Backpacks and Ice Caps

As the “University of the Parks,” many SUU students love hiking, climbing or biking and do so as a hobby when it’s warm. However, there are some whose passion for the outdoors extend past convenient amusement. Recent graduate Rui Tsuchiyama is a great example of what happens when “hobby” becomes “obsession.”

IMG_3917Tsuchiyama was raised in South Island, Japan, a place surrounded by beautiful national parks. However, her love for the outdoors didn’t begin until being confined to a desk in downtown Tokyo.

“I realized I missed the quiet country,” she said. “I feel so stressed whenever I’m inside… I decided to start backpacking national parks in Japan.”

Unlike the national parks in America, there are no visitors centers or maps in the parks of Japan, but privately owned huts. The confusion of the trails usually resulted Tsuchiyama wandering around for miles from hut to hut. The more she backpacked, the frustration of these parks planted a desire to explore the United States’ public lands.

While studying at the University of Montana, Tsuchiyama was delighted to discover the Outdoor Recreation major. That spring, she was first introduced to the red rocks of southern Utah.

“We had a backpacking trip to Capitol Reef and spent five days there,” Tsuchiyama said. “I really liked it but after [a year] in Montana, I had to go back to Japan. But I knew I really wanted to continue my degree.”

Back in South Island, Tsuchiyama dreamed of visiting southern Utah again.

“I was randomly looking at Google maps when I found SUU,” she said with a laugh. “I was looking at Capitol Reef and saw all the other parks and noticed a university right in the middle and decided to go there.”

Living far from home can be scary, but Tsuchiyama was ready to dive into the Cedar City community. She immediately joined SUU Outdoor trips and quickly landed a job as an International Affairs Ambassador, helping plan excursions with other international students.

“For international students, it really helps you feel at home if you know the place and enjoy the outdoors.” Tsuchiyama explained. “Honestly, there is not much to do in southern Utah unless you get outside. You will love Cedar and southern Utah more if you do.”

SUU’s Outdoor Recreation and Tourism program gave her the chance to do just that. Classes like backpacking, rock climbing, canyoneering and even horsemanship introduced Tsuchiyama to some of her favorite places.

“I love Pine Valley and Ashdown Gorge,” she said. “I love that Cedar is close to cool places. I can just bike down to Coal Creek or hike up Cedar Canyon whenever I want.”

IMG_4252Among all the adventure classes SUU has to offer, Tsuchiyama’s favorite was, without a doubt, winter backpacking. The class redefined her understanding of backpacking completely.

“Everything about it is so hard,” she explained. “Boiling water is hard. Packing more stuff is hard. You basically have to walk in snowshoes with a massive bag…  It’s harder, but overall better.”

After trekking through the snow, each week’s trip ended with building and sleeping in an igloo or ice cave. This may seem like less than optimal camping to most, but Tsuchiyama sees it as a peaceful opportunity.

“I feel guilty when I go ‘car camping,’” she said. “I like carrying all the stuff [I] need. It’s like carrying your whole life and house. Winter backpacking is really hard but it is beautifully quiet.  You feel more solitude because there are less people around.”

Tsuchiyama’s experience in winter backpacking continued to benefit her over this summer when she worked as a glacier hiking guide in Alaska.

IMG_5400“There is no trail on the glacier, so you have to read the terrain,” Tsuchiyama stated. “[The path] can change everyday… One day [you’re hiking on] an ice sheet and the next day there is a giant hole in the middle of the ground where you’re supposed to walk.”

She had no plans of slowing down her outdoor experience when arriving back in Cedar City. She interned as trail builder for the Intergovernmental Internship Cooperative (IIC).

“It was hard, trail building, but I still loved it,” Tsuchiyama said with a smile. “Some people hate doing their hobby as a job, but I really like being outside.”

With a bachelor’s degree finally under her belt, Tsuchiyama dreams of hosting international tours in the Japanese national parks to give back to the places she first fell in love.

Story By: Ansleigh Mikesell
Photos Provided By: Rui Tsuchiyama