Wandering in the Wilderness

I recently returned from my one-week vacation, in which I spent a few days with my family on our annual backpacking trip in the Northern Californian wilderness. We were fortunate to find an area to hike in that was free of the heavy smoke permeating the air near our home. The first day, we made it to the trailhead right around noon, and began our journey into the dry and peaceful woods. We passed a gorge, with a powerful creek pumping water to our left. For about three miles, we pressed on until we found a suitable place to camp. 

After we set up camp on the second day, a few of us decided to go on a day hike up to an impressive ridge top. Our ascent steady, we headed up into the wide space between two jagged ridges. The four of us persevered on our climb, as there was no cover from the glaring sun, and we occasionally slipped on the rocks. It was like climbing up a cliff with dirt on it. Though I focused on my next few steps to make it easier to climb, I would occasionally look back to see the progress I had made. Seeing the neat line of trees and the gorgeous basin below made the one hour hike worth it. Once we scaled the summit, we looked for an alternative way back to our campsite—this involved walking parallel to a granite wall, and wandering along a deer trail to meet up with the main trail.

As far as great campsites go, we hit the jackpot. In the basin we stayed at, we stumbled upon a cold spring that was so small we had to dip the water out with a cup. On the third day of our trip, a ranger passing by tipped us off to a campsite with a decent creek close by and a convenient rock “table” next to a log that we used for cooking. That night, we did some stargazing and saw two fat meteors zoom across the sky in quick succession.

Our last day in the wilderness was our longest and most rewarding. By 9:30 a.m., we cleared camp and headed to two alpine lakes, one of which we were already familiar with. The first lake featured a U-shaped body of water with a small, rocky island in its center. We stopped briefly and ambled around. Then we hiked to the other lake, where we ate a delicious lunch and explored the perimeter of the lake. This was more enjoyable for us, because the lake had a calm, magical appearance and the rocks were fun to scramble on. I took several photographs and watched the ripples form on the water’s surface as fish leaped out of hiding. It began to sprinkle, and so we decided to get back on the trail and figure out our next destination. 

Unfortunately, we encountered some smoke in the mountains. We didn’t want to wait for the smoke to gag us, and to endure a miserable night in the rain, so we chose to head out early. We’d already hiked 10 miles that day, but everyone was game to do five more back to the car.

The first three miles were fine, but I began to feel quite fatigued. For me, the monotony of tensing one’s body on a downhill slope without straining one’s knees and trying to avoid obstacles is certainly a challenge. One of my uncles educated us on pitcher plants, cedars and western white pines, which was a pleasant distraction. With two miles left to go, I told myself to pick up the pace and ignore my aching body. It’s true, hiking is mind over matter! My dad and I hiked together for the last two miles. He encouraged me to just move, and imagine myself close to the trailhead. I think “hustle” is an appropriate word for my pace towards the car, my end goal. I was going to finish strong! Even though the last two miles stretched on for what felt like a ridiculously long time, we finally made it and I was the first one to step off the trail.

In reflection, this year’s backpacking trip served as a reminder of my good health and of the peacefulness we can experience in nature. For a week I didn’t have to worry about deadlines, work or much else. I appreciated going at a slower pace. My family and I hiked over 30 miles together, caught up with each other and told bad jokes. I plan to undertake future hikes here in Orange County and other parts of California. I miss the wilderness already, but with school still over a month away, there’s time to go exploring.