SMU Outdoor Adventures

SMU Outdoor Adventures offers recreational trips and outdoor skills workshops from its “base camp” at the Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports.

11 days in Fiji

An update from Outdoor Adventures seniors Reagan and William on the group’s Kadavu, Fiji, kayaking trip in May (view more photos here):

fiji6.jpg“Bula” and greetings from Kadavu (pronounced “Kendavu”), Fiji! We’ve just gotten back from remote Kadavu Island, part of the Fijian Archipelago, where our SMU Outdoor Adventures group kayaked, snorkeled, scuba-dived, trekked and truly immersed ourselves in the Fijian culture for 11 days.

Day 1: Good-luck dolphins
After arriving at the Nadi International Airport after an 11-hour flight, we met up with our Tamarillo guide, Anthony of Tamarillo Tropical Expeditions, who would serve as our main contact and also our guide throughout our time in Fiji.

At the airport, we had a quick debrief, got to hang out in Nadi and to pick up the last necessary items for our upcoming trip. We had our first cultural experience by picking up slices of pineapple and jack fruit at the local Fresh Produce Market before jumping on the small island-hopper for the short, 45-minute flight to Kadavu.

Arriving at the airport on the small island was quite a surprise! The “airport” was a small house-sized building with only a few workers and a couple of benches. We didn’t hang around long – just long enough to pack our bags into a truck and walk to a small store to pick up chicken for the night’s dinner.

From the store, we walked to a cove to join Ratu, a local plantation owner whom we would be staying with for two nights, and his two motor boats, which we gladly hopped on.

The one-and-a-half-hour ride to Ratu’s place was beautiful, with only slight rainfall and overcast skies, but accompanied by a large pod of dolphins who playfully jumped and swam at the bow of our boat through the choppy water. Ratu said that dolphins were a blessing because they signify a change in the weather – either for the better of worse! But either way, Ratu believed that rain or shine, every day in Fiji is paradise.

Ratu was right about the dolphins, as the next day was absolutely sunny and beautiful, without a cloud in the sky. That night at Ratu’s place, we stepped out of the motor boats to reveal beautiful palm trees and the thatched-roof “Bure” we would all sleep in for two nights, and were invited to join in a ceremonial Kava welcome ceremony with Ratu’s family, Anthony and our three Fijian guides – Gus, Mox and Joseva. We felt like the luckiest people in the world as we entered this pristine environment and culture.

fiji2.jpgDay 2: Paradise
The next day and night at Ratu’s were equally enjoyable, starting off with part of the group watching the sunrise and slowly rising to another day in beautiful paradise.

We had a kayaking technique and safety review in the morning, followed by a full kayak trip along the coast and mangrove patches. It was beautiful seeing the perfectly untouched wilderness that is Fiji. The tropical fish were especially colorful, which we got to see a lot of – we even saw a black-and-white-banded sea serpent, one of the most poisonous animals in the world.

We kayaked to a small island for lunch, and because it was too windy and the water too turbid, we returned to Ratu’s for a snorkeling session. We walked through a village with Sulus – the traditional dress that resembles a sarong, worn around the waste and falling to the floor. We stumbled upon a magnificent waterfall, which first appeared to be a small creek, but then the waterfall came into view. We jumped off a boulder to get to the waterfall, climbed over and took our first look at the 100+ foot waterfall. We climbed up and took turns jumping off, while watching one of our guides, Mox, jump from over 150 feet into the pool below.

Day 3: A muddy hike to Vathalea
The third day, we trekked to Vathalea to stay in the village for two nights. The trek was enjoyable and challenging, trying to navigate through the thick mud (or Fijian mud, as the locals describe it). We trekked through a mangrove forest, took off our shoes in the quicksand-like mud, and arrived at our destination covered in mud.

We crossed a river to get to the village, played with a pet iguana and watched Daniel and Paige help a few locals take up their fishing net out in the ocean. We got a little cleaned up when we reached our Bure, had a welcome Kava ceremony, quick dinner, and more Kava.

As members of our group “gave sugar,” i.e. served some members of the village their bitter Kava drink, we learned the difference between a “high tide”-sized drink and a “low tide”-sized drink, we chatted with the locals, listened to soothing Fijian guitars fill the room, and rested up for the next adventure-filled day.

fiji1.jpgDay 4: Catching dinner
The fourth day was Clay’s birthday, and we spent our second day in Vathalea. We were immersing ourselves in Fijian culture, by trekking through the jungle in search of basket-weaving, prawn-catching and fern-gathering for our upcoming meal. We learned to weave baskets using palm tree leaves, caught prawns, and either took another trek through the jungle or took a boat ride without a motor back to Vathalea.

With a meal prepared in an earthen oven, we dined on fresh fish, prawns, vegetables, and cassava.

Day 5: Camping
The fifth day, we took pictures with the local families, attended a special morning Kava farewell ceremony, and kayaked to Waisalima, a local resort that we would camp on for the next two nights.

Day 6: Starfish sightings
The sixth day, some group members attended a local church, while others took a short trek to a massive Banyon Tree. We took long walks on the beach, snorkeled, picked up shells, and played with starfish. Later, we kayaked out into the bay to watch the sun set.

Day 7: Hula Haca dancing
The seventh day, part of our group went scuba-diving in the morning at a site called Cabbage Patch, while others took a bush walk with the three guides. The scuba divers, after seeing all sorts of fish, sting rays and colorful coral, returned to a startling surprise of the other half of our group dressed up in grass skirts, headdresses and charcoal/mud mixed to be paint all over their bodies. They performed Mox’s famous Hula Haca, Ice Block dance while we came ashore. Everyone was in high spirits and truly enjoying their Fijian experience.

We then kayaked over to Ono Island, where we stayed at Nukubalavu, an unfinished resort where we camped for a night. We stepped foot on the island with bread, tea, and coffee waiting for us: a welcome treat after a rather challenging paddle. We set up tents for the night, and had a huge meal with snapper, trout, and Wahoo, and fresh veggies from Joe’s garden. We had a Kava welcome ceremony during which Joe and Jason, the owners of the resort, swapped stories of Fiji and Australia with us.

The night ended as a small crab was introduced to the Fijian mat we were all sitting Indian-style on, and we played around with it until the night came to a close. One member of the team mentioned how each day felt as though three days had passed because of the high intensity of the program and the diversity of the activities of each day.

Day 8: Trip to Ono Island
The eighth day was filled with a tour of Joe’s garden and drinking water/irrigation system, followed by a rather challenging kayak to circumnavigate around Ono Island to camp at Kenia Resort. We had a nice night’s stay at Kenia, with a Kava ceremony, a big dinner, and star-gazing followed by a bonfire to end the night. We finished the night with our daily haiku readings and fell asleep to the guitar playing and accompaniment by local Fijians.

Day 9: Back to Nadi Bay
The ninth day, we unfortunately would up at the airport back in Nadi, where we stayed at the Nadi Bay Hotel, and dined on super spicy Indian food at a very good local restaurant.

Day 10: Souvenir shopping
The next morning, we checked out of the hotel, dropped off our bags at Anthony’s apartment, and took about an hourlong public bus ride to Lautoka, where we spent about four hours at the vegetable and fruit market, along with a handicraft market. Several hand-carved masks, hand-woven mats, jewelry, and colorful fabric rugs were purchased in order to retain the memories of Fiji once back home.

fiji5.jpgDay 11: Already missing Fiji
On the way back, we reflected on our trip and already began missing the beauty and culture of Fiji. Flying out that night at 10 p.m. was sad, as memories of the lyrics to a traditional Fijian song played in our heads:

When I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me,
Please don’t make me open my eyes.
‘Cause I’m dreaming, dreams of Fiji,
Pacific Islands, Paradise.
I’ve searched the world wide over,
Nowhere could I see,
Anywhere to compare with the Islands of Fiji.
Now I’ve drifted far away
From thoughts of my mind,
All my strength and everyday I’m lost in my dreamtime.
I see people, different races,
Friendly faces smiling at me.
Now my heart goes to where I must go,
To the islands of Fiji.

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Canoeing the Brazos

canoe1-sm.jpgAn update from David Chambers on the Brazos River Canoe Trip, April 12-13:

canoe3-sm.jpgThe Brazos River is one of our favorite and easiest trips, but spring can be tricky, especially with all the rain typical of this season. The weekend turned out to be “almost” perfect. The weather, the river and the group were good.

Whitney, Nicole, Perry, Loren, Jennifer and Julia with OA’s Danni and Ben headed early Saturday for the put-in near Possum Kingdom Dam. The first day proved a little difficult to find a good camp spot as the beautiful weather brought scores of people to the river for the same reason as us. After about 13 miles, the group eventually found a suitable site to spend the evening and night. After a long day on the river, it wasn’t long before everyone headed for the sleeping bags.

The next day was leisure, except for Ben who was saddled with the solo canoe. Paddling the remaining 7 miles proved not so difficult, and the group was heading for home sooner than expected.

Read about May’s Kadavu Island (Fiji) Sea Kayak trip here.

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Lessons learned in Big Bend

An update from David on Outdoor Adventures’ Spring Break trip to Big Bend National Park:

This trips never ceases to amaze us. Relatively easy to plan and pull off. Beautiful scenery, easy river, able to pack a lot of food (we weren’t going to starve on this one), and incredible people. This really should be a regular trip.

With OA represented by Chris and I, we were fortunate to have Jin-Chen, Sam, Breanna, Sarah, Kristin, Arden, Jessica and Logan on board. What a fantastic group!!! From “never befores” to “old timers,” this group was composed of various outdoors people, or soon to be. AND we only experienced two fatalities: canoeing egos (mine anyway) and 1 jackrabbit unable to get out of the way of the mack-daddy OA van.

Instead of the normal trip summary, we decided to do a “What did we learn?”
So, what did we learn?

There is very little to look at between Abilene and Alpine.
Don’t buy DVDs from a pawn shop
We theorized that male Jack-O-Lopes have big antlers for mating. They want to intimidate male jackrabbits. It’s an inadequacy thing. Kind of like big SUVs and trucks.
Do not disregard a bed after 12+ hours in a passenger van, even if you question the cleanliness.
In the desert, a horse has no name.
Nobody in Terlingua showers or shaves on a regular basis.
A heavily loaded canoe will not turn at the last minute … no matter how good you think your canoeing skills might be.
When trying to teach fundamental paddling, make sure everyone knows the difference between right/left and front/back before you use the canoeing terms.
Dancers are tough!
Is it just me, or are people from Pittsburgh loud?
Bathing, washing hair, or even wearing deodorant in the backcountry does nothing to cover up the smell.
Whether making things or cooking things, it is truly amazing to see creativity.
From a distance and in an arroyo (canyon for you that don’t know), donkeys sound like people laughing.
Don’t drink water from the Rio Grande.
Do not eat the last can of Mandarin Oranges before checking with EVERYBODY.
The Marfa Lights do exist, but not on this trip.
At 5:30 in the morning and in large groups (+ or – 8), the border patrol does not have a sense of humor.
It’s amazing what a little adversity, remoteness, good people and a common goal will do to bring a group of strangers together as a team.

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Rock climbing in Mineral Wells

An update from David on Outdoor Adventures’ March 1 trip:

It was a beautiful day with a small group of eager climbers – including Allison, Ashley and Jin-Chen – headed out from SMU for our favorite and closest crag, Mineral Wells State Park.

SMU OA staffers Chris, Danni, Nona and I went along for the ride.

We were fortunate to have only a few other groups of climbers to contend with at the park, so we had abundant opportunity to climb. Allison, Ashley and Jin-Chen all get thumbs-up for effort and tenacity, as we would have to literally peel them off the rock if we needed to move on or let someone else try.

Everyone experienced many successes and a few disappointments. But that is rock climbing. As one of my favorite movie quotes goes, “Sometimes you get the barr, sometimes the barr gets you.”

With such a small group and ample climbing, it wasn’t long before the group was pretty wiped. So we packed it up and headed back for SMU in time to rest, eat and enjoy the Saturday night festivities.

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Backpacking in Ouachita National Forest

hike3.jpgAnnie, trip supervisor and junior political science major, reports on Outdoor Adventures’ winter backpacking trip to Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas, February 1-3:

This adventure began Friday afternoon in the trusty OA van with John behind the wheel. For dinner we sampled the foodstuffs at Braum’s restaurant followed by watching The Big Lebowski.

We arrived at the campground just before midnight, where we promptly erected tents and settled in for the night. The first night was sleepless for many, due to the frigid temperatures and the screeching raccoons. Marmie and Katie stayed entertained with an imaginary trip to Disneyworld, and Buzz had the good fortune to find an abandoned Sierra Design rain jacket.

hike4.jpgThe next morning we covered the basics of packpacking and headed to the trail. We encountered many river crossings, with some people coming very close to losing their balance. We also spotted an armadillo and a flock of wild turkeys.

Afterward, we settled into the campsite and enjoyed a dinner of chicken, stuffing and mashed potatoes followed by fire. Everyone was nestled into their tents before 8, except for Juan, who set out to hunt raccoons. The second night was much more enjoyable – the temperature was less chilly and there were no raccoons.

The second day began with a moderately strenuous couple of inclines followed by a few smaller river crossings. We ended the trip cheerily walking on the road back to the van, where we enjoyed lunch and deissued gear. The trip was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

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Backpacking the Grand Canyon

An update from John, an Outdoor Adventures trip supervisor and senior majoring in marketing and minoring in photography:

While a majority of the SMU community was slowly slipping into a food-induced coma, arguing with relatives or braving the riots at the shopping malls, a few adventurous SMU students were braving something a little different: The SMU Outdoor Adventures Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip.

I, along with fellow trip supervisors Reagan and David Chambers, led 6 SMU students on a 5-day backpacking trip through one of the seven natural wonders and biggest canyons in the world.

Before the fun was to begin, we had to get there – which wasn’t so fun. On Saturday morning, we departed SMU at 8:30 am. 14 hours of driving through west Texas and the New Mexico desert will make any person stir crazy. Like Kansas, the best view of west Texas is in your rear-view mirror.

js-cars.pngThankfully, good conversation and our friend the 21-inch flat-screen TV made the drive a little easier to cope with. A stop at the famous “Cadillac Ranch” in Amarillo gave us some time to stretch our legs and ponder why somebody would want to bury multiple Cadillacs in a field. What was next, the world’s biggest ball of yarn?

Our drive down Interstate 40 hit just about every town on Route 66 – Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Albuquerque and then Gallup, NM, where we stopped for the night to help break up the drive. The next morning, we rose bright and early and headed out for the last few hours of our drive to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. We were making good time – enjoying the views, marveling at the “authentic” Native American trading posts – and then a person who will remain nameless realized he had left all the topographic maps, permits and papers in a bag at the hotel in Gallup … Screeeech, u-turn, 80 miles back to the hotel …

js-view.jpgA few extra hours later, we finally arrived at the Grand Canyon – maps in hand. The initial view was enough for all of us to forget the map fiasco and marvel at the splendor of the sweeping canyon views. Your first view of the Grand Canyon is something you will never forget. It is so vast and well … grand. At times you think you are looking at a giant mural. With plenty of touristy pictures on our memory cards, we camped for the night at one of the park’s main campsites, handed out gear, taught all the essential cooking and packing skills and made last-minute preparations for the next morning’s hike.

On Monday morning, we set out down the Grandview Trail for a relatively short 3-mile hike to an area known as Horseshoe Mesa, where we would camp for the night. This short 3 miles slapped us all in the face and made us realize maybe we should have worked out a little more before we left. With narrow switchbacks and 2000 feet of elevation loss, our quads were feeling a bit like grandma’s Thanksgiving Jell-O mold. Nevertheless, we admired the panoramic views and enjoyed the almost perfect weather. Passing by old mine sites and stone ruins, we arrived at our camp and rested our tired legs.

The next day, we made a short hop down another 1000 feet in elevation to Cottonwood Creek. Named for the cottonwood trees that grow along its banks, this creek provided us with the vital water that we needed. Since fall was wrapping up, we were also able to enjoy the yellow leaves of the cottonwoods against the big blue sky and red canyon.

js-hike.jpg On day 3, we left Cottonwood creek to join up with the Tonto Trail, which runs along a plateau parallel to the Colorado River. This portion of the trail arguably provided some of the best views of the entire trip. Just a few yards from the trail was a 1500-foot drop down to the Colorado River. Combine this with the panoramic views of the buttes and mesas, and you have yourself a picture. 5.5 miles later, we were at our destination for the night – Grapevine Creek. This slick rock canyon once again gave us a beautiful area to camp in for the night and gave us the opportunity to explore a slot canyon.

The next morning, Thanksgiving morning, we all woke up at 5:30 am to the most amazing star-filled sky most of us have ever seen. From horizon to horizon, all you could see were stars. Framed by the canyon, this view was something to remember. The stars got us pumped up for what would be one of the longest and hardest days of the trip – 12 miles. We all tried NOT to remind ourselves that we were hiking a half-marathon with 40 pounds on our back. We also tried not to remember that 99.9 percent of America was gorging on turkey and lounging around the house watching football.

Despite the long hike, the tired muscles and the painful feet, everyone in the group made it to our next campsite – Cremation Canyon. We enjoyed the best Thanksgiving dinner you could possible have in the wilderness. By that, I mean instant stuffing and packaged chicken. Believe me, it was a taste of heaven after the day’s hike.

On our final day, we had another daunting task – 5.5 miles of hiking with over 3000 feet of elevation gain back to the rim. This is never easy, but many of us were still a bit wiped out from the day before. After a 2-mile hike across the final section of the Tonto Trail, we started up the South Kaibab Trail. From here, it was nothing but uphill switchbacks all the way to the top.

One step at a time, we chugged up the dusty trail and passing tourists who gave us funny looks and probably wondered why we smelled so bad. Their looks were usually accompanied by questions (“You’ve been hiking since WHEN?” “You stayed HOW LONG in the Canyon?” … “Wow, those packs look heavy – It’s a looong way to the top!”). Gee, thanks for the encouragement. One of our backpackers even broke wind as a young co-ed passed – we were too tired and focused to comment.

But, as hard as the hike was, the group once again amazed us and made great time to the top. We all collapsed to the ground for a break, loaded up the van, got some souvenir shopping done and then stuffed ourselves at the cafeteria. We then headed to Flagstaff for the night.

On the final day, we woke up at 4:30 am to drive 17 hours back to Dallas from Flagstaff, AZ. This time, the drive was made a little less boring by the fact that 2 inches of snow had fallen across New Mexico and west Texas. Snowball fights ensued and we eventually made it back to Dallas around 10:30 pm.

js-group.jpgThere is a quote by Edward Abbey that goes: “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” I can speak for myself and the rest of the group when I say our trails were all of the above. However, the views, memories and experience that we got from those trails made every blister, aching muscle and long mile worth it.

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Hang-gliding trip off the ground…


We left SMU at 6:15 am October 27 headed for Lawton, OK. In the van were three participants
with staff-members Ben, John and Chris. The other participant. Mike, was driving from Fort Worth to meet us in Lawton.

A few hours later, we arrived at the meeting spot, which was the only house we could see for miles. Unsure whether the gurgling of our stomachs was due to McDonald’s breakfast or nerves, we stepped out of the van and approached the house. We were welcomed into the house by our instructor Tom and his dog to find that Mike had beaten us there. With the group finally together, we filled out all necessary paperwork and watched a ridiculously cheesy yet informative video about hang gliding. We then loaded up the hang gliders in a few trucks and followed them as best we could in the van down several farm roads until we reached our destination. Yep, another farm road.

Once we prepped the hang gliders and Tom took it for a test flight, we began taking turns tandem flying with Tom. Basically, a truck specially rigged for hang glide towing would drive 2-3 miles down the farm road as the hang glider gained altitude.

When either the hang glider was high enough or the truck driver ran out of road, Tom would disconnect the tow rope and the hang glider would soar through the air doing tricks until coming down for a somewhat light landing. We got as high as 1800 feet up and flew for 5-10 minutes, although it felt a lot longer for the person flying.

After about 8 hours of flying, we packed up and stopped in Lawton for a Mexican dinner with the hang gliding staff before making the long journey home. It was truly an amazing experience for all.

– Ben is a trip supervisor for Outdoor Adventures and a senior majoring in mechanical engineering

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