Written by Elyssa Brown
JOLI — the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute — returned from our
12-day backpacking masa to the Indian Peaks Wilderness area: happy and
healthy, with countless bug bites and new leadership skills to show
from our adventure.
Our first five days were spent learning how to survive and thrive as
an expedition group in the wilderness. Rain (and even hail!) turned
everyone into tarp set up experts by the end of the second day.
Chalutzim learned basic map and compass use, how to select appropriate
camp and cooking sites, how to hang bear bags, and how to cook some
stellar backcountry meals. Each day, two chalutzim were appointed as
“Leaders of the Day.” They would work together to lead t’fillah, pack
up camp in the morning, navigate sometimes challenging terrain, make
decisions on trail, and keep the group motivated. Every evening, we
would debrief the day all together and give feedback to the Leaders of
We spent Shabbat at a designated campsite, and JOLI madrich Matt
brought up clean clothing, pre-cooked camp food, and other treats to
make the day special. We took solar showers and spent quality time
bonding as a group. It felt wonderful to be clean, and we prayed in a
grove of trees beside a river. In our free time, we packed in a few
good games of soccer and ultimate frisbee.
On Sunday morning, we set off on the second half of our journey.
Having covered the basics in week one, we could do more in-depth
map-reading and navigation, including several days of off-trail
travel. Chalutzim were divided into cook/clean/bear-bag teams, and
some chefs prepared delectably elaborate meals: favorites included
chili, Chinese noodles, “soup bombs,” cinnamon buns, scrambled
brownies, and “Kivi cake.”
Toward the end, each JOLI participant took part in a 10-hour “solo.”
Placed away from all other masa members, the chalutzim had a chance to
reflect meaningfully on their journey thus far. Over the next few
nights, they shared their writings and thoughts with the rest of the
Some assorted highlights of the trip included crossing the Continental
Divide (repeatedly!), a wonderful campfire, a singing session under a
tarp during a rainstorm, sliding down a snowfield with a rope and
harness set-up, and just spending 12 days together in the wilderness.
This coming week, JOLI members are being trained and certified in
Wilderness First Aid (WFA). Afterward, several are serving as
co-leaders on a backpacking trip for Metaylim (the 5th/6th graders).
Others are using their skills to plan and lead all components of a
JOLI trip to the Garden of the Gods area, which will include a day of
It’s bound to be an exciting last week together!
Excerpts of student reflections to come!