It is a rare opportunity that the educators at Walking Mountains are able to work with high school students. However, this January, graduate fellows Kaylyn Murphy, Natalie Neuwirth, Ryan Walton, and Katie Wareham led Battle Mountain High School’s (BMHS) Green Team on an overnight hut trip to Vance’s Cabin, a 10th Mountain Division Hut near Tennessee Pass. The students of the Green Team are committed to combating climate change by improving recycling and decreasing waste at BMHS, as well as learning how to best serve the planet through sustainable practices.
It was a cold, snowy day as we strapped on our snowshoes in preparation for the almost 3 mile trek up to Vance’s Cabin. The trail begins groomed and mellow before crossing a creek and increasing in elevation. We traversed a few steep sections before reaching a beautiful pine-filled forest where we were able to seek some refuge from the harsh wind and constant snowfall. We took this chance to take a much needed lunch break, refueling for the remainder of our journey.
Throughout the rest of the day, students learned about the science behind our snowpack and the important role it plays here in Colorado. Students learned about different types of snow crystals including stellar dendrites, the plate-like snowflakes with intricate patterns that had been falling on us all day. They also learned about rounds and squares, snow crystal types that form from destructive and constructive processes, respectively. Rounds are snow crystals that have strong bonds and form from slightly warmer temperatures and melting in the snowpack. Rounds are the perfect snow crystal type for packing snow and make for fantastic fort building. Squares, on the other hand, are crystal types that do not bond well and create sugar-like snow. BMHS students were able to identify all of these different crystal types within our snowpack, as they hiked into Vances.
The BMHS students also helped dig a snowpit in which they identified different layers of snow, examined the different snow crystal types in those layers, and calculated the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) of the snowpack. Students discussed why SWE is so important, particularly to the Eagle River Valley, and how climate change has been impacting the snowpack and its SWE. With rising temperatures and less snow, our winter recreational opportunities, local economies, and our mountain ecosystems are not the only things threatened by the changing climate. Colorado winters are essential for a healthy water supply in the summer.
Students had the opportunity to discover that our snowpack is not only a critical component to the survival of the plants and animals of Colorado, but also to humans. This became extremely evident when we reached the cabin and began laboriously boiling snow for our cooking, drinking, and dishwashing water. Vance’s Cabin lacks a few modern conveniences like running water and central heating. Snow collection was our only water source, and students were able to see how a huge pot of snow boils down to only a fraction of water - seeing SWE in action! This, along with chopping wood to feed the wood-burning stove, made for a group of high schoolers with grumbling bellies. To satisfy their hunger, we indulged in burritos prepared by some of the students who were eager to cook for everyone.
With full stomachs and warm toes, Kaylyn, Natalie, Ryan, and Katie led a candlelight chat, allowing students to share what led them to join the Green Team. Many students expressed they didn’t really care about the environment until they became aware of some of the environmental issues we are facing. “I just didn’t know,” one student expressed, until they took an AP Biology class where the teacher connected what they were learning with climate change. Students expressed that they often feel climate anxiety, but being part of the Green Team makes them feel empowered. “It feels awesome we’re starting this young, even if we’re doing just little things” one senior said. The Green Team has helped lead initiatives at their school like clothing swaps, climate strikes, and planting trees in the community.
The Green Team of BMHS astounded me with their life experiences, dreams and passions, and desire to fight for our planet. If one quote sums up how these kids feel about our planet it’s this: “Nature! I love it!” from Adison, a senior at BMHS. If this is our future, we’re in good hands.
Written by Katie Wareham. Katie Wareham is a Walking Mountains Foley Graduate Fellow and has been loving the winters of Colorado. She loves being able to ski, snowshoe, and explore the winter wonderland throughout the Eagle River Valley!