Last weekend, Joanna and I went on our first medium-hardcore hiking/backpacking/camping trip. In fact it was the first time Joanna and I have ever gone backpacking, and we didn’t know what to expect. The plan was to drive up to a friend’s place on Saturday morning, then go together to the hiking site, spend the day hiking in, sleep out under the stars, and hike back the next day.
On Friday around midnight, Joanna and I frantically packed supplies for both of us into my laptop backpack. We packed a lot of snacks, some real foods, eight bottles of water and Gatorade, and a few other necessities such as medicine, toilet paper, and extra shirts and socks. I wasn’t sure what kind of food to bring (except I knew it had to be non-perishable), so most of our food turned out to be snacks. I carried the backpack while Joanna carried our two-person sleeping bag.
Saturday morning, we got up around 4:30, took quick showers, and drove to Chris’s place. We arrived at about 5:30 and I napped during the drive to the meeting location(?). We arrived at the point where we were to wait for the rest of the party, at about 7:30 when no one else had arrived and it was really cold outside, so we stayed in the car. At 8:00 we saw some people and got out, at which point we figured out that most of the party (which included sixteen) had arrived the same time we did but stayed in their cars for the same reason. After a brief meet-and-greet we headed up the trail.
For the first four hours the trail inclined up 30-45°; apparently we were in some kind of small mountain range, and step one was to climb one of the mountains. It was like working out on a stairmaster for four hours, meanwhile lifting 20-30 pounds. I’ve never been so exhausted. There were so many times when Joanna and I looked at each other and half-joked about turning back.
At about one o’cl0ck we came to a lake and took a break to have some lunch. Joanna and I were so tired we curled up on the bare ground to take a nap. I don’t remember a lot about the afternoon of the first day. We kept going up most of the time; though there was the occasional relief of a flat or downhill stretch. Around six we came in sight of a massive stone cliff, at the bottom of which was a series of stunning waterfalls. We walked along the cliff with nothing between us and a 500 foot vertical drop and I got butterflies in my stomach leaning over the edge to take pictures. Past the cliff was an inviting meadow where we set up camp.
Joanna and I had originally intended to sleep on the ground, so we laid down our tarp and sleeping bag where we would have a clear view of the night sky. James, however, suggested that sleeping with no cover would be too cold once the frost set in. He advised us to move to a spot under a tree and use Simon’s makeshift tent. I was annoyed at first, because I had chosen an excellent spot for star-gazing, but figured I was new here and it made sense to follow the advice of more experienced campers.
So, Joanna and I put our sleeping bag under the tent (which we shared with Chris) and had a fast dinner. (We weren’t especially hungry since we had been snacking all day.) While we were hanging out with the other campers, the sun set very suddenly. Almost as quickly the sky became dark, revealing the most magnificent array of stars I’ve ever seen–I couldn’t even count them. Some were bright, others dim or twinkling. Others in the party oohed at the sight of a meteor, pointed out constellations or the milky way, but I just sat there with my mouth hanging open at the vastness of the universe.
We had a group huddle in which James talked to us all about preserving the wilderness environment and group camaraderie. I didn’t want to go to bed, but it got very chilly after sunset, and my body was sore from hiking all day, so I eventually turned in. The night passed without major incident, except that I had to get up in the middle of it to urinate. That was pretty scary, since I was alone in total darkness and had to get away from the campsite and trail. However, I survived, obviously.
The next morning I got up at 5:00 to see the sunrise. It was still cold, and I was still drowsy, but I moved carefully down to the cliff with the waterfalls, where I figured I would have the best view. The other campers there and I waited for about 30 minutes watching the crawl of the sun over the horizon before giving up and going back to camp. I’m glad we did, because it took about another 45 minutes before it finally rose.
After breakfast, we started out on a different trail than the one we had taken the day before. About a mile along, Joanna, Chris and I reached a fork in the road and weren’t sure whether to go left or right. Another group of three from our party passed and said they were pretty sure the map said to go left. We left a marker by the trail pointing left and headed on in that direction. I asked Joanna and Chris if they ever thought about the Oregon Trail or similar migrations where people had to make all kinds of choices along the trail, and some took risks that led to them getting lost and dying of hunger or exposure in the middle of nowhere. I thought about the story of the Donner Party and how easy other people’s decisions can seem, yet how hard it is to make a decision when you’re actually standing at a fork in the road.
About 15 minutes after we had passed the fork in the road, we heard other members of our party running up behind us and laughing. “Stop!” they said, “You’re going the wrong way.” Some were cursing loudly. We immediately stopped and let them catch up to us. Then we explained that while we weren’t entirely certain, we thought that the other group ahead of us had turned left, too, and were even further off the path than us. The messenger swore again and sprinted forward, as we turned around.
We discussed how we ought to have waited at the fork in the road rather than follow the other group. On the other hand, I thought, it might have been good that we went the wrong way and left the arrow marker. If we had waited at the fork, we might not have told the navigator that we thought the previous group went left. In turn, he might not have been able to catch up to them. I shuddered at the thought of how helpless we might all have been without a map, compass, or cell phone reception.
We rejoined the majority of our group at the fork and followed them up the right-hand path, which led upward. We climbed for another hour or so and finally reached the peak. What a sight! There were deep valleys on all sides with a backdrop of more, hazy mountains in the distance. I felt as if I were standing on top of the world. It reminded me of the scenes in The Lord of the Rings where various members of the fellowship are crossing mountains.
After a few more hours of hiking I could feel my body reaching the limits of my endurance. My legs, my knees, and especially the soles of my feet ached with every step. My back and shoulders were also sore from carrying the backpack. I started taking a ten second break after each set of ten steps, which meant that I was spending almost as much time resting as walking. After another hour of this exhaustion, we finally reached the bridge where the other hikers were resting, stretching, and waiting for the drivers to pick them up.
We headed to In-and-Out to chow down, and complain about how tired and sore we were. We also listened to Jeffrey’s and James’s stories and celebrated the epic hike. It was truly epic.
I wonder how this trip will influence me. I’ve always been an adventurer, but I mostly adventure through the virtual worlds of video games. This was my first epic adventure in real life. It was exhausting, yet awe-inspiring. I’m not eager to go through so much physical pain again–it might be a year before I’m ready. On the other hand, I doubt there’s a way to experience the same awesome displays of nature that I saw on the trip without pushing yourself to the limit of your endurance. I’m curious when I’ll decide I’m ready to go again.
A few fond memories:
- making s’mores by smashing the ingredients in our hands, since we had no campfire
- living on Cheez-its
- avoiding poison oak
- sharing a tent with Joanna and Chris
- drinking pond water (filtered)
- Chris carrying our bags
- being short on everything (food, water, tent, sleeping pad) and still too weak to carry the pack
- Simon cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast
- peeing behind bushes and taking a shovel for number 2