To this day I cannot eat a Cliff Bar. I blame THAT on the Sierras. Altitude sickness is no fun. Neither is explosive diarrhea 15 miles from the nearest bathroom. Oh believe me, I lived through that shit. Literally.
It began with a backpacking trip in Southern California. Sounds simple enough. Add 6 friends. Try hiking 15 miles up hill. In one day. With a 77 pound pack strapped to your back. And a toilet seat. Yeah, we were going to need that. Oh yeah, and Randy has asthma, (Surprise!)
Six of us good friends decided to hike in the Sierras in June of 2004. Hey lets go camping, we thought, then we decided to hike to North Palisades Glacier, the largest Glacier in Southern California, and why don’t we make it our first backpacking trip? It was going to be awesome. We were all high school friends who had grown up together in the San Bernardino Mountains. We met in a mix of choir, drama and band. Yeah, we were those kids. We were all college age at this point, all in relativity good shape and thought we could handle the hike no problem. I really had no idea what to expect going in. I had no idea we would do fifteen miles of hiking, all up hill the first day.
We left our rural mountain community early one June morning, and headed North towards Ridgecrest. We stopped in some random sporting goods store there to pick up last minute supplies. I seem to recall Ryan purchased a water filtering system there. Yeah, up to that point we really didn’t even have that much in the way of supplies besides sleeping bags, some dried fruit, candied nuts, and a portable toilet seat; we had priority’s. After we stocked up on more freeze dried meals, extra deet, and biodegradable soap and T.P. we headed for the foothills of the Sierras, driving through the little mountain towns of Big Pine and Lone Pine. We took the windy road up to Sage Flats, west of Big Pine. The start of our hike was over 7,000 feet. We all live at about 6,000 feet so we figured we would be used to the altitude. We left the cars in the parking lot there, breathing in the musky sage that grew wild everywhere and packed up our supplies, ready for the hike ahead.
As we slammed car doors and applied a solid coat of bug spray and sunscreen I enjoyed the last few moments of feeling clean and not sweaty I would have for over four days. We couldn’t bring any products with any smells into the forest. Bears could smell odors even as light as deodorant from miles away. None of us felt like tangling with a black bear. The closest thing I had to perfume or lotion was the sunscreen that was needed at this altitude. You tend to burn more at higher altitudes, even someone like me, who is tan-orixic (Not my term, I stole it from my fav author Jen Lancaster)
I was itching to go hiking that first day but unprepared for the hike we were about to do. I had no idea we would be doing 15 miles up hill the first day. The first part of the trail meandered through the pretty John Muir Wilderness along Big Pine Creek. We followed the Big Pine Creek Trail head, meandering past the cabins down below. They were available to rent as opposed to sleeping on hard ground and rocks like we would be doing for four days. Four days from now that, would sound like heaven to our aching backs. As we continued up and over the steadily climbing trail, the flowers were in bloom everywhere in pinks, purples and yellows. They filled the forest on both sides of the North Fork drainage of the creek to the left of the trail head. Ryan filled up our water pumpage system as we made our way farther away from the source of our water for the next few days. I think that’s when my pack started to get heavy.
|Would have been a great pic if my eyes were open|
|filling up on fresh pumped creek water|
This was our first backpacking trip and we brought everything. Steven and Jenny even packed in an air mattress; that popped on the first night. And then there was the famous toilet seat. In all Steven’s pack weighed 77 pounds. My smaller pack weighed a light 50, I wasn’t carrying the tent, we left that to the boys, plus they had the propane and most of our food and cooking equipment.
|Steven and Jenny at the cabin|
I’ve hiked all my life, but was nowhere near ready for this epic hike. To this day, the hardest hike I’ve ever done. I hadn’t trained at all before doing this hike either. I guess I just assumed we would do a few miles a day, meandering through the forest. Little did I know when we set foot on the John Muir Trail through the Inyo Wilderness, this trail goes nowhere but up; were climbing a mountain, bitches!
The trail climbed steadily uphill after we crossed the North drainage bridge, the icy waters crashing over the white rocks below us. That water tasted fantastic! But we had to ration it out in our plastic bottles; the next creek crossing wouldn’t be until sometime in the afternoon. About five miles into the steady up hill hike I was struggling big time. I had started out at the front of the pack, but I was lagging behind now. My 50 pound pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds. Each step uphill was harder and harder. When Ryan offered to carry my pack on his front, I gladly let him. I felt like such a wuss handing it over, but I had no idea what to expect in this hike and had packed way to heavy: Throwing useless necessities like a hair brush, cosmetics, heavy snacks, reading material and way to many articles of clothing in my bag. Never again would I ever pack for a trip in such a useless manner. Once I handed over my pack to Ryan I felt like I had just woken up. Steven told me, that even before I handed off my pack to Ryan he was really proud of how Jenny and I were handling the hike. After I handed my pack off to Ryan I was able to hike much faster than everyone else, of course, and found myself leading the pack.
I still think one night in a tent with me, after camp food, was the determining factor when Ryan came out of the closet years later.
The hike started out okay; Ryan and I wandered on by lakes four and five. They were gorgeous of course. We named lake five Mosquito Lake, WORST MOSQUITO’S EVER! At some point the trail completely disappeared and we found ourselves scrambling up hillsides, pulling ourselves up tree roots and making our own trail. Suddenly we had no clue where the f’ing trail went and there were no other hikers around. It was starting to get overcast when we FINALLY found lake six. Near Black Lake we could hear thunder rumbling in the distance and we realized we had better make our way back to camp before the rain started in. We filled up our water bottles and ran back over the trail (We found it finally!) Towards our base camp.
We had brought a portable shower with us on the hike. It’s pretty much a trash bag you fill with water, leave it in the sun all day, then spray yourself down with it, but only Jenny ended up using it. As we made our way around first lake the boys found the perfect place to jump in and decided to jump into the freezing snow runoff. I can still remember the way they screamed like girls when they hit the icy water. I didn’t jump in; I’m comfortable with my man smell.