It was 9:15am when we first stepped onto the trail at Coldwater Campground. The trailhead led to Duck Pass and the emergence of the John Muir trail, some 70 miles or so from the official start in Yosemite, our destination for the day.
I remembered fourteen years prior taking that same first step. Only it was a lot later in the day. I think it was 3pm. Filled with anxious motivation, I already wondered how we would walk 150 miles in ten days. This time around the feeling was calm. I felt relieved we were able to organize the hike that we decided to do only a few weeks before while in France on another hiking vacation. Excitement and gratitude, as well.
And the pack could not be more different. It was at least twenty pounds lighter than that first trip. I had to ask myself, however, why it felt just as hard. The first miles proved to me once again that hiking is often underestimated. I seemed to have forgotten just how hard it is to walk in the mountains with weight on my back. My inner Sherpa-girl was hiding somewhere those first few days of hiking with the load.
The first few hours on the trail passed quickly. Each step bringing us higher up the trail. Sights, sounds and smells were familiar. The calm beauty of our surrounds filled the senses. I think it was a few hours before we stopped and only did because of hunger. Starting the hike at almost 9000 ft and the uphill trail burned calories not used to being burned.
an area of the ‘blow down’ that was a freak wind storm ripping out of the ground and literally cracking in half hundreds of trees
I laugh when people say hiking is easy. Day hikes are fun but could not be more different than a multi-day trip. Not only is the load harder to haul, the day in and out time on the trail has to be considered. Especially those early days of a trip. One day too hard leads to burnout and eventual abandonment of a planned trip. Because ours was relatively short at eight days, the sheer amount of miles planned made us extra cautious for the beginning. Not only did we want to finish the hike, more importantly we wanted to enjoy it.
It’s easy to lose that appreciation by starting out too fast, thinking this is easy and why take a break or make camp early when I can get another mile in. I’ve seen the aftermath of such on my limited hiking experience. Peter is all but a trained trail psychologist after many months of miles walked. Thus, I was dubbed ‘shadow’ on the hike to Peter ‘man tracker’ Guzman. More on this later.
Because I like to go hard in whatever I do, and don’t comprehend the most basic rule of pacing, this was the deal we made. Or at least I made with Peter, knowing myself. I knew from the experience of my rookie hike those 14 years earlier how easy it is to go from enjoyment to torture on the trail.
So we made our first day slow but a little long. It felt like an absolute gift to be walking with the load in the spectacular backcountry of the Sierra. First camp was made up at Squaw Lake. We arrived just as the sun shone it’s alpine glow on the ridge around our little lake. A quick rinse in the 10,600ft camp and we set to boil our first water on the little titanium stove. With freeze dried meals and only a hot chocolate it was a fast meal. Good thing because where we were when the sun set the minutes ticked to complete blackness. Luckily for us, a half moon soon rose to give some light to our mountain camp.
Peter set the tarp up over our sleeping bags. The initial plan and desire was to sleep out under the beautiful blanket of stars. This changed when Peter noticed a growing dampness on our little down filled sleeping bags. Because the bags were so lightweight, any moisture would guarantee a very cold sleep, not to mention the necessity of drying the bags out the following day. It’s amazing what Peter can do with a thin nylon tarp, hiking poles and lightweight rope to tie off the corners. We were so high the trees were scarce and the poles were a godsend.
Peter the tarp master
With nothing left to do after caching our bear canisters in some rocks and little juice in our lightweight headlamps it was an early night. After 7hrs and 42 minutes of hiking, equalling fifteen miles that first day, it was easy to pass out by 9pm. The high altitude swim in Lake Virginia that left us shivering but refreshed mid-day felt like another lifetime away already. So did the descent down into the lush Tully Hole. The Sierra blueberries we munched on along the way felt like days ago as well.
our glorious first camp
Silence save for the light breeze over our surrounds lulled us to sleep. I think we both went to sleep with a smile that night. We were on our trip for real. It felt right and it felt good.
I realized this night while writing in my little journal this was the very first trip for me that was not tied to training in any way. Every other adventure I did with Peter over the seventeen years we’ve been together had a racing season to follow that I always had to consider. A sense of freedom filled me in this realization.
A sense of happiness in a way that I had not previously experienced. This feeling prevailed every step of the way. Even during the most painful ones in the days to come.