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.
The delicate purr of a hummingbird crosses your vision as you gaze out over the mirror-stillness of an alpine lake. It’s evening, and the low-hanging sun has turned the entire valley to coral flame. You crack a beer, flip open your camp chair, and settle in to watch the show in perfect solitude. Just then, you hear a high-pitched buzzing noise and start frantically looking around, darting your head from body part to body part. It lands on your right arm, and you thunderously SMACK your left hand against the skin, squashing the attacker to bits. You heave a sigh of frustration and shake your fist at the sky.
Mosquitoes have invaded your once-perfect evening.
Day 1 – Kathmandu to Ghermu
I woke to the scattered music of street dogs barking and motorbikes jetting off on dirt roads. Kathmandu has a way of clogging your every sense until you teeter on insanity, then it throws you some more. I nuzzled my face against the deep brown musk of Brian’s armpit hair, praying for another 15 minutes of sleep before I vaulted into the morning, thankful to have my boyfriend by my side in this chaos. The day had come to start hiking.
It is Sunday night, and you have left me sore.
After the laughter and the naked shock of lake thaw turning my skin to goosepimples, after you have left my hair a bedded mess of red, and after three moonless nights with trees tall as cathedral spires, I have spun my key and dropped my pack, a sagging slump at the foot of the bed in a dingy apartment behind a cheap sushi joint and a 7-Eleven in west Los Angeles.
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.
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.
“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.