It was nearing high noon in the Eastern Sierras and we had been hiking what felt like straight up a mountain for hours. This was no normal hike. As my hiking boots crushed into the soft sand of the trail I felt every pound of the heavy pack on my back that carried my belongings for the next five day. I was kicking myself that I brought that extra sweater and a book to read (Paper is heavy!) I just wanted to get to the top of this hill already and set up camp by the lake and why were there so many damn mosquitos! I was practically begging for another squirt of that 100 percent Deet cancer causing bug spray. (This was 2004; you probably can’t even buy the stuff now over ten years later!)
My first introduction to the Sierras had me hooked from the first switch back and the first sent of wild sage on the wind. That is after we hiked fifteen miles mostly uphill that first afternoon.
My first impression of the Sierras (Well after Steven destroyed that bathroom in Lone Pine; I don’t blame him! It was the last time we saw indoor plumbing for five days!) was the smell of wild sage on the wind, tangy and musky. It smelled incredible as we drove the twisting roads of Crocker Avenue (Sounds like a place to start hiking, right?) The road twisted and turned and climbed higher eventually leading us to the over night parking area for North Palisades Glacier.
This was my first back packing trip, my first time to trek the John Muir Trail and my first time hiking fifteen miles in a day. I had always been a hiker, but I did not train at all for this adventure and I had never in my life hiked more than four miles at this point, let alone with a heavy twenty pound pack! My pack was the light one! Steven trekked in an air mattress and a toilet seat (You can already see where his priorities lie) His pack weighed seventy pounds!
Twelve years later now that I am an experienced hiker, I look back at my twenty three year old self and I think, what the hell were we thinking? If I ran across our group of friends with our ridiculous heavy and unevenly weighted packs on any trail I would laugh and point and probably think “Those kids might get lost and end up on the news” We didn’t know any better. We were just six friends from the mountains, well the mountains down south, not the real mountains; the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We thought we were experts at mountain stuff.
By the time we made it to the mountain’s west of Big Pine it was afternoon. We had to stop for gear (Including a water pump) in Ridgecrest. This was well before the days of Amazon Prime or REI and the only big outdoor store for miles around was located in the podunk town of Ridgecrest twenty miles out of the way off of the 395. (That is Highway 395 to all you un Californians)
Once we were finally loaded up with supplies we strapped our completely improperly packed, packs on our backs and we started our hike in the heat of the day. This was late June. Thirty four year old Amber hates the heat and I don’t remember looking back it being unbearably hot but it must have been pretty warm, even at over seven thousand feet.
As we ventured farther into the Sierra Nevada range and farther from civilization the bugs soon became terrible. I had never in my life experienced bugs like this! They were on our arms, in our faces and we were soon covered head to foot in bug bites. Luckily we had brought the one hundred percent Deet and that helped. Steven is of course allergic to every bug that ever lived but even though his bug bites were hug, pink and nasty we powered through. We knew that some where up that long trail was First Lake, our home for the next few days.
I make it sound like this beginning of the trip was hellish but it was so stunningly beautiful we all were having a great time. Well maybe not Randy. He waited to tell us until after we started hiking that he had The Asthma. Luckily Eric stayed back to keep him company and the rest of us voyaged ahead.
When we finally crested the part of the trail near First Lake and the trail evened out just a bit we were all so thrilled.
Until we realized that camping next to a lake meant even more bugs.
Even with the bugs and the sweat and the smelly friends we had such a great time on that first back packing trip. That trip awakened my love of the outdoors more than it already was.