Over the Columbus Day Weekend two adventurous groups of Thomas Aquinas, California, students traveled up to the High Sierras — the first for a weekend of camping, and the second for a 25-mile backpacking expedition in the John Muir Wilderness.

Led by Head Chaplain Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P., tutor Dr. Gregory Froelich, and Landscape Projects Supervisor Ben Coughlin, the 30 campers drove some 225 miles to the Alabama Hills Campground. There they explored, took a 10-mile hike to Cottonwood Lake, and enjoyed a well-deserved break from their studies. On Saturday evening Fr. Paul offered an anticipatory Mass, which the group was able to attend before the Dominican departed the next morning.

Photos: Camping
  • A group of students pose amid the rockscape
  • Fr. Paul offering Mass on a portable altar, elevates the Host
  • Three girls in a selfie afront a lake and the hills in the distance
  • Students lie down and relax atop a flat rock
  • A student grins at the camera amid blinding sunlight
  • Students emerge from the cars, surrounded by the wilderness
  • Three pose for a picture afront a large rock outcropping
  • A student attempts to catch something blurry flying through midair
  • Thirteen students pose for a picture, seated atop a large boulder
  • Seen from behind: a student surveys the rocky forest ahead of him
  • A student lies full-length in the long dry grass with her camera to snap an image
  • Seven pose, seated amidst the grasses
  • Balanced on a hillside, another photographer photographs the photographer!
  • A sign in the foreground, with the lake and steep hills sprawling behind
  • Two students stand afront the lake, looking out over the hills
  • Two students on the ridge, separated by a large outcropping, silhouetted against the sunrise

On Sunday the priest set off seven miles to Long Lake, where he met up with — and offered Mass for — the six backpackers, who had just descended from the 14,000-foot peak of Mt. Langley. “The weather was dipping into the teens (17-19 degrees) at night, with daytime highs between 30-40 degrees,” recalls senior Greg Jackson. “We narrowly missed a snowstorm that came through only hours after our departure.”

The difficult conditions, however, only made their accomplishment all the sweeter. “In his homily, Fr. Paul reminded us that God calls us to do what is above and beyond our own capabilities, but that He gives us His grace so that we can accomplish what we strive for,” says Greg. “This was clearly demonstrated by the cheerful and persevering hearts of my companions in this excursion. We could not have reached the summit were it not for our unwavering determination — and the blessing of clear skies.”

Photos: Backpacking
  • One student takes a picture, with five others posing in the background with their hiking equipment
  • Three trek along a barely-visible path beside a rocky sheer face
  • A pair of handprints in a patch of snow
  • A golden-red mountain in the sunset, perfectly reflected in a lake at its foot
  • Two students pose for a picture afront a large boulder and a rocky plain
  • Another student holds up the "Langley 14042" sign, standing on a rock at the edge of a steep valley edge of a
  • Surrounding by sunbleached rock, the students set up camp next to a small cluster of trees
  • Another selfie, with one of the group in the back holding a sign which reads "Langley14042"