High Sierra Backpacking

My husband and I used to backpack before the kids were born. Since they came around, however, we’ve only gone car camping. During our London trip this summer we realized that our youngest can walk up to ten miles a day. We therefore decided that the time was finally ripe to attempt our first-ever all-family backpacking trip.

A couple of weekends ago we packed our sleeping bags, tents and bear canister. After about a decade of absence, we headed to Yosemite National Park. We originally intended to try a four-mile trail. Since permits for that ran out, however, we had to change our plans and commit to a six-mile hike.

Six miles don’t sound like a lot, but walking around London is quite different than walking up and down mountains. Especially walking with a heavy load on your back. So we gave the boy a symbolic pack (containing a Platypus full of water and a snack), and hoped for the best.

We all thought our youngest will be the weak link in the group. Shockingly, about a hundred steps into the trail, I was stunned to realize that it was I who could barely walk. My heart was threatening to explode, my legs were crumbling, and the backpack felt like a crushing load. My husband came to the rescue, relieving me of half the burden. This helped, somewhat. But I still found it difficult to move even on a relatively flat surface.

For the rest of the day I trailed behind my family. I kept my eyes fixed firmly to the ground, concentrating on the next step. At every break I collapsed to the dirt, enduring pitiful looks from my children. I dragged my feet for the duration of the hike, overridden with guilt and self loathing. Three years of twice-or-thrice-weekly gym visits were obviously useless. Tracking about London seems to have done me no good, either.

When we finally arrived at our destination I let the others put the tents up and cook. I myself crawled into a tent and lay motionless for quite some time, determined to never, EVER, do this again. Yet, when I got called for dinner I had to reluctantly admit that the view was quite stunning. MAYBE backpacking had its advantages after all. This is what sunset looked like from our campsite, courtesy of my husband:

Sunset on the High Sierra

After dinner the headache that accompanied me all day got worse, and only then did I suddenly remembered: I ALWAYS have trouble at high elevation! I haven’t been to Yosemite in over a decade, and forgot the nasty tricks that altitude can play on one’s body…

The next day everything seemed better. My headache was gone and I was able to look about and enjoy the glorious beauty around me. The magnificent, panoramic views:

Sunrise on the High Sierra

View on our High Sierra trip

View on the High Sierra

As well as the beauty of the little things, once you take notice and look up close.

The patterns that cracks etch on the earth:

High Sierra rock art

The varied, strong textures of rocks, bark and roots:

Rocks make for an interesting texture

Tree trunk up close

Beautiful roots in the Sierras

And the beautiful, colorful paintings of nature:

High Sierra wood texture

A burned tree trunk

High Sierra rock texture

Walking back, even on the long, uphill parts, wasn’t a problem. I was able to enjoy the fresh air, the wind on my face, the feeling of warm sun on my skin. As I feasted my eyes on nature I was deeply grateful for the amazing gift of National Parks, a true treasure currently celebrating one hundred years of existence. I relished the occasional conversation with passing-by, seasonal hikers, some many years my seniors. Most of all, I was relieved to realize that I wasn’t that out-of-shape after all.

Overall I enjoyed the experience, and was proud of my children, especially the youngest of the three, for bearing on without complaints. And yes, I will consider trying this again next year. I will need to remember to drive up a day early, though. My body will need to get used to the elevation.

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