarding, but then we stopped and looked back at our tracks and what we had done. Wow. I had come up all that way with a bunch of strangers who weren’t strangers anymore.”
They were over the hump of Assiniboine Pass and heading to the relative comfort of the Naiset Huts at frozen Lake Magog.
For the next few days, they bunked in the tiny, dark cabins, which are notorious for being a bit shy of cozy.
“They were like ice chests at first, and they had the tiniest little stoves,” Hull said. “But we got some heat going out of them. We warmed the place up.”
Great group experiences can be organized anywhere, she said. “But joining a group into the middle of nowhere, where you depend on each other takes it to another level.
“You forget that part of the world exists when you spend most of your life in town,” she said, noting the $394 a person trip included a bonus. “We got to fly out in a helicopter – another first!”
YOSEMITE GROUP: On the rocks
“If you’re a rock climber, you just have to visit the Yosemite Valley,” said David Dunphy of Issaquah, a senior in environmental studies and business administration.
To climbers it’s Mecca, complete with holy places like Camp 4, a walk-in campsite listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significant role in the development of rock climbing as a sport.
This trip emanated from The Extreme House, one of Gonzaga’s themed living options known for various forms of out-there efforts via snow or trails.
“You start with the housemates, then their friends and friends of friends,” he said.
Caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of a few climbers, even a few nonclimbers tagged on. Eight of them piled into a van bound for the famous granite showcase in California, making detours to Smith Rock State Park in Oregon, as well as to San Francisco.
“We needed a photo at the Golden Gate Bridge,” Dunphy said.
They saved money by crashing at friends’ houses on the way south and hitting big-box stores for group groceries.
“We ate a lot of pasta,” Dunphy said. “We learned it’s easier to be a cook than a clean-up person.”
Feeding Wally the Wagon was the biggest expense.
Wally, which has its own Facebook page, is a 20-year-old, 15-passenger Ford conversion van. It was given to GU student Rob Bohannon by his dad, who must have had Yosemite-bound adventures in mind.
“Sad, but (Bohannon) was unable to get off work to come this year,” Dunphy said. “But he handed us the keys and said, ‘Try to bring Wally back.’ ”
Total cost per person for the eight-day trip was about $260 – about $100 more than last year’s Extreme House spring break dirtbag trip to the Redwoods.
“We found a cheap cabin to rent this time, and that was a good investment,” Dunphy said. “We took a group photo with the Yosemite Valley in the background when we arrived. That’s the last half hour of sunshine we saw.
“Last year we camped through a week of rain. We were soaked and people were bailing out early. It makes all the difference to have a place to get dry and warm.”
The rain didn’t keep them from getting out to climb or hike to Yosemite Falls.
“It was great being on the slabs, getting some of our group to do things they didn’t think they could do,” Dunphy said. “There was Seth Morrison, who’s getting ready to go off med school, on the rocks of Yosemite for his first time climbing outside.
“That’s one of the greatest things about college, getting the chance to share your expertise and passion with somebody else. College is all about trying new things, learning about people. There’s no place better than the outdoors to do that.”
POWDER GROUP: Couch-surving
Breyden Hollubek needed group therapy.
“He’s been dreaming about it for years – a spring break road trip to hit a bunch of the British Columbia ski resorts,” said Kaya Mills, a junior in human physiology. “He dreamed it up with his dad, but I think his dad finally said this is the kind of trip you do with your college friends.”
Hollubek, who met Mills at GU, taught her to ski last year. “When I got it down, he said, ‘Next year we’re doing the Powder Highway.’ ”
Joined by Meredith Noble and Zach Damby, the foursome narrowed the options to four resorts: Fernie, Kicking Horse, Revelstoke and Whitewater, plus a plan to ski into a backcountry hut.
The women were budget-planning superstars.
On a previous visit to Latin America, Noble had compiled a gleaming resume on couchsurfing.org. The online network links people willing to let visitors sleep in their house on a couch or wherever they have free space.
“Meredith had good reviews from places she stayed, so that opened doors to us when she went online,” Mills said. “She set up all of our home stays before we left. We slept on our sleeping pads on floors.”
Mills was in charge of the food. Working around the Noble’s gluten and lactose intolerance, Mills was able to keep the group fueled for just $7 a day per person – “and we ate pretty well,” she said.
“With the food and gear, it was tight in Zach’s Subaru. We left town with every inch of the car stuffed. Everyone including the driver had stuff in their lap.”
Noble brought an extra – a doughnut maker. Using rice and tapioca flower with almond milk, she treated her group and couch-surfing hosts with fresh doughnuts.
“I’ve always gone home to Bellevue,” Mills said, noting she worked through some anxiety before leaving on her first spring break road trip.
“I’d never skied more than two days in a row and here I was heading out for eight straight day of skiing. I was especially apprehensive about going into the backcountry. Zach and Breyden are in great shape.
“Getting all the groceries and gear and dealing with mid-terms made a hectic week. But I’ll never forget the feeling of getting that all behind me, getting the car packed and driving off on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon.”
The men brought the drive for adventure.
Hollubek tutored the group on the Powder Highway’s offerings, from the deep and steep slopes at Fernie to Revelstoke’s 4,000 feet of vertical from summit to lodge, the most of any ski resort in North America.
“Both Breyden and I are really into skiing,” Damby said. “We pushed Kaya. She went beyond her comfort zone. That was cool.”
“Kicking Horse (out of Golden) impressed us the most,” Mills said. “It had better terrain. I had no idea there was such a thing as on-area ski chutes, cliffs and pillow lines to ski. It was intimidating. But my confidence grew. I thought you had to have a helicopter to access terrain like that.”
People they met through couch-surfing were the unexpected highlight. In Fernie, they stayed with Swedes who were renting a place for the skiing season. In Golden, their hosts were Australians.
“In Revelstoke we stayed with a Norwegian lady who was a hoot and holler,” Mills said. “I’d never met people from those countries. We learned about their culture and met their friends, who told us where to go to see things tourists don’t see; some even took us up the ski areas to show us the best runs.”
“Kaya made a green chili dinner for everybody in Revelstoke and that was a big hit,” Danby said.
Riding high from the first five days of the trip, they aimed for a two-night backcountry trek before hitting Whitewater Ski Area on their last day.
They parked the car off Highway 3 at Bombi Summit near Castlegar and put their endurance to the test with a six-hour slog into Grassy Hut. The simple backcountry cabin is maintained by the Kootenay Mountaineers.
They had to make route-finding decisions and work as a group. They got a little lost and eventually found the way.
“The avalanche danger was up there, so it affected where we could go,” Mills said. “When we found the hut, all we could see was a little metal chimney. The hut was buried to the roof in snow on three sides. It was very cozy; the fire in the stove felt so good.”
They stayed two nights, deciding to play it safe on gentle terrain. Hollubek built a kicker by the cabin. They packed a runway and soon they were getting air.
“Breyden was doing flips,” Mills said. “There was so much snow you could land on your head and be fine. He just made the most out of everything. Breyden was blown away the whole time. He was living his dream.”
“All the hospitality caused us to drop our guard, I guess,” Mills said, trying to explain the one significant downer of the Powder Highway trip.
“Somebody punched out the car lock while we were at the hut and cleaned us out, including laptop computers, downhill ski clothing and a camera.”
The thieves also siphoned the fuel tank and messed with the battery cables, forcing the group to a spiral of headaches.
“But everybody pulled together and had a good attitude,” Mills said. “We made a mistake parking there and leaving all that gear in the car, but ultimately it was just stuff.
“We weren’t going to let it ruin an amazing trip.”