It hasn’t been an easy year for the kids of the Hope for Opelousas Adventure Crew—it was the year they took on the Colorado wilderness. But the 46-mile hike wasn’t the only challenge the students would face; they would spend an entire year preparing physically, mentally, and spiritually to make that journey. It all began last fall when twelve junior high and high school students from the HFO afterschool program signed up for the two overnight ten-mile day-hiking trips into the Kisatchie Wilderness National Forest in Alexandria, LA. Students who made it through these two trips were then challenged by the longest hiking trail of its kind in Arkansas: Eagle Rock Loop. Hiking skills tested, the kids needed to build enough strength and endurance to hike with an 18-25 pound backpack through the mountains. This leg of the training was accomplished by six weeks of intense workouts through a gracious partnership with the Louisiana Family Fitness Center, as well as bi-weekly “long walks” with backpacks through the streets of Opelousas. By the end of these trials, six students were qualified to make the trip of a lifetime: six days and five nights of backpacking in the Rockies near Durango, Colorado.
It was finally here. Kids piled into the white 15-passenger van and prepared for the 19 hours it would take to arrive at the first destination: Salida, CO. The goal here was to allow two days for everyone to adjust to the higher altitude and lower oxygen levels of Colorado, accomplished by a fun day of tubing down the Arkansas River and rock climbing at Turtle Rock. They spent the night at a local church and headed out early to make the drive down the Million Dollar Highway toward the historic Durango Silverton Train Station. Here, the Adventure Crew would chug the winding tracks by train three hours into the heart of the San Juan National Forest.
Over the six days, kids waded through river crossings and crossed mountain passes by way of switchbacks, seeing such exotic wildlife as marmots, elk, mountain goats, and even a moose wading into the river. Kids did bible studies and songs when they made camp each night, gathering around a campfire under the wide expanse of a clear and starlit sky. The most challenging day was crossing the summit of the Columbine pass, hiking uphill for eight hours. As they approached the top of the pass, it narrowed, becoming a thin line on a gravel mountain slope. Kids had to remove their backpacks to balance themselves and keep from sliding down. It took teamwork to get everyone to the top of the pass, but they all agreed the view was worth it.