Fall 2014 Zip Lining Day Trip

Along with others who wanted an exciting experience, I had the opportunity to fly from treetop to treetop this past weekend on our first trip of the year–Zip Lining! We met at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning and loaded up our brand new Outdoor Adventures van. After a short drive of about 2 hours, we arrived at Texas ZipLine Adventures in New York, Texas. The beautiful panoramic views that we would soon be enjoying OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe most breathtaking 30-plus mile views of the East Texas Countryside. The Texas ZipLine guides set us up with the proper gear and gave us a quick tutorial on how to break. Then it was off to the first of 9 platforms to finally start ziplining.

We soared above treetops, some of which appeared to be extremely close to the ziplining path. Each line got progressively longer, the longest (and most fun) being more than 940 ft. We experimented by ziplining upside down and in the “burning man” position. At first, it was a challenge for those of us who were nervous about the height, but we all finished the course. Afterwards, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on a patio with an amazing view of the surrounding area.

Our first trip was a great success. I am looking forward to future trips with Outdoor Adventures…on which I hope to see some familiar faces!

Hanna Shin- Trip Leader in training

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Outdoor Leader Training (OLT) Trip

Every year, we take new candidates for our Outdoor Leadership program on a backpacking trip through the wilderness of Carson National Forest in New Mexico. This year, we had six extraordinary candidates, who were all willing to learn new things about the outdoors, as well as share with us their own experience outdoors.

We left from Dallas dark and early on August 7th, and arrived at SMU’s Taos campus about thirteen hours later. The next day, we started out at the trail head at Cabresto Lake. New Mexico welcomed us with bright, warm afternoons and chilly nights, and the weather stayed dry nearly the whole time we were there! During this time, our current leaders taught outdoor classes to the new OLT’s, including classes on extensive Leave-No-Trace principles, map and compass orientation, and trip planning and safety. Each day, we were hiking around 3-6 miles and experiencing elevation gains and losses of anywhere from 300-1,000 feet. Other than teaching or learning in classes, our favorite pastimes included playing the card game “Palace,” star-gazing in the freezing nights, taking jumping photos in various locations, and picking (and eating) wild strawberries and kinnikinnick berries.

Overall, our trip was a huge success, and we had the pleasure of inviting every new OLT candidate into our year-long training process to become future SMU Outdoor Adventures Leaders! Thank you for such a wonderful trip, and good luck with Outdoor Leadership Training, Samantha, Kaitlyn, Hanna, Tanner, Devin, and Nick!

Jessica Garza, SMU OA Student Manager -Trips and Workshops


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SMU Outdoor Adventures Spring Canoe Trip—April 12-13, 2014 North Toledo Bend State Park

Packed up and headed out at around 8 AM, the SMU OA Spring Canoe Trip was off! At near full capacity [nine participants and two trip leaders], we started on our first leg of the toledotrip pushing toward the Texas—Louisiana State-Border. With a quick stop along the way for lunch at What-A-Burger, we arrived at our put in point [some five hours from departing SMU], Bean’s VIP Campground, on the Texas side of the Toledo Bend Reservoir. With the canoes and single kayak all packed up, the group was nearly ready to go—with the addition of an in the field clinic on paddling and canoe 101, the group was ready to embark on a journey to Louisiana. Starting in a protected cove, we made our way through some marsh like waters and then out into the open reservoir. The crossing was the “crux” of the trek to the Louisiana side; with clear blue skies, but a constant wind gust, the group battled the current pushing the boats inherently northeast. All but one boat made it across with now issues—having to deal with a flip in the middle of the reservoir was a doozy, but we quickly righted the canoe, got the participants warm and were back on track. Pulling in after around a four hour paddle, we made friends with the Assistant-Manager and Police Officer of the Park. The Officer sorted out the group with a campsite and introduced us to our camping neighbors. While collecting firewood for the evening, the group was invited to join a few of their new neighbors, the USIS’ [a social organization from the Shreveport, Louisiana area comprised of upstanding members of the community] for dinner. After a good two hours of true “Southern Hospitality” and fun, the group parted ways and we reconvened at camp and built a fire. Due to looming inclement weather to come Sunday afternoon—the trip leaders, were able to execute a contingency plan to pick up the van from the Texas side and bring it to the Louisiana side. While one leader nabbed the van, the other stayed at camp and hosted a warm filling breakfast. Upon arrival with the van, we broke down camp, packed up the canoes and hit the road headed home! We will certainly be back to North Toledo Bend in the future!

Hunter Higgins- SMU OA Trip Leader.

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2014 Overnight Winter backpacking trip

Icicles dangling from branches, leaves encased in crystal ice, and snow dusted hills encircled with a hazy fog as far as the eye can see.

Three SMU Outdoor Adventure leaders took eight students backpacking through an Arkansas Winter Wonderland Feb. 7-9. The enchanting scenery of Ouachita National Forest kept the group pushing forward in high spirits through the obstacles the wilderness cast in their paths. We hiked through 40 degree weather and mist, and then curled up in our tents through the 20 degree weather, with coyotes howling and light precipitation floating to the forest floor.

We made it to Daisy State Park a little before nine Friday night and built a fire to thaw our hands after setting up camp. Saturday morning, we woke up next to the lake with a crystal clear reflection of the hills and trees, and a mystical fog adding to the white and gray ambience only broken by a hint of dark green high in the trees, poking through the snow-covered branches.

The beauty followed us on the drive, and to the trailhead, and eventually at our campsite Saturday night. We ducked under icicles and sagging branches, we climbed over frost bitten logs, and we pushed through masses of bending trees frozen in place for five miles to our campsite by Caney Creek.

We ate two pots of pasta for dinner, and throughout the night, the flow of the nearby stream filled every silence, offering an era of peace and reclusiveness.

Sunday morning the ice had vanished. We awoke to green and brown and orange leaves, and bare branches recovering from the cold. But warm enough to melt the ice was still cold enough to send shivers down our spine. A warm breakfast of oatmeal, and we were on the trail again.

Once we reached the road, a runner team left to pick up the van, only to discover a flat tire.  Three hours of cards and random chatter later, we were actually on the road again, heading back to SMU. We made it to back the OA at 11 p.m.

The 2014 Winter Backpacking trip was far from perfect, but was made worth it by the beautiful mountains of Arkansas, and a high spirited group of students ready to explore.


Karly Hanson – Outdoor Adventures Trip LeaderOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Rock Climbing Trip 11/2/13 – Lake Mineral Wells State Park, Mineral Wells, TX

This past Saturday, two of our trip leaders, Kelly Gilliland and Manuel Familiar, accompanied by three SMU students went to Mineral Wells for a day of climbing. We traveled with six of SMU OA’s Outdoor Leaders in Training (OLTs), who spent the day learning the fundamentals of leading an outdoor rock climbing trip, as well as anchor building, rappelling, and rock site management. Upon arrival, the weather was pretty cold, but also quite sunny. We spent the morning climbing hard and warming up while the OLTs practiced anchors and rappelling. Lunch time hit us around 11:30 a.m., so we opened up the hummus and pita, set up the slack line, made some sandwiches, and relaxed in the warm sun. The afternoon proved to have much more comfortable climbing weather- there was plenty of climbing to go around. We departed for SMU at about 4:45 p.m., and kept with tradition by stopping at The Malt Shop along Hwy. 180, and the malts and shakes we bought were delicious! We got back a little after 6, and parted ways. I’d have to say, personally, this was a great way to spend a Saturday with some pretty awesome people.

Kelly Gilliland, OA Climbing Wall student MaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnager

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2013 Fall Break – Matagorda Island Sea Kayaking Trip

SMU Outdoor Adventures hit the road at around 8 am on Saturday morning. With 6 hours in the trip van ahead of them, many of the participants grabbed some shut eye while the two trip leaders navigated their way down to southern Texas’ city of Port Lavaca. Base camp was set up at the Lighthouse RV Park, mid afternoon, followed by a group outing to Walmart. Following the Walmart outing, participants were shown the ropes on basic cooking skills and outdoor etiquette. Fry-baked quesadillas served as the evenings meal then it was movie time  (Forrest Gump) and off to bed—a good nights rest was certainly needed for the trek ahead.

Departing base camp Sunday morning was exciting because it was now time for the real deal—the paddle out to Matagorda Island. The group arrived at the Port O’Connor put-in point just before 11 am and were on the water before noon. The weather held for most of the paddle out to Matagorda up until around the half-way mark when the skies opened up. The group made the call to take refuge in the abandoned Coast Guard tower for about 2 hours until the storm had passed. The skies cleared up and the journey continued—pulling up to Matagorda Island in the mid to late afternoon. The group pulled their boats ashore and rushed to the Gulf side of Sunday Beach to take a look at their accomplishment—we’d finally made it to the island. Following the view, camp was set and dinner was had—tomorrow was leisure day!

The next day the group surfed the gulf in kayaks, had a beach volleyball tournament, soaked up some rays, and enjoyed the natural beauty of Matagorda Island. The last evening on the island was spent building and exploring group dynamics and ended with a night walk along the beach.

Tuesday Morning was a slow start, but the group made it on the water with the tides going out and the wind at its back. Making the paddle back to Port O’Connor in under two hours was extremely impressive—the fastest this feat has ever been completed in the program.After getting the boats back on the trailer and the participants into clean clothes—it was back on the road to SMU. Great trip

Matagorda tripHunter D. Higgins, SMU OA Trip Leader

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Fall 2013 Zip Lining Trip

On September 14th, 8:30 AM, a group of adventurous SMU students set out for New York Texas Zipline Adventure—a two hour drive from Dallas—with only some water bottles, food for lunch, and a box of donuts for breakfast. After the trip leaders, Kelly Gilliland and Manuel Familiar, and I packed up the van and picked up the participants, we were off. Within minutes, most of our participants had fallen asleep (hey, at least that means smooth driving on Manuel’s part!) and a selfie was taken of the van, unbeknownst to the passengers, and sent to our beloved program director, Albert Mitugo (don’t worry guys, this one’s not going on Facebook).

Upon arrival, the group sat down at some tables and soaked in the refreshing 79-degree weather, the smell of the woods, and the peaceful view from the top of the ziplines. One by one, the participants all went, without a single complaint, to use the outhouses before getting set up to go ziplining. We then were given our harnesses, helmets, and gloves. After a quick group photo, we then watched a demonstration given by one of the New York Texas Zipline Adventure employees. We each practiced stopping on a mini zipline to get ready for the real thing.  The staff then gave us clip-on water bottles and directed us to the first zip.

Though the participants may have been quiet on the ride there, everyone started talking and making connections while excitedly waiting on the stairs for each zipline. Soon enough, we had all passed our first line—some more nervous than others, but all made it—and began to snap photos and videos of people as they zipped onto the platforms. At the beginning we all laughed as the employees casually zipped along with no hands; they made it look so easy to just nonchalantly jump off the box and do some spins with no worries at all. But by the third or fourth zipline, everyone was feeling brave enough to give it a running start and jump off the box as they began the zip. By the last zipline—a line about 800 feet long—we were even hanging upside down (after being given careful instructions by the employees on how to do it properly) and spinning as we zipped through the trees. The last line was definitely everyone’s favorite.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After removing our gear and rehydrating, we proceeded to bring the lunch supplies from the van to the picnic tables outside the shop. With some sandwiches, chips, fruit, granola bars, and, most importantly, hummus and pita bread, we sat and ate while getting to know each other a little more and exchanging phone numbers to send pictures we had taken of each other on the ziplines. When we were all full, we packed up and headed back to the van. After another bathroom break, we all headed back to Dallas. Once again, within minutes, all the passengers were asleep, not even woken up by the occasional bump in the road. We arrived back in Dallas around 3:30 PM and all the participants were given t-shirts (or bro tanks, if desired) after our debrief meeting in which we discussed the pros, cons, and potential improvements of the trip. None had any bad things to say; the trip was a complete success and everyone is excited to see what trip is next on the schedule!

-Christina McConville, OA Leader in Training

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2013 Spring Break Backpacking Trip to Canyonlands National Park, UT

4:45 am Saturday March 9, 12 SMU Spring Breakers piled into the white Outdoor Adventure van, closely situated after only just learning each other’s names and majors. 14 hours later, 7:00 pm Mountain Time, the van pulled into the Rio Rancho Comfort Inn, completing day one of the road trip to Canyonlands National Park, UT.

For spring break 2013, SMU’s Outdoor Adventure Program took eight students backpacking March 9 – 17 through the Needles District of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. The trip was planned and led by student Leaders Jeremy Rechtien, Grant Ryden and Karly Hanson. Program director Albert Mitugo also tagged along.

Students of different ages and languages came together for a unique experience. Graduate students Sanket Ghormade and Leo Yu, transfer student Chanesia Johnson, Jing Jing Yang, sophomores Arvin Tsai, Lizzie Wilson, and freshmen Alex Stephens and Becca Rothstein all signed up for a spring break away in the back country. Only two had backpacking experience, and only four had been camping before.

The trip itinerary consisted of two driving days, the first night spent in the Comfort Inn and the second camping out at the privately owned Needles Outpost – the last running water and traditional restrooms the group would see for five days. From there, they left the van behind at the trail head and hiked to their first two camp sites in Big Spring. Day two they spent at Squaw Flat, Day three and four they were at Lost Canyon, and on day five they camped along the Horse Canyon trail. In order to reduce the group’s impact as much as possible, the leaders split into pairs and each lead a half of the group to a different camp site. The two groups would meet up in the morning and complete the majority of the day hikes together, and then go their separate ways late in the afternoon to camp sites about one mile apart.

The first night sleeping outside at Needles Outpost was by far the coldest, with temperatures plummeting as low as 20 degrees F. Hot drinks were cradled under layers in attempt to create warmth, participants huddled like penguins jumping up and down as the feeling in their toes surrendered to the cold. However, this did not stop the participants from staying up and admiring the luminous starry night. They huddled up by Grant’s telescope as he described and pointed out the different winter time constellations such as Orion and The Pleiades, and the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius.

Leaders Albert, Jeremy, Grant, and Karly decided not to put up a tent and enjoy the serenity of sleeping under the stars, only to wake up with frozen sleeping bags. Even Albert said it was the coldest night he has experienced in the canyon lands despite his years of experience.

A typical day for the group began with a morning stretch once the two groups had joined together again, hiking to next camp site, stopping for water and lunch, setting up camp at the new site then cooking dinner, discussions, and the nightly de-brief before going to sleep.

Though this was a spring break trip, education was not completely left behind. The participants learned basic back country skills such as cooking, water purification, and tent set-up.

Because Canyonlands National Park is a desert, a few of the campsites were dry, meaning that the backpackers often had to haul water in dromedaries whenever a water source was found.

Cooking for the participants quickly became a game of concocting original, filling dishes. What started as rice and beans wrapped in a tortilla with cheese, quickly became Craisin pancake breakfasts and pepperoni calzone dinners. While several of them had never really cooked in the front country, they were able to pick up basic cooking skills and get creative with the menu. The participant cook group at Albert’s camp often made two dinners in order to keep Arvin happily fed. He ate all of the left-over’s and then some, balancing out the smaller appetite of Alex, who became known as Steelex, a combination of his last and first name.

With these freezing night-time temperatures, needless to say that hot drinks were the highlight to everyone’s morning and night. Any left over water was boiled and used to make tea, cocoa, and cider.

On the lay-over day in Lost Canyon, the group went on a small hike to an elevated slab of smooth rock area to have lunch, participate in some facilitation activities, and to take  two hours to themselves, in their own space, to do whatever they wanted. This time period was called “solos” because it was essentially the only time that the participants and leaders had genuine alone time since the early morning departure March 9. Participants used this time to decompress, nap in the sun, and reflect on their experience and on their life as a whole.

Eventually, by the last long day-hike, the intensity of maneuvering in and out of the canyons became less strenuous and participants began to pass the time in song. Lizzie, Jing Jing and Chanesia especially found this amusing, and serenaded the rest of the group with songs from One Direction, Britney Spears, and even the Back Street Boys.

Also on the last long day-hike, the leaders found themselves geographically challenged and the maps were brought out to reconfigure the exact location of the group. As it turned out, they had hiked south for 3 miles in the opposite direction from where they wanted to go, and therefore needed to correct this. Though the participants were a little discouraged, as the beginning signs of blisters began to form on their feet, they were able to push a little further and make it to a decent camping site where the groups shared a final dinner together.

In the morning, it was time to hike out of the park and Grant, Jeremy, Karly, and Alex hiked ahead in order to scout out the trail and go grab the van from the starting trail head. When the rest of the group reached the barrier, marking the end of the trail and the park, Canyoland_4participants screamed in relief and took pictures sitting on the fence, proud of themselves for trying something new and surviving it.

The group then repacked the van and headed off to Needles Outpost for their first showers in five days, and then the drive back to Rio Rancho commenced. March 17 8:00 pm the van pulled up next to Doak Walker, signifying the end of another SMU spring break.

Karly Hanson- SMU Outdoor Adventures Trip Leader in training.

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Weekend Backpacking in the Ouachita National Forest- Feb 8-10, 2013


We were well on our way to Millwood Lake at 3:30 on Friday with some new faces as well as some old ones accompanying us on this new adventure through the Ouachita National Forest. The 3-hour van ride was a chatty one, with everyone getting to know each other, riding the sunset to grab a bite to eat in Texarkana. It wasn’t too long before we reached our destination at Millwood Lake, where we quickly taught everyone how to set up camp. The rest of the evening was spent creating a particularly difficult bonfire as well as looking at Jupiter and it’s moons through Grant’s telescope, before heading off to bed to rest up for our early morning wake-up!

Waking up on that particularly chilly morning was not an easy thing to do, but by 9:30am we had warm food in our bellies and were heading off to explore the White Cliffs of Millwood Lake! After a couple of hours of picture taking with a machine-gun-camera, we were ready to head on out to the Ouachita National Forest. The day was overcast and cold by the time we arrived at the trail-head and it had begun to slightly drizzle, but after a few hours hiking through the mountains, we were quickly shedding layers to accommodate the increase in body temperature. We finally arrived at the campsite after crossing Caney Creek, where we set up camp and learned how to cook in the back country! We all went to sleep pretty early because we were all exhausted from the day hike… but little did we know we were going to wake up in a few hours because of an awe-inspiring lightning storm!

The following morning was beautiful. The clouds parted and warmth settled in the valley where we were camped at. After a nice breakfast we were off, following the windy creek back to the van. We stopped by a lovely waterfall on our way back, where we enjoyed a nice break from hiking through the forest. It’s incredible how much the forest changes to vibrant colors when the sun shines proudly upon the trees. After a few hours, we saw the sight we had all been waiting for… The SMU van! After packing up the van we were on our way back to civilization. A quick stop at Sonic’s for a bite to eat and a 3 hour drive later, we were back at SMU. Hugs were exchanged, final laughs and nostalgic moments shared, and the participants wandered off, back to society, back to their routine… but with a little bit of nature lingering in their imagination. 

Manuel Familiar- SMU OA Trip Leader.

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Rock Climbing day Trip

Getting up bright and early  on Saturday, Nov 10, for the trip would have to have been the only downside to the whole experience, but those feelings quickly evaporated in the first morning rays of sunshine on the highway towards Mineral Wells State Park. With the van full to the brim, everyone quickly became acquainted even before we stopped for some morning donuts! 

By the time we arrived, we noticed that Mineral Wells climbing site (penitentiary hollow) was already saturated  by boy scouts on their very own climbing day trip, so we quickly set up our own anchors to make sure we had guaranteed walls to climb!

We climbed for a good few hours, shifting between different anchor points at the park, climbing on the rock wall faces, overhangs and even some real crack-climbing.

We had our lunch on a picnic bench not too far from the climbing area, with deli meat sandwiches, fruit, and some chips accompanied by nice, cold, refreshing beverages. We took out the slack-line and played around for a bit until we were ready for round two of climbing!

After a couple more hours of climbing different rock wall faces, we headed back to SMU.. But not before taking a pit-stop for some amazing malt shakes to finish our journey on a sweet note!

We arrived back at SMU with some good laughs, and sad goodbyes, but all happy to have gone through this experience together… and just in time for the football game!

Manuel Familiar, David Graham, Josh Munguia and Grant Ryden-  SMU Outdoor Adventure Leaders in Training.


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