I laid there for a moment, gazing up at the perfect baby blue patch of sky lined on all sides with the dark green of pine trees. The sun was warm and the breeze was cool. This is a remote part of the world, an untouched wilderness. The gently gurgling water nearby could not drown out the thought in my head, “What the fuck am I doing here?”
You see I came to this point, this perfect patch of sky, after tumbling head over ass down a small hill. I forgotten an apparently fundamental backpacking tip: When you feel the need to throw up along the side of the trail, it’s worth it to spend a few extra moments to unbuckle your pack. Or you will find the weight of your pack shifts and you end up lying on top of it after a quick tumble, adding humiliation to your need to vomit. This was the second day of the trip. At the time I felt like everything in the world was against me, even me, as I had gotten myself into this mess. So I lay there for a minute feeling sick and dirty and disgusted with myself and with the whole world. And then a clarity came to me. I had to get up and move or else I would just be lying on the side of a hill next to a pile of my own vomit. As much as I didn’t want to move forward, forward meant I could be clean and comfortable again.
I don’t point this out as some great growth moment for me, this is not about the power of my will to continue moving in the face of great turmoil. I am under no illusions here, my choices were to either continue laying there next to a pile of my own vomit or to get up and eventually get to a place where there was food and comfort. That’s an easy choice to make. And for me, that’s what a lot of this hike through the Yosemite wilderness was. A series of easy choices. Difficult for my body, not choices that I wanted to make, but choices that were clear.
The text of this adventure you may notice is very grim. That is for two reasons.
- I think its important to accurately represent my experiences here. Most of this text is taken from my journals and in general I was feeling pretty grim. So accuracy!
- The pictures can express the beauty of this environment far better than I can with my measly words. I dont know enough adjuctives to even being. So I will let the pictures speak for themselves. Bottom line Yosemite is beautiful, go see it!
Day One was a bit of a blur to me. We climbed up and up and up (flashbacks of Nepal!) and saw some pretty amazing waterfalls. Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls for those of you who know about these things. The best part of the day, was our perfect campsite for the night. It was a wide flat slab of granite that was very close to an amazing swimming spot which we took full advantage of. Though tired I was able to feel clean that night and Katie made me a cup of Apple Cider with Whiskey so I ended the day feeling content. That Apple Cider Whiskey by the way, would quickly become the only thought in my head for good chunks of the remaining journey – it was my pull and reward for making it to the end of the day.
The highlight of Day Two was the previously mentioned rolling off the trail story, which Katie thought was completely hilarious.
For Night Two, we had to stop at a less than ideal campsite. I just couldn’t continue physically any longer. My punishment for my lack of physical prowess was a night spent among the world’s worst mosquitoes. They live in great swarms up here and they are relentless. They will go straight to your eye to suck the life from you if they could reach it. Stand still for a minute and you will be completely covered in them. It’s a very gross disturbing feeling. I understand now the urge to kill. “Dare to touch me and I will smush you, annoying pests!” was my gleeful refrain as I did my best to staunch the ceaseless tide of bugs. They make walking hard. They making standing still impossible. Cooking and eating became a chore that we tried to quickly rush though. Katie hunched over the cooking pot while I fanned her with a towel trying to keep the mosquitoes off. Even now, thinking of those pests gives me a surge of rage.
Day 3 was better. I resembled something that was close to a functional human and could begin to actually process the environment that I was in. Yosemite is unlike any other wilderness that I have seen. Of course there are the expected pine trees, clear water dancing over river stones, little forest animals, and fallen logs. But the granite is really something spectacular. Starting just above the tree line, interrupting the line of the sky, giant granite cliffs and domes rise. Smooth and ranging in color from a clear grey to a light beige, they looked to me like a piece of the forest that just hadn’t been textured yet. An unfinished piece of the world. We would often come to a sudden break in the trees and have to trek across a wide flat patch of granite on the ground before returning to the trees. I loved those patches of granite, because they were flat they were a guaranteed break from the rigors of climbing a mountain.
The last night provided us with another incredible campsite. Right along the side of Booth Lake. It was windy, which made it very cold but also kept the mosquitoes away.
I didn’t feel a great rush of joy when we finally made it to Tuolumne Meadows, which represented civilization to us. I think I was too tired to feel much of anything. And as it turns out, the trials of the journey were not yet over. I had been dreaming of cheeseburgers and a cold soda. It had been floating in my head for miles, the idea becoming an anchor to my humanity. Tuolumne Meadows has one small convenience store and a little attached grill that serves burgers, shakes, and fries. But upon arriving at this oasis of food and comfort we realized that neither of us had thought to bring our credit cards. An item that is never far from me in my “normal” life had been left in the car, 30 miles away. I was hot, tired, dirty, and I had no money. The shuttle to take us to our car was 4 hours away. It was the most pitiful I have ever been. Sitting there, watching others eating and laughing all around us, smelling the food and feeling generally very sorry for myself.
So here is a probably obvious confession. For me, the actual walking part of Backpacking is not great. Moving from point A to point B in the wilderness is difficult and most of the time I don’t enjoy it. But I want to, and I love the adventure opportunities presented in nature. At night, or in the early mornings, when we are at camp and the work of the day is done I am able to find those moments of peace that true Wilderness Explorers talk about. It is in those quiet times of stillness that I can appreciate the beauty of what is around me. I don’t mind that Backpacking is difficult for me. In many ways I want it to be difficult, the value I find from these journeys is in the struggle. I wanted to be stripped of my comforts and my escapes. I needed to rise to a challenge, and Yosemite gave me a grand one. Most of what I have described here could be seen as negative moments, but I really see them as just the cost of earning the achievement. If asked to do it again, I would say yes without hesitation. Similar trips are a certainty in my future. Ideally I’ll exercise more beforehand so the struggle won’t be quite as intense, but I also won’t allow my physical prowess to be a barrier. There are no excuses, just go.
We hiked a total of 30 miles, starting at the Happy Isles Trailhead in Yosemite Valley and ending in Tuolumne Meadows.
The trip took 4 days and 3 nights, with an additional night spent at campground.
Special Thanks to Katie for putting up with my moaning, groaning, and general lack of fitness as well as keeping me alive in the wilderness. You are the best!