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28 August 2007 @ 05:44 pm
Beth's Travel Journal  
My High Sierra Hike – August 5-9, 2007
Twenty-Seven Miles, Twelve High School Students, Three Middle-Aged Men, and Only One Me

By Beth



Filling My Pack

Day One: Sunday 8.5

The drive went fine – students were great. The drive up to 10,000’ was beautiful. It was fabulous to get out and feel the cool air on my face.

Set up at camp went well. And the s’mores were wonderful!

Funny story – The guys (leaders) asked me if I was offended by “the fruit of the vine.” Apparently it is their tradition to bring some wine along to help them sleep at night. They call it “rock softener” for code. I told them I was fine with it and then accepted their invitation to join in their tradition later that night. So, when ten o’clock rolled around I grabbed my mug, walked over to the fire where the men were gathered and handed Dave my cup. He said, “What’s this for?” I said, “For my ground softener.” (I got the name wrong.) He didn’t understand at first so I said again, “For the ground softener, to help me sleep tonight.”

He understood then. They all understood and proceeded to laugh hysterically until they shed tears. I was instantly embarrassed. I thought I had misunderstood the tradition. On the contrary however, they were laughing for joy. Jim G. said, “Here I was worried you’d be offended and instead you turn out to be the most assertive leader we’ve ever had.”

They proceeded to encourage me and thank me for my leadership over a glass of “rock softener.” And, they ended the night by assuring me I had made their first day a joy. They promised they’d be telling this story for years and trips to come.


The Group

Day Two: Monday 8.6

What a day! We cleared camp, had breakfast and were on the trail by 8am. The first mile was way easy. It was flat and didn’t elevate much if at all. The next mile and a half we went from 10,000’ to around 11,300’ so that was a bit of a climb.

At the end of four and a half miles I was doing okay. We stopped for lunch and to get water and I was fine. Then we started out again and I felt my energy depleting at a quick pace and I was feeling every ounce of my thirty pound pack. I thought that I was just suffering exhaustion, but by about mile seven Jim H. decided I had myself a little case of altitude sickness. I had no appetite and my stomach felt queasy. Earlier I had been drinking like crazy; now I wanted nothing to do with water. These, I am told, are sure signs of altitude problems.

I hated to be a drag and hold up the team so I tried to assure everyone (including myself) that I was fine. But, David had a talk with me to help me understand that when you travel into an area where the only way out is a helicopter ride it is not only your responsibility to take care of others, but it is also your responsibility to let others take care of you. So, when the guys force fed me and wouldn’t let me move until I had drank enough water to satisfy them, I listened to their advice. And you know, by mile twelve I was feeling a lot better. After we made camp and fixed dinner I had a decent appetite again.

Today’s hike was really, really hard for me. I hope that I can sleep tonight and that my muscles recover somewhat because tomorrow promises to provide a new set of challenges.

Before I leave this entry only focusing on the difficulties of the day, let me say that the beauty that surrounded me on the trail today was absolutely spectacular. It was a great blessing to be in creation today.



Day Three: Tuesday 8.7

Today was an interesting day. I was faced with a bigger challenge than I expected and it had little to do with hiking. Today I faced my pride.

We left camp early this morning and headed toward Mt. Langley (the 9th highest peak in the continental US). The path we took is called New Army Pass. Let me first say that yesterday I passed two gentlemen on the trail who asked where we were headed. When I told them this pass they said, “Why would you go there? Buzzards don’t even go there.” So, when we began making the 2.3 mile trek up New Army I was not too surprised at the difficulty. It was up, up and more up. However, I felt a lot better today (I think I adjusted to the altitude over night) so I made it to the top only about forty minutes after the lead group. When I got to the top the students were so surprised to see me. I actually made it up before four others of the team.

I should pause here and admit what I didn’t yesterday. With my sickness/weakness I came in to camp yesterday dead last and about an hour and a half after the lead group. So when I got to the top of the pass one of the kids was so shocked he actually said, “Mrs. DeFazio, is that you?!” (I’m feelin’ the love.)

So I was feeling really good about myself already and then David announced to the team that he had big news for us. He said that New Army Pass is said to be the most difficult pass in the Western Sierra and next to no one takes it. Okay, so now I’m feeling really confident. Not only did I make the pass, but I did it with thirty pounds on my back! This was the perfect time for a very humbling experience.

We all took a snack and water break then dropped our packs, donned a day pack and headed up Langley. The base was a steep climb, but the peak that loomed before me was like a two mile high wall.

I wrestled with myself in my mind. “There’s no way I’m going to make it to the top of that mountain. I can’t breathe at 11,000’, what makes me think I can survive 14,000’?”
“Oh, but how great would it be to tell everyone that I summitted a 14er?”
“But I have to hike another two and a half miles to camp tonight. If I try to do this mountain right now, they’ll have to carry me to camp.”
“But how proud would Michael be?”

Finally, after arguing with myself for about a mile I stopped and sat on a rock. I sat there with my walkie in my hand trying to decide how I could nonchalantly radio to everyone that I was quitting without showing how disappointed I was. I knew there was no way my legs would hold out and I wasn’t too sure I wouldn’t get really sick going that high that fast, but it took me almost fifteen minutes before I finally pushed the button and said the most frustrating words I’d uttered in a long time.

“I’m turning back.”

Well, I shed a few lonesome tears of defeat. Then I shed a few tears of anger.
“What are you crying for? No one really expected you to make it.”
“But, I expected more of myself. This was going to be my greatest accomplishment.”

This is when the Spirit spoke.

“Your greatest accomplishment? Are you crazy? The altitude really has made you loony hasn’t it? Do you realize how much you’ve accomplished on this hike? You’re less than an amateur hiker and you went twelve miles yesterday. You took a pass today that most advanced hikers would not. Jim G. has already told you more than once that most hikers go six to eight miles in a day and that this is the hardest hike he’s ever been on. What more do you need to accomplish to feel good about yourself? You want to make Michael proud? Come home alive! He is not ever going to care about you climbing a 14,000’ mountain! And, you would call this your greatest accomplishment? How insulting! You are to consider being a strong Christian woman your greatest accomplishment. When you are a good wife, that is great. When you teach truth, that is great. Someday you will get the chance to be a godly mother and that will be great. All of this hiking and camping and making the wilderness your lavatory is purely fun and excitement. You have and you will accomplish some things up here, but you don’t need to. And when you happen to, don’t call them great.”

And at that, my pride was silenced.

I won’t say that all of my disappointment was gone, but I will say it was different. I was enlightened and ashamed at the same time and therefore committed myself to meditating on this for the rest of the time it took the team to return from their summit.

It was only about twenty minutes after I started my descent that I received a call that one of the students was turning back. Ten minutes later, a second student. Soon after, one of the other leaders turned back. This didn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it sure didn’t hurt. I just thought you know, maybe they really needed to rest as well, but they couldn’t bring themselves to be the first to bow out. I’m glad I could help in that way.

When the rest of the team returned to the packs they were exhausted and many were facing early stages of dehydration. We walked about a mile and a half out of there before we got to a water source. Several students and even one of the leaders shared my water between them so that they could make it to the lake. Again, I was so glad I could help with this huge need. If I would have continued the Langley climb any further I would also have been out of water and would not have been an asset at all.

When we made camp tonight everyone drank deeply of the lake and ate what their wasted bodies would allow. By eight o’clock most everyone was in bed and asleep.

I lay awake now listening to their breathing, a few whispers and the wind in the trees. I want to memorize every moment of this day. This was a really good day.



Day Four: Wednesday 8.8

As I woke up this morning I felt like someone has kicked me in the head. My eyes were swollen from too much dust and wind and not enough sleep. My ears were swollen and sore from sun exposure. Every muscle and joint from my jaw down was screaming, “If you try to get up we will make you fall down.” Apparently I had a nose bleed during the night because there was blood and snot crusted all around my nose. My hands are a complete mess. They’re sunburned, wind burned and, I hope this isn’t permanent, but I can’t feel my fingertips. And, my hair! Oh yikes, I’m glad I don’t have a mirror. The front was flattened to my head with dirt and grease and the back was standing on end making my shadow look like some exotic bird without many of the exotic features.

For how I felt, I must have looked frightening. But despite all of this, I was really glad to be waking up in the back country. There’s just something about rising with the sun, feeling fresh, smog-free wind on your face, and searching desperately for the nearest hiding place to deflate your bulging bladder and start your day. It really is good to be here!

Today was a layover day, meaning you don’t have to do anything or go anywhere unless you want to. I decided to go on a short hike to a nearby fishing lake, more just to ensure my muscles didn’t freeze up than anything else. Jim G. and three of the students went on this hike as well. It was nice just to sit by the water and enjoy the peacefulness that surrounded me. While I’ve been enjoying my surroundings throughout the hike, today was especially nice as I just took my time and sat still in creation.

This whole adventure has been challenging, and while it will be nice to sleep on a mattress rather than rocks, and take a warm shower rather than splashing my face with frigid lake water, I really think I could stay out here a few more days. However, tomorrow we go home. So, now is the time for reflection . . .



Things I learned on the trail:

1) When you agree to go on a hike as the only female chaperone, understand something. You have entered the boy’s locker room. Anything goes and there’s nothing you can do about it. (There are more stories on this subject that I dare not put into writing. There are some things that are best left as a memory.)

2) Every ounce counts! If you might not use it, don’t take it. If you won’t eat it, don’t pack it. If it is not a necessity, get rid of it. For example, you don’t need the handle on your toothbrush so saw it off. Weight on your back only feels heavier as you go, so start with as little as possible.

3) Your boots will make or break your trip. I am pleased to say that I have amazing boots! I love my boots! They took such good care of my feet that I felt the need to name them – Pinecone and Pebbles.

4) The higher you go, the colder it gets. I probably knew this already, but it would have been good to be reminded. Next time I go above 10,000’ I will have gloves and a stocking cap!

5) Water, water and more water! The best way to avoid accidents in the mountains is to drink lots of water. Water prevents dehydration, keeps your stomach settled, and helps maintain a clear head and quick reflexes – all important things when you are a million miles from anywhere!

6) Community is key! Not much of life (if any at all) was meant to be experienced alone. Hiking was definitely not. If you struggle with trusting people, sharing possessions, or with needing a lot of personal space, I would suggest going on a group hike/camp out. You’ll be cured, I promise!

7) Finally, (I’d love to have an even ten, but this is all I’ve got for now) If you always keep your eyes on the trail just to get where you’re going, you completely miss where you’ve been. There were so many times when I got to witness wonderful beauty because I happened to be looking up at just the right moment. Sometimes it was a tiny flower, other times wildlife, but each time I was so thankful for that one thing and that one moment. And I think life is a lot like this. If all we ever do is work and work and work to have all we would ever want in life ready and waiting for our enjoyment at the end of life, we’ll find ourselves enjoying it alone. We have to keep our head up and our eyes open and pay attention to what really matters now. Otherwise we’ll never know what we missed.



Three Weeks Later:

I’ve been home for a while now and I still haven’t tired of telling my hiking stories. It was such a great experience! I really did love the whole thing. I came home with a list of equipment that I wanted Michael and I to invest in. I heard myself say things like, “Our kids will never know what a Holiday Inn is. We’re sleeping outside everywhere we go!” I started right away trying to plan a camping trip for us before the school year hit. I was a little excited.

But, I think the thing that got me the most jazzed was just being completely away from demands and distractions. I got to spend four days surrounded by nothing but creation and it was there that I heard God speak to me for the first time in a long time. And I wasn’t even trying!

I highly, highly suggest that everyone get away like this. Even if you can only go for a day, or even an afternoon – do it! It doesn’t have to include climbing a mountain. Find a pasture and go sit in it. Get up early and watch the sun come up while drinking your coffee rather than starting your day with our ever depressing American newscasts. Whatever you can do where you are, do it. And do it soon! Don’t put it off – make it a priority. You won’t regret it!

I wish you beauty! I wish you silence! I wish you a marvelous encounter with your creator! Enjoy!