This year, I had the absolute pleasure of trekking high up into the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles to bring 12 lbs. of fresh fruit and veggies up to thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. These brave souls amble their way up and down a narrow strip of trail from Mexico to Canada, hiking over 2,650 miles in the process. They give each other wild trail names like Sherlock, Pinkman, and Crush and harbor a Lost Boys-style camaraderie. I embarked on this portrait project to showcase the beautiful abandon written all over each one of their faces. Their stories made me tremble and smile and remember to carpe the hell out of every last diem.
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 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.
“Stop looking at me!” I screeched as I crouched into a windbreak to clumsily remove a used tampon from my body with a sharp tug. My boyfriend, Ben, didn’t know how to turn off his joke faucet, especially on a long thru-hike, and he was darting from rock to rock like an untamed marmot. My nerves were getting raw. It was lunchtime on October 3, 2017, and the closest thing I had to comfort was a granite ledge perched 2500 feet above the Kern River Valley, wind whipping my face as I teetered, bloody-handed and sore. I couldn’t believe it was 33 degrees in the sun. I couldn’t believe that I was sick, depressed, and on my period, either. I squinted pathetically as a raven flew overhead, twisting my neck as it soared out of view. A sharp pain seized my stomach like a petrified child. Everything felt wrong, and the only way out was to climb over Mt. Whitney.
When your short hikes are breezy 10-milers, and you rack up 30+ miles each and every weekend, you tend to get picky about what you put on your feet. After years of hiking and backpacking, I’ve fallen into the category of the foot-care superstitious, as though the ingredients for keeping my toes dry were some mysterious witches brew that could not be altered for any reason. Though I often have my doubts about new trends that enter the hiking and trail running world, I’d been curious to try compression socks for quite some time. When CloudLine Apparel sent me a pair of their finest in backcountry-blue, I knew I had to give them a go!
A manual in 7 easy steps
In one of my grandest schemes to date, I decided to push several self-limits at once and hike the entirety of Malibu’s recently completed Backbone Trail System in only 3 days. For those of you who aren’t LA local, that’s 70 miles of peaks and valleys, traversing along the Santa Monica Mountains, just spitting distance from Los Angeles! It promised to be relatively waterless, 40 degrees at night, difficult to navigate, and illegal to camp on (technically). Oh, and the gods decided to grace me with a massive rainstorm in the middle of day two that left me sliding down the side of a mountain in the pitched black, hiking through multi-million dollar Malibu estates, and finally befriending a valet at a 4 star restaurant who let me charge my phone and call a ride home. Even with a TON of planning and back ups in case of things going wrong, the trek decided to take a left turn in a hilarious assortment of unexpected ways, leaving me to bail on night two and return to complete the last 24 miles of trail the following weekend. So, I felt it only fitting to write a how-to manual in reverse for what not to do on The Backbone Trail!