Wildminded Wildcats: An Adventure in Death Valley


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Have you ever wondered or wanted to explore the wilderness? Does adventure intrigue you? If so, Ukiah High has a club just for you. Wild Minds and its group of rag-tag members just completed a 10+ mile backpack trip through the rock and sun of Death Valley and lived to tell the tale.

The club is led by its founder Pauls Krasts, an English teacher at Ukiah High. Mr. Krasts explained, “The Wild Minds club is a camping and wilderness experience club. 

Wildcats in the darkness having a ball [All pictures provided by Pauls Krasts]

Krasts told us the club hopes to, “allow students to experience nature and camping and have the opportunity for contemplation and self-exploration.” 

If a Wildcat signs up for Wild Minds, they should expect, “a mix of group and individual activities mixed in with basic camping and outdoor skills in both day-long and weekend trips.”

The Barren vistas of Death Valley

Wild Minds President Julia Salomone and Vice President, Bright Gipson participated in the Death Valley trip, and other members. Both Gipson and Salomone agreed that the trip was “fun and there was a lot of time for self-reflection. There were a lot of opportunities to work on yourself as a person.”

For an adventure of this scale, there were some requirements beforehand. Members trained with weighted packs on hiking trails and practiced with appropriate gear. Fundraisers were also held in order to fund the trip.

The expedition itself consisted of an almost twelve-hour drive from Mendocino County to Death Valley. The collection of eight students and four adults spent the night at a campground before beginning their trek. They established a basecamp after a 10-mile off-road drive, which did not contain any bathrooms or tents. 

A Wildcat in the darkness

The group hiked for about five hours since everyone was carrying 25-35 pound backpacks. The first day’s planned hike had an elevation gain of about 1,500 feet.  The group marched through narrow slot canyons and open areas to reach their camp. Once there, they had to pump and filter water at their hiking camp from a small natural spring. Each night was cold and clear so they got to “enjoy the stars and the moonrise.”

Bright and Julia described an instance where bats “flew through the air for half an hour chasing bugs.”

The two also detailed how they got their water, saying “there are these springs in the desert that offer water.” Salomone said, “It goes from bare rocks to a trickle of water, with grass around.”

The crew had planned to set out on the 30-mile Marble Canyon/Cottonwood loop, however, Death Valley proved to be treacherous and dangerous enough that they only completed 10 miles. The participants returned to base camp and “spent the rest of our time at basecamp doing solo day wanders around the area and partner or group activities.”  

Looking back, Salomone said, “It was fun, but there was a lot of time for self-reflection.” Gipson followed with “there were a lot of opportunities to work on yourself as a person”, and that “it was fun and exciting, and a little challenging, due to hiking.”

Krasts “fully expects to do it again next year.”, and “if people are interested in checking out our club, we meet in E-6 at lunch.” Stay tuned to the announcements for more specifics.

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