The thing that I fear most isn’t taking a whipper on a towering rock face or an unexpected mountain lion attack; it’s complacency. You’ve seen the pattern – we all have – somewhere around the age of 27-35, we pair off, move into a domicile of some type, have children, and somewhere along the way, we stop trying. We cruise through comfortable jobs that don’t challenge us, we stop working out, and, what hurts my heart the most, is that most of us stop putting effort into the most important romantic relationship of our lives. It’s a sobering reality when you think about how finite the blip of time we get on this cloud-strewn marble is.
About a month ago, I gathered a makeshift team of oddballs together to celebrate my birthday in the Alabama Hills. It was a Tetris game of wildly different personalities from nearly every one of my friend groups – the photographer, the mountain guide, the dude I met once from Facebook, the couple that picked me up at a goth club 6 years ago, and the weird kids in the back who really wanted to stay up late and do too much acid. We were a junkshow.
Here I am, all five feet, six inches of tanned, golden-haired glory. I’m probably wearing yoga shorts and trail runners so clean you could eat a vegan acai bowl out of them. I smell like snickerdoodles and definitely don’t poop in the woods. My selfie stick rivals Gandalf’s staff in its sun-stained splendor, and I’ve got ninja-like skills when it comes to using it. You see that trail over yonder? It’s ready for its goddamn close up.
First, a loud whumpf roars through the valley, slamming my entire body with the malicious ferocity of a kick drum beat at an underground club. Next, terrifying silence as the slope gives way underneath. The snowpack crumbles before it turns to a mushy gunk the consistency of hand-cranked cement as it pours down the face of the mountain. I didn’t even see it coming. It is 10:45am on Monday, April 2nd. I’m three-quarters of the way up Sherwin Ridge, and my climbing partner, Ryan, is about to be hit by 1,100 tons of sludge.
As badass as I try to appear in the online world of Brazen Backpacker, I can often be a bit of a princess about what I eat in the backcountry – especially at altitude. My stomach frequently turns on me or neglects to get hungry entirely, instead opting to be distracted by a stunning alpine vista or a mind-blowing sunset. Nutrition is a tricky beast to conquer when you’re burning 300+ calories per hour hiking and need to replenish at least half of them as you move through your day in the wilderness. That’s why exciting snacks are a key part of any seasoned backpacker’s equation.
“It’s probably negative 20 out, and I can’t feel my feet… but at least it’s windy!” Jimmy Chin is 20,000 ft. above sea level, climbing near-vertical snow and ice as his team pushes towards the summit of Meru’s Shark’s Fin, and he’s smiling. In fact, the one thing that most struck me when I re-watched the film, Meru, a few weeks ago was Chin’s unfailing ability to laugh at a situation, no matter how fucked up it got. It was remarkable; a mastery of the human spirit almost as difficult as the technical, mixed climbing he faced, and it got me wondering, “Why the hell am I not doing that?”
I am not a good employee. At 3:47pm on a Friday, I am frantically moving my fingers across the computer keyboard while simultaneously pressing the phone against my ear to order flowers for my boss’ grandmother while praying that he makes an early dinner reservation at 5pm so I can scoot out of the office, quickly. I have an expansive Yosemite trail map permanently hidden in my browser tabs on my work laptop (yes, really), and on any given weekend, I’m struggling to answer important emails from high in the Sierra Nevada or a local desert crag. In short, my mind is often elsewhere.
It was raining and blustery and just above freezing as I shoved another translucent, blue gummy bear into my mouth. I was sitting at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, 13,828 feet above sea level, waiting for the rest of my group to catch up and desperately in need of carbs. For a windswept, bedraggled hiker, I was in surprisingly good spirits. I watched the rain drip gingerly off my hooded poncho like a curious ant hiding beneath a blade of grass to stay dry as I gazed out at the misty cloud forest below, daydreaming about coca leaves and crimson orchids hidden in the deep crevices of towering trees. I had just completed the most difficult section of the Inca Trail in a downpour with a full pack on, and I was incandescently happy.
In July of 2016, I completed my first 3-day backpacking trip with a man I was terribly in love with. We ambled up rocky paths in the high country of Yosemite National Park and watched the sun rise with a shock of electric pink over granite domes that dotted the landscape like the hardened knees of some huge, mummified giant. On our last night out, we set up camp early near Polly Dome, allowing for ample time to dodge mosquitoes, smooch, and jump naked into an alpine lake. “1… 2… 3!” I yelled as I launched my sweaty, dirtbag body off a neighboring rock and into the water. Not two breaststrokes later, I yelped loudly, clutching my left leg. Careful not to sink too deep into the murky water, I examined my knee, noticing a flash of bright red that trailed through the lake like a miniature oil spill. “Are you ok, dude?” Asked my companion from his mindful perch along the shore. “I’m fine! I’m just bleeding!” I shouted back, laughing emphatically so that he wouldn’t make me get out of the water. I was happy and hurt and full of as much aliveness as a body can possibly muster. Instead of stitches, I found smiles.
First, there is water. Air thick with salt sweat and a deep blue landscape dotted with the lacy imprints of coral. There are trees that rise in mounds from the scattered fingers of islands like forest green muttonchops or particularly dense broccoli. Land and sea boast of their fertility; the earth is rich with color.