When I arrived to the Red on Friday night, little did I know that we would discover the path to the exposed ridge that juts out into the gorge in the picture I captured Friday night.
As with all of our workshops, the Explorer Chicks met bright and early at the trail head Saturday morning. We chatted briefly, signed final waivers, passed out permits, and doled out swag. We then officially opened the workshop with a welcome speech and introductions all around. This was our biggest group to date with 7 Explorer Chicks plus me and Lynsey. We had cousins, friends, and a few solo travelers in the group. Yet, we immediately knew this group would quickly become a community.
I broke into my safety lecture preaching my favorite words ever when talking about the outdoors, “Mother Nature will murder you. She does not care about you.” Apparently, a gentleman in the parking lot overheard my safety sermon letting out a chuckle with a nod of affirmation.
After all the talk and introductions, we knew it was time for action. The bright blue tarp laid on the ground ready for the duffel shuffle. One by one I read off the mandatory packing list and the Explorer Chicks tossed their items onto the tarp. Lynsey and I checked everyone’s stuff slightly encouraging some items to remain in cars. We have yet to have a full sized pillow show up!
Once the packs were packed and the Explorer Chicks were fitted we hit the trail. Of course, not without the obligatory trail head photo!
Hiking through the woods single file really gives us time to get to know one another. It starts out with what do you do, what’s your outdoor experience, and so on. Without the background noise of social media, traffic, or television, we can really focus on just “Being here now.” And for the most part, Explorer Chicks are forced to disconnect. Service is spotty at best and we encourage everyone to flip to airplane mode to save battery for all the pictures. Hiking affords us that rare opportunity to truly connect to someone.
After a few stops and scenic rests for pictures, we began our hunt for a camp site. Although, it is required to have a permit for backpacking in the Red, the established campsites are on a first come, first serve basis. Our very first find was a beautiful site on the ridge with a peek-a-boo view of the gorge. It was large enough to fit all of our tents. As an added bonus two giant logs were set next to the campfire ring perfect for resting our weary legs. We stationed Melissa and Kassandra at our campsite to “hold” our spot while we checked out a couple of other known locations.
It was during this scouting trip that we learned about a fantastic ridge with 360 degree views. A father and daughter were camping in a location I had scouted earlier, but they told us about a site just beyond their’s. Anna, Bailey, and I continued beyond their site. Upon stepping onto the ridge and site, we knew it was too small for our group, but it would be perfect location to catch the sunset. The plan was set in motion!
Once we gathered the Explorer Chicks and settled into our campsites, we got to work. Melissa led the effort to start the fire. I think it took all of 3 minutes to get it roaring! Well done, Ladies! One of the meals we prepare on the workshops is Krave Fire Roasted Chili made with Krave Jerky. We need to get the fire going early, so we have enough hot embers to simmer the chili. Lynsey made her signature corn bread patties, which accompany the chili perfectly. There’s a special name for them, but we’ll save that for the Explorer Chicks!
Following dinner, it was time to hang the bear bag paracords. This is always a highlight of the workshop. First, it’s an essential survival technique that is often a mystery to us. Second, it’s a lot of fun to throw shoes into trees! We managed to get 4 ready and some bonus firewood.
Afterwards we grabbed our headlamps and water for a hike over to the newly discovered sunset ridge. There was a tad bushwacking but the view was worth it!
While on the ridge, Lynsey noticed a trail just below the rocks upon which we were standing. I called upon my spirit animal, the Billy Goat, and immediately dropped down the rock scramble to stumble upon the most magnificent view in the Gorge. I ran back towards the group announcing the find and demanding those not afraid of heights to join me!
Both Bailey and Danielle bought into the hype and were rewarded with an incredible view! We sat on the most perfectly shaped rock formations for viewing and chatted about “Neature.”
The hike back to the campsite was lit by headlamps. The pace was slow, but exciting as we missed the trail on the way out. Oops! But who doesn’t love a little bushwhacking?
We returned to camp to fire up the Jet Boil and sip on Hot Cocoa. Then it was bed time. We got a little rain overnight, but it proved light and inconsequential.
On Sunday morning, we chatted about the day’s activities and itinerary. The group decided on a slack pack to Gray’s Arch, an easy hike out, a slack pack to Natural Bridge, and pizza. But, really, the food decision was made early on Saturday.
The Explorer Chicks crushed Potato, Pepper, and Bacon hash with the essential coffee while tearing down camp. After packing everything into our packs, we made our way down trail to Gray’s Arch.
We reconvened at the campsite after Gray’s for our quick hike out. After unpacking the packs and repacking my car full of gear, we made our way to Natural Bridge State Park.
The clouds were looking a little grey, so I encouraged everyone to grab their rain gear. Sure enough, Mother Nature decided to sprinkle us on our climb to the arch. Luckily, her timing was perfect, and the clouds dispersed as we reached the arch.
From the Arch, we hiked the Laurel Ridge Trail. I do believe there were deep breaths of intense awe as eyes were set on the immense natural arch that we previously stood upon.
After Natural Bridge, the Explorer Chicks were on their way to the one thing that remains in the forefront of everyone’s mind the entire trip: Sunday Dinner! The Explorer Chicks opted for Miguel’s pizza. We gathered around a table with benches from old school buses patiently (okay, maybe not that patiently) waiting for our individual orders of half pizzas. Yes, half pizzas each. No shame here for hungry hikers!
After devouring our food, one by one the Explorer Chicks headed home until it was just me and Lynsey recounting the weekend in the parking lot.
Yep, solid weekend. Yet, another awesome group of women spanning a few decades in ages, fitness abilities, back grounds, hobbies, and nationalities! And another weekend that I am grateful for Explorer Chick for bringing so many inspiring women into my life. 💛
Adventure on Explorer Chicks!