I’m back from the wilderness!
After six days, thirty-two miles of hiking, and 4,000 feet of elevation gained and lost, I’m pretty worn out. But I’d be ready to go back tomorrow.
At 7:00 AM a little over a week ago, all of High Sierra stood in front of the dorms, joined hands in a circle, and said a prayer. Our prayer was for safety, fun, community, bonding, and growth. God blessed that prayer ten-fold and gave me one of the best and most memorable times of my life.
Me with Mt. Ritter and the Minarets
Moments after we said, “Amen”, the four vans were rolling up the mountain roads that lead us to the trailheads. Each van held a different team of ten students and guides and each were beginning their trek at a different trailhead. Our trail began at the very southern entrance to the Ansel Adams Wilderness, a designated and protected section of backcountry that spans 230,258 acres on the eastern side of Yosemite National Park. For those of you who are familiar with Mammoth Mountain, Ansel Adams is basically all the land between it and Yosemite. Just about the entire Sierra Nevada range as well as the surrounding forests and high country are protected by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. If you’ve never been to this area before, it’s an absolutely spectacular sight to see for the first time. To look out and, for hundreds of miles in every direction, see nothing but trees, lakes, and towering granite peaks, is downright amazing.
Porphry Lake from 11,009 ft.
Our trail started deep in the woods, but by lunch on the first day we had gained around 500 feet and could see the Sierra off to the east. By that night we were at about 9,000 feet above sea level and still had 2,000 more to go before we could lose any elevation.
Each day we hiked around 8 miles and carried our roughly 50-60 pound packs up the trail. By the second day my hips were feeling the weight, and backpacking suddenly became a more difficult endeavor than I first thought. Still, the peaks and lakes and trees we were surrounded by on the trail were more than enough to take my mind off the pain.
Each night we camped at a different lake. After arriving at our campsite, we split up jobs – pumping water, setting up the tarps, cooking dinner, collecting firewood, etc. – and got to work. Then we sat down and enjoyed dinner and desert – something I looked forward to every day. Our sleeping bags and bivy sacks kept us warm as we slept under huge pine trees or on the side of a mountain overlooking a valley, and each night we were treated to a spectacular show courtesy of the Milky Way Galaxy. And when I say show, I mean SHOW. I’ve never seen so many stars…
One of the most incredible aspects of the trip and ways that God stretched me and taught me was our daily leadership tasks. Every morning Katie and Scott, our wonderful guides, picked a guy and a girl to be “leaders of the day”. This entailed navigating the team along the trail, keeping up moral, picking where and when to stop and rest, and, at night around the campfire, telling their life stories. Seeing my peers lead a group through a wilderness in which they’ve never been was truly incredible to watch unfold. I saw the best come out in each and every person on my team. And hearing their personal stories of where they’ve been in their lives and how God’s grace and patience and goodness has brought them through to where they are now was amazing. When it came time for me to lead with my partner, I felt ready – but only because I watched and learned from Katie and Scott and my friends and their ability to lead with discernment and grace. Having the opportunity to lead in a place like the backcountry allowed me to learn so much about myself and my capabilities as a leader.
Another remarkable experience I had on Trek was our 24-hour solo time. On the fourth day each student was split off to a different spot around the lake we had stayed at the night before and was to remain there for 24 hours without any food or human contact (we had a whistle just in case, don’t worry). My spot on the lake was gorgeous and my time alone was one of the hardest, but most fulfilling and growth-intensive times of my life. I spent the day sitting on a rock in the sun overlooking the lake. Lyrics from a song by John Denver echoed in my mind all day –
“And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high,
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky,
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply.”
For the first time in my life that I can remember, I sat completely still, cleared my mind, and listened to God. I looked around at the mountains and trees and I felt His presence. I heard His reply. By the end of the 24 hours I wasn’t hungry, but full with fellowship with God. My solo time reminded me how important it is to be alone with God – and if you’re near a place like the Ansel Adams Wilderness, that’s not a bad place to do it.
A BEAUTIFUL meadow between Ansel Adams and Yosemite NP
The next day we hiked all nine miles back to the trailhead and reunited with the other groups. It was so good to see everyone and hear about all the different Trek experiences. After returning to campus we were treated to a feast with hot-off-the-grill burgers. Food hadn’t tasted that good in a very long time. That night I cleaned all my gear so it was ready for the next adventure.
Trek was absolutely my favorite High Sierra moment yet. Trek II is in 45 days and counting!
Don't worry, I made it.