It’s the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue each time I conjure the courage to spit out the idea for my latest sufferfest. Why climb over 10,000 vertical feet in a day? Why push for a summit in 70mph winds? Why waste a perfectly good Saturday waking up at five in the morning to bloody my fingers on sharp granite crystals?
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.
“The surest way to mend a broken heart is through a forest wilderness.”
On really confusing evenings of self, I like to drink beer and make up quotations that John Muir definitely did not write. I summon him like my own, personal break-up Yoda the moment a man threatens to rip the sticky, sensitive tissue of my heart to shreds. I need this. A stubborn, fantasy-ridden reminder that things can still be beautiful, even when they do not turn out as I’d hoped. Though very much dead, Muir offers surprisingly warm company, a wild-eyed mountain guru who will hold my hand through the thick fog of being a suddenly single outdoorswoman.