I should begin this post by saying that ‘hiking’ means something different in America than it does in England. We Brits would probably say we were “going for a walk up the hills” or something, and hiking to us means those hardcore people with sticks and proper hiking shoes and all that jazz. In America it’s just what you call it when you go for a walk up some hills, with varying degrees of strain.
Alas, I’ve been here so long that I too now refer to an hour-long walk through some woods as a hike. And let me tell you….I am not a fan of hikes no matter which meaning you use (duh, it IS exercise after all!). I’ve hiked with several friends who have almost lost that title by the end of the hike. I’m a grumpus who doesn’t like heat or exercise and I need to drink lots of water so I don’t keel over but I also need to pee every 5 minutes. See? Don’t I sound like the most fun hiking partner EVER?
With all this said, you can imagine my friends and families surprise when I announced that I was going hiking in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park in June of 2012. And I’m not talking ‘glamping’ here…I’m talking full on backpacking, pumping our own water, hanging bear canisters on trees and yes, peeing in the wild. Did I mention the 10miles+ uphill climb every day? Yeah. That happened.
WHY?! I hear you cry. Why would you go on a trip like that when you hate exercise and the sun?? Because I’m a mother effin Goonie, that’s why. And when adventure calls I come running (minus the running part). Plus, it sounded like fun and I was confident that my friends who had done this kind of thing several times before would take good care of me. And if they didn’t? Well, Goonies never say the D word.
You’d think in the weeks leading up to the trip I would be getting my arse to the gym and practicing some day hikes, building up my stamina etc. Nope. I was far too concerned with finding a cute baseball cap to match my shirt and deciding what freeze dried rice meals I wanted to take. As well as hording hot chocolate sachets and tea bags – two key survival items in my book.
We (my brother, three friends and I) arrived at the start point of our journey, picked up our bear canisters and after some momentary panic over the weight of our backpacks, set off for the first day of travel. The first red flag should probably have been the 14/15 year old kid who, looking like one of the weaker sprogs from Lord of the Flies, collapsed near us within the first half hour of our trek, panting, covered in dirt and asking how far it was to White Wolf (where we started). Pffft. Amateur. We laughed at him, gave some vague directions and carried on our merry way.
After a couple of hours (and after passing a sign that said ‘2 Miles to White Wolf’ about 5 miles in!!) we began our descent down a steep hill in the forest. Switchback after switchback played havoc with our schedule and I won’t lie when I say I definitely considered turning back when we saw that a massive redwood tree had fallen (or was it pushed?) and was now blocking our path. Now this isn’t just your average tree trunk that you can hop over. We’re talking easily the size of a small house just the width of the trunk alone, and then hundreds of branches and gnarly bits to deal with too. We decided to press on, after all we were Goonies and this was our time dammit! So with lots of team work, some ninja creeping past a wasps nest or two and a nice little balancing act, we made it over the tree trunk….but not before we surveyed the land from said trunk, and saw that this was not the only tree lying horizontal….there were loads!!! Some had chainsaws stuck in them where the park employees had attempted to chop them up and move them, no such luck! These things were monsters. And it was going to take us a looooong time to climb over all of them. But climb we did.
Hours later and finally at the bottom of the hill, we realize we need to set up camp as the sun is fading and we still need to get to the river to pump fresh water, stack the bear canisters and then string them high up in a tree far away from our tents. As we set up camp we realize we are in Pate Valley. Hmmm that sounds familiar. Oh yeah THIS IS WHERE THE BEARS LIVE!!! I mean yeah they live all over the park, but this place was notorious for sightings and I had read that Pate Valley was where they mostly hung out. So that was nice. As we looked around there was evidence of bears, claw marks on the trees and crushed pinecones. It was a little unnerving I’m not gonna lie but my comrades assured me that nobody has ever been killed by a bear in Yosemite National Park and I’d have to be really unlucky to be the first. Clearly they don’t know me very well….
Our first night was horrendous. I had somehow managed to get heat stroke throughout the course of the day and spent the night shivering in the tent, trying not to throw up and counting down the hours until I could get out of the tent and not be eaten by a bear. The minute the sun peeked over the horizon our tent was unzipped and I treated my fellow Goonies to the sounds of last nights dinner in reverse.
Hooray for being a pale, weak Brit.
End of Part 1……….