Forever Changed, the Class of 2026 Returns from the Wyoming Wilderness

Move-In Weeks have been taking place everywhere—that exciting time of year when many colleges and universities post pictures of their incoming Freshman classes and the activities that go into their first official days of college life. Around the country, eager young teenagers have been pulling unwieldy suitcases into dorm rooms, searching for couches and bookshelves to furnish their new spaces, posing in front of famous (or notorious) campus buildings to mark the beginning of their “grown-up” adventures, and participating in often-awkward “ice-breaker” events in an effort to get to know their classmates better.

Here at Wyoming Catholic, things look just a bit different, as the Class of 2026 has returned from the ultimate ice-breaker: the life-changing 21-Day Freshman Expedition.

This three-week stint in the wilderness serves as one of the most innovative college orientation programs in the country. It gives students the satisfaction of climbing 11,000-ft. passes and summiting 13,000-ft. peaks, hiking about 100 miles, fly fishing some of the most beautiful lakes in the Rocky Mountains, and cooking their own meals. They are presented with the opportunity to learn many skills, working as a team, tolerating adversity and uncertainty, and developing leadership. Students learn more about themselves in three weeks than many students learn in four years of college. Perhaps even more tantalizing is the notion that this is only the beginning: students will go into the wilderness at least two other weeks each year.

The girls arrived first, spilled out of the vans that had ferried them back from the trailhead, and headed straight to Frassati Hall for the hottest (biggest!) breakfast they’ve had for some time. It was a whirlwind of excitement, as the girls from the three different Wyoming Catholic College Leadership (WCCLE) groups mingled together to catch up and chow down, and to compare war stories from the last three weeks. Excited voices filled the air. “This trip was so, so good!” “Such an amazing adventure; we made it!” “I’m so sad it’s over already!”

Next, it was on to Gear DeIssue, sifting through the mountains of equipment and supplies necessary to get a group of 60+ students, instructors, and chaplains into the Wyoming wildness (and keep them safe while they’re there). There were tents to be repaired, stoves to be cleaned and checked, cook kits to be refilled, bear spray and bear tents to be returned and stowed, rented gear and personal gear to be sorted out, and many, many adventures to be recounted.

Then, at last, off to the long-awaited showers!

The boys arrived about an hour later, bursting into the cafeteria to take aim at the remaining bacon (and Eggs Benedict) prepared by Chef Bruce Liu. There were more adventures recounted—”Yes, we saw bears; we were THIS CLOSE!”—more gear returned, more bonding over the extraordinary shared experiences of the last three weeks. Then, unpacking and cleaning and showering; all conducted with very nearly the same energy and enthusiasm as the girls had mustered.

Then, it was their turn to return their gear; unsurprisingly, that exercise turned into a bit of a WCCLE #4 vs. WCCLE #5 competition to see who could unload and complete their deissue activities most rapidly. By 2:30pm, the entire Freshman class was back in their dorms or congregating in small groups in Crux and Baldwin, still buzzing with excitement.

The “All-College Welcome BBQ” was held later in the day, and the evening concluded with a Town Hall meeting with Student Life and the student prefects. Next stop, Matriculation Mass on Sunday, followed by Convocation itself on Monday, where the newest members of the Wyoming Catholic College community will sign their names into the formal Student Registry.

A one-of-a-kind, life-changing 21-day wilderness trek? Now THAT’s an ice-breaker event we can get excited about!

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