1.15 – Day One
[dropcap style=’box’]W[/dropcap]e arrived at Badger Pass after dark, a team of 12–seven members of the Biola University community with five representatives of Summit Adventure. Two days previous, I had just barely moved in to base as the fledgling intern and now I was stepping out of a van full of backpacks crammed with bear cans and sleeping bags, into a freezing night sky speckled with winter constellations. Though camping and backpacking weren’t uncharted territory for me, I had never experienced either in the snow–at least, not purposefully (let’s just say I’ve dealt with a few freak snowstorms in my life).
A mile of carrying our 35+ lb. packs over a snow-crusted road leading to a stamped trail led us to our campsite–an open patch laid out between the trees.
Note to self: trekking poles might improve balance when you have to trudge through 30 yards of two-feet-deep, remarkably loose snow to actually reach the aforementioned campsite.
After taking turns shoveling out a tent plot with Clare (the veteran Summit intern), we all gathered around the snow kitchen for our first meal out in the backcountry: macaroni and cheese. Bedtime arrived about midnight, around the same time I put on down booties for the first time in the backcountry, around the same time I received the joyous revelation (which I shall state with not nearly enough fervor) that MY FEET NEVER HAVE TO BE COLD AT NIGHT EVER, EVER AGAIN.
1.16 – Day Two
Outdoor experiences seem to have a way of leading a person into impromptu, existential awareness-type moments.
My wilderness senses had begun to kick in, and I ended up leading the team on the trail to Dewey Point, a comfy 2.5-mile hike from our campsite. Our open snow-covered ground eventually faded to dark brown earth, surrounded by sky-scraping trees wrapped in neon-green lichen. The moderate hiking deceived me from anticipating the sort of view that would emerge into my sights at the end of the path.
Then the ground opened up into a scene so massive and mesmerizing, I could barely keep walking.
I found a place to sit and stare, feeling the weight of consciousness–how I could barely remember the last time I realized the smallness of my reality, and the way it inundated me now. And, at the same time, the overwhelming sense of unique specificity that surrounded my existence.
Certainly, I stood before the magnificent work of something much greater than me.
1.17 – Day Three
On the third day of our trip, we embarked on a cross-country snowshoeing day-hike. At yesterday’s viewpoint, while the Biola participants huddled around a topographical map, Nick (Summit’s assistant program director) pointed out to me where Sentinel Dome rose up before Half Dome.
“We might hike there tomorrow,” he said.
“Wow, that looks really far away from here,” I said.
Yet I knew Sentinel’s view was a worthy goal, and, as we stamped out of camp in our snowshoes, I looked forward to the day’s journey. Turned out, a long day of learning was ahead of me.
Notes to self (mentally accumulated during today’s adventure):
- Cross-country snowshoeing at an even pace while carrying just a daypack is rather enjoyable: beautiful forest scenery, crisp temperatures, friendly comrades…Welcome future opportunities.
- A mile of cross-country snowshoeing feels more like three miles on the trail, and takes just as long. Challenges help you grow, but make sure your goal for the day is actually reachable before dark.
- Taft Point is just as rewarding as Sentinel Dome, if not with a more dizzying and extravagant view. And at least two miles closer.
- Don’t run farther than you’re used to the day before you go on a snow-camping trip. Your hip adductor (whatever that thing is that connects your thigh to your body) will have you begging for Advil during only the first third of the soon-to-be longest-hike-ever. You don’t have to be that person.
- Buy an efficient daypack. The whole “use the backpack’s brain as a fanny pack” thing is nice until you want to carry more than one water bottle at a time. And extra trail mix. And a down jacket. And need a place to clip snowshoes to after you’re finished using them.
- If the temperature isn’t reaching below 30 degrees and you’re about to hike through the snow forever, you will never get cold enough to need a down jacket to take up all the space in that fanny pack you borrowed to use as a daypack.
- Remind yourself to encourage people more often, especially while on an 11-hour cross-country “day-hike” extravaganza that continues well into the night. A little bit of encouragement goes a long way.
- Hiking next to a conversational person also makes forcing yourself to keep walking a lot easier.
- Cooking a backcountry-style Thanksgiving dinner is definitely worth the effort after finishing 11 hours of hiking. But–as discovered by a Biola participant–falling asleep with a handful of trail mix isn’t a bad way to finish, either.
1.18 – Day Four
As we drove through the tunnel entrance to Yosemite Valley, everyone leaned forward to get a glimpse of the view opening up before us. We were now arriving at the final stretch of our journey; after packing up camp in the morning, we traveled out to spend solo time on the valley floor before heading back to base for the night.
El Capitan Meadow welcomed us with broad arms, teeming with the last hour and a half of winter sunlight. Many of us were visited by a coyote during our time apart, weaving his way through the meadow and taste-testing a Biola student’s foam sleeping pad.
I watched the coyote sniff the air before he passed me by, as I meditated on songs about finding home. The sound of wings brought my gaze upward to where a raven had landed on a gnarled branch of the tree I leaned against. The blackbird rubbed his beak along the wintered grain of the branch as if to wipe his face, pausing to warble a quiet clicking call before leaping off the branch into the dusky evening.
After one more loop in the van around the valley, El Capitan gave us a farewell, dipped in cherry-pink alpenglow.
At base, we all gathered together for one last night full of quesadillas cooked over camp stoves on the porch, warm brownies from the kitchen, riotous games of Fishbowl and Bananagrams, and a much-appreciated rest in dry sleeping bags.