January 14, 2021

Descending the Canyon

From the desk of Madison Brandt, Adventure Programming Director, Elements Traverse

The day started out with hiking to the wide mouth of the canyon, a deep tendril of a larger canyon system within the Northern San Rafael Swell. The view point provided an expansive look into desert country: tan and rust colored canyon walls leading down to a valley floor dotted with juniper and sage. Clients found their individual spots to sit, looking out at the varying shades of blue of distant desert vistas in the early morning light. The Adventure Programming (AP) instructor led clients through a mindfulness meditation: breathing in the vastness of the canyon landscape and breathing out the vastness of their internal landscape.

The clients of this group were working through deep personal trauma. Sometimes they struggled with connecting to their physical bodily needs as well as the ways in which strong emotion expresses itself within their bodies. Thus, the AP instructor introduced a metaphor about the geologic layers of the canyon as a representation of how we are multilayered beings. The many canyon layers clients could see from the vista were the many layers within themselves. The prompt for the day was to identify some of the layers within, discover what layers clients might be struggling to break through, what emotions top layers might be hiding or protecting, and what perhaps is at the very bottom - the very core - of their personal inner canyon.

Leaving this viewpoint, the real adventure of the day began. The goal was to get from their morning campsite to their evening campsite all the way at the bottom of the canyon, a descent of over 1500 ft. Clients and field staff were led by the AP instructor through a series of short rappels and rocky terrain that composed the Red Canyon descent. As the clients progressed down the canyon, they also descended further within themselves.

Conversation throughout the day circulated around fun/casual hang time topics, deeper topics about perceptions of other people/lifestyles, bodily awareness, and the therapeutic prompts given at the beginning of the day. It was not till the end of the day, as everyone hiked under the night sky, that the canyon prompt was revisited. Clients spoke about top layers being protective layers created in response to past trauma experiences. These protective layers looked like people pleasing, denial of true emotion, rigidness and inability to relax. What these top layers were protecting, clients explained, was the joyful, rambunctious, and playful inner child hidden at the very core of their inner canyon. This inner child, which had shown itself in small moments throughout the day as clients laughed and joked in the aftermath of an exciting rappel. The day as a whole had certainly given everyone an opportunity to think more about themselves and how to navigate the complexity of their inner landscape.

Madison Brandt grew up exploring the canyons and cliffs of Northern New Mexico, fostering a deep appreciation for the joys of time spent outside. After graduating with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and a B.S. in Psychology, Madison traveled around the Southwest and Western regions of the United States, developing her skill set and passion for rock climbing and all things adventure. Madison has worked as a Mountaineering Instructor for the Colorado Outward Bound School, an Environmental Science Educator for Nature Bridge Yosemite, as well as a Wilderness Field Mentor for a wilderness therapy program. She has been with Elements Traverse since 2019.