All my life, my father has taught me about adventuring in the world. My sister and I always tentatively listen when he mimicks stories about his backpack travels in Alaska, recalling sights of mother bears flinging their cubs across sandy shores or limitless acres of wild berries growing liberally on surrounding bushes. Finally, after what seems like ages, to my irresistible excitement my father encourages my younger sister and I to travel with family friends on a five day backpacking trip through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Between the four of us -– an 11-year-old, two teenagers, and an adult -– we plan our excursion to begin at 9,200 feet in Onion Valley of the eastern Sierras at 11,709 feet, hike up to Kearsarge Pass, and descend down the western side to Charlotte Lake and back. Little do we anticipate how utterly steep and arduous the climb is with 35 pounds on our backs. Despite the discomfort, the views from the trail are worth all the world.
Gazing behind us down the rocky gorge we gape at an extensive landscape of barren desert far below, where the town Independence sits like an insect’s set of toy blocks. As we turn our heads back to face the inclining slope, we witness evidence of what time has worn into the mountain ranges. Sheer faces of tumbled granite rock have been pushed there by glaciers, while cascades of water plummet down into crystal creeks that are crowded by lush foliage and vibrant green pine trees. Farther up, lonely patches of snow, undisturbed by the summer sun, scatter grey stone fortresses that tower above. It is unfathomable, and even mystical in my experience, that in the mountains during summer there is still icy snow that completes the idyllic stunning mountain range picture.
As we trudge up the trail, we pass many hikers: some returning from a pleasant day-hike or a longer backpacking trip. Every individual we pass regards us with a warm smile, a friendly “Hello,” and a brief conversation of “How are you?” and “Have a nice hike!” It is now that I realize why I have become so content whenever I am in the wilderness. I am not happy simply because I enjoy it; all these hikers we pass and speak with actually want to be on the trail. Anywhere else in the world, whether at school, at work, or in a store while running errands, there are people who don’t want to be there. These dissatisfied people dwell in sour moods, which permeates into everyone else around them. Here, everyone willingly chooses to be in nature and enjoy it first-hand; consequently, their upbeat moods permeate into me, too.
There is no doubt that hiking the Sierras is worthwhile, albeit physically -– let alone mentally -– taxing. We witness multiple individuals of sixty years and older hiking the same trail we struggle up. Others simply run up the strenuous trail without a pack. Inspired by these accomplished individuals and the glorious scenery all around us, our chaperone estimated, “99% of the world is not able to do what we are doing now. Of the remaining 1%, a fraction of those actually go out and do it.” After spending five days in these diverse mountain ranges, I realize the truth in this statement. Some people may never have the privilege to witness what I have seen, experience what I have done, or speak with the people I have met on this trip, but I hope that, by continuing to backpack often, I may inspire others to venture out in nature as well, like the others have inspired me.
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