Thursday, July 5, 2012

freedom hike

As I charged up the trail, a refrain repeated in my head: "I could really use a rest day." At the same time, another mantra asserted itself: "There will be no rest days on the JMT!" 

Unlike last year, when I was paid to go backpacking, my hikes have been shorter this season. I've gone on four backpacking trips and many day hikes, but nothing that pushed the boundaries. I knew in order to feel confident I needed boots on the ground for an extended period of time.

As I hiked upward from 4500 feet elevation I remembered why this trail isn't my favorite. The first four miles are an uphill grind, mostly in dense forest without any rewarding views. The trail is studded with rocks, all kinds of rocks, from the small ones that you stumble on to the tall, sharp ones you slide on. Because of the dangers of face planting, my pace rarely gets above two miles an hour and change.

Not that I knew, really. I had declared freedom from all things timepiece on this hike. I didn't want to stare at a piece of electronic equipment and gauge how far I had come or how far I had to go. I wanted instead to just get into that zone. You know the one. Half-dreaming, half-awake, your mind wanders all over the place. I need this time. I used to get it during marathon training. Now that marathons are lost to me, I can reach this zone on long hikes.

Since it was Independence Day, I thought a little bit about freedom. Here I was in a running skirt and tank top, not a burka. I could stop and talk to a male hiker without being accompanied by a male relative. I could hike alone without suspicion. Even the fact that I had the leisure to just go for a hike is something women around the world could not imagine. As messed up as our country seems to me sometimes, it's still pretty darn good.

Nobody was at Aneroid Lake and I could have sat here for awhile and called it good. It was tempting.

Instead I decided to push on into unknown territory and an off trail lake I had seen on the map. The trail wound up the hillside, opening up into a wide snowy valley. I knew from my map I was above 8,000 feet.

I sprang across the creek soaking my boots and pushed upward through the snow.  A meandering line of footprints showed that only one person before me had been here this summer.

After a big switchback, the terrain and my map lined up. I took a chance and left the trail, slogging upwards through snowfields.


and up..
and up some more..

 I came over the rise and there was a tiny lake, just waking up, a skim of ice across its surface.

Every new lake I go to becomes my favorite one.

There was still the toil downward, my pace checked by the rocks. I would see three groups of backpackers, one set carrying a pontoon boat. There would be one point where I would say something about "stupid rocks." I might have a mini bonk. I would practically run the last mile to get done. At home I would fall out of the car moaning, "ice cream." I would find that I had suffered a sunburn.

But that would all come later. I had no idea what time it was. I had no idea how long it would take to get back. But it didn't matter if I had hiked up here in three hours or four. I was here. That was enough.


  1. Sounds like the perfect outing. I find that worrying too much about how fast I'm going keeps me from noticing all kinds of wonderful things along the way.

  2. Stunning landscape. How miraculous that a tiny lake is just "waking up" on July 4. Let freedom ring. Nice story.

  3. It's almost eerie how similarly we expressed our independence, yesterday... I read this just now and couldn't stop grinning from ear to ear.

    It's good to know that we're evidently charter members of the same tribe. Or something.

    Love the photos, too!

  4. Love what you said about how lucky we are to be women living in this country (though it is far from a perfect country), with the freedom to hike and run where and when we choose. So true! Glad you had an awesome hike, and the pics are beautiful.


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