One of the first things you learn when you set off on an adventure is that there’s no room for ego when your bags and car are already full. Transparency is crucial, whether you are on the trail for one day or seventeen. It takes physical and mental toughness. It takes patience, with yourself, and with your companion(s). Through honest communication, the layers and walls we often have built around ourselves begin to crumble, lessening the weight we carry to reveal the beauty of what happens when we let go.
Two years ago I found myself confronted with a transformative realization: the only thing I can truly control is myself.
Putting that into practice often on the trail and in the wilderness, this trip was a challenge to my stubborn self. As the summer leaves began to transition, Jules and I loaded up our packs on a September morning and headed south to spend ten days deep in the backcountry of the High Sierras. Accountable to someone else, I was forced to take responsibility for what I was feeling, when I was feeling it, and why.
At the start of our trip in Yosemite, I found myself trying to mold my surroundings, and my experience, rather than let the adventure shape itself. I couldn’t control the weather, or the weight, or the discomfort, but I recognized that I could choose how to react in the face of those things.
And so I chose to embrace it.
We had a plan. A very detailed one. And then with the help of the weather to soften the pages, we ripped it to shreds. It took me a while to let go of the metaphorical pieces, but when I did, I stopped looking down so much at the map, and instead looked up at what the world around me was offering.
That map that I, and maybe you, metaphorically tore up? Toss it. But make sure there is still the physical one handy.
Listen to what your body is trying to say. Is your knee throbbing, shouting at you to take a break? Stop! Your muscles calling for a hot springs? Go! On the trail, no one is telling you what to do or how to do it. Rather than preconceived notions and ideas dictating the path, be your own guide.
Communicate, candidly. Jules and I shared everything – the trail, a tent, our food – but more than that we shared our fears and insecurities, motivations, pain, and (maybe) too much information. By understanding our individual mindsets, we began to anticipate each others’ needs, sometimes even before the other realized it. (Thanks for the banana with hidden almonds, Jules.)
As the scent of your pre-trek shampoo fades, it makes room for other senses. Look around, take it in. THIS is the world that we live in. Dance on rocks and roll in the dirt. Strip down and jump in the alpine lake in front of you. This deep in the backcountry, no one is looking. And even if they were? It doesn’t matter.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs: An hour outside of Yosemite, down a long wooden path, awaits warm relief for your sore muscles.
Off 395, turn on to Benton Crossing Road in Mono County, and then take an immediate right after your second cow gate. Follow the dirt road all the way to the parking lot, and to your personal heaven.
(Insiders’ tip from two hot springs seekers who may have taken longer than necessary to find it? If you haven’t turned and the road starts to curve you’ve gone too far. Still can’t find it? There are at least two other hot springs off that road for your relaxing pleasure.)
Vogelsang: A sixteen mile out-and-back (with a lunch break at Vogelsang Lake) or a night spent stargazing and passing a flask at the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp beneath Fletcher Peak as you rest on a longer trek, this portion of Yosemite places you in the heart of the Cathedral Range. Massive peaks, alpine lakes, and complete solitude are what you’ll find out here.
Cloud’s Rest: So you couldn’t get Half-Dome permits. Well, even if you did, still hike the 14.4 miles round trip to the top of one of the best seats in Yosemite for expansive views of Yosemite Valley. Conquer it in a (long) day, or set up camp by Sunrise Lakes so you can get a head start the next morning.
Fun Fact: Cloud’s Rest is actually HIGHER than Half-Dome, with less elevation gain and less people.
Tenaya Lake: Those flat rocks in the middle of the lake? Swim to them. Stay there. Lay there. Enjoy.
Base Camp Café: “Food you love to fuel the things you do” is the motto at this breakfast and lunch spot in Mammoth, and after retreating from Yosemite with our hearts full and our stomachs craving burgers and Bloody Marys, this gem of a place gave us exactly that. We left reenergized and ready, and then came back the next day for breakfast.
Crystal Crane Hot Springs: After our time in Yosemite, Jules and I found ourselves floating on our backs and staring at the sky as our bodies soaked in the natural minerals in the middle of nowhere, Eastern Oregon. Far from gas stations, grocery stores, and most people, Crystal Crane is the ideal place to relax, move slowly, and (if you rent room #3 at the Sage Inn) sleep on cowboy themed sheets. Accommodations range from camping to cabins, but all of them lead to swimming in the healing waters of the large hot springs.
There’s always another mountain in the future. Another trek, another challenge. Obstacles will be there. Ask yourself, what’s in front of you NOW? Grab it.