Exposure
The following is an account of my fourteen-day mountaineering course in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with Outward Bound. The course start was at the Fresno airport, and it took place in the Courtright region of the Sierra, in the John Muir Wilderness. I am a seventeen year-old girl from the Bay Area. This trip was my fourth time backpacking, and first time mountaineering.
Enjoy! 

The following is an account of my fourteen-day mountaineering course in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with Outward Bound. The course start was at the Fresno airport, and it took place in the Courtright region of the Sierra, in the John Muir Wilderness. I am a seventeen year-old girl from the Bay Area. This trip was my fourth time backpacking, and first time mountaineering.

Enjoy! 

August 16, 2011: Day 7

Rainbow Ridge

Peak days are different. On a peak day, you wake up early, but you do not have to worry about packing up camp, or carrying EVERYTHING in your backpack. When I was in Team, we used the brain of our pack on peak days. It could unhook and become a large fanny pack. At Outward Bound, the sleeping bag stuff/compress packs can double as small daypacks. The first rule of LNT is to be prepared, so when climbing a peak, one must be sure that they have enough warmth, water, and food for if they needed to spend the night. For us, that meant bringing full water bottles, one sleeping bag, and our snacks and lunch. I also brought my down jacket, just incase.

Day 7 was our first peak day, and I was VERY excited. I am somewhat of a mountain goat, there is climbing in my blood. As much as I love the calm serenity of the trail, my favorite thing to do in the backcountry is climb. In this case, it meant a lighter pack, and using my hands for balance and holds as we moved upward and over the piles of Boulders.

We began hiking toward the peak, and were just returning to our ongoing war with the bloodsuckers, when Thad had us stop and circle up. He told us to find a rock (but Caroline liked her pine cone better) and for us to attach some meaning to it, a problem that we want to overcome.

“Look up,” he said. “We are about to traverse from that peak, all along the edge, to that peak” his finger traced the five peaks of Rainbow Ridge as he spoke. It rose and dipped like hanging party streamers.

“You are about to climb a mountain,” stated Thad. “People use this in metaphors, but you guys are actually going to do it! I want you guys to attach some meaning to your object, and when you reach the top, you can overcome it.”

I found a smooth, specked stone about the size of my palm, and stuck it into my bag. Then we headed up.

Matteo explains peak protocol 

Because most of our group had never attempted a peak, Thad and Matteo did most of the leading. The climb was mostly class two and three, with a little bit of class four. We reached the top of the ridge and ate a snack. Royden and I tried to get people to eat more, and thus lighten our lunch load (especially the salami). I sat on a rock and swung my legs back and forth as a sucked on a jolly rancher, euphoric and excited.

The route ahead appeared to be a series of knife ridges between each peak. I thought back to my first peak attempt of Tower Peak with Team last year. When we had reached the knife ridge there, we were at the base of Tower Peak and I was in a state of elation. I think that poor Lily was hyperventilating at this point, but I was powering on in the front, in my own world. We paired up to help each other across the knife ridge, and I paired with Bea. She is afraid of heights, but she followed me across the ridge, as I showed her the good and bad places to step, and what to hold onto. I felt so comfortable climbing over boulders with a drop of hundreds of feet right beside me. Is that natural?

 Knife Ridge

Matteo on the top of a peak formation on Rainbow Ridge

S4MN43-102 For the win!!
Rainbow Ridge is behind us, this is right before we traversed it and peaked.
I took this with a disposable, the rainbow rays of sun were not photoshoped, so I think that the world new that something epic was about to happen. 

S4MN43-102 For the win!!

Rainbow Ridge is behind us, this is right before we traversed it and peaked.

I took this with a disposable, the rainbow rays of sun were not photoshoped, so I think that the world new that something epic was about to happen. 

Swimming in the Kings River

  The water of the Kings River thundered down the valley. Caroline and I ran excitedly from our campsite on a rock slab beside the river to the waters edge. In a sunny spot by the waters edge, the boys lay like lizards soaking up the last rays of the sun. I stripped off my grimy, sweaty clothing, and wiggled my sore and blistered feet out of my Vasque hiking boots.

“Ok, I am so ready for this.” I told Caroline as I took a deep breath and placed my foot into the water. Slowly and determinedly I entered the river. Goose pumps sprung out, my back arched and my shoulders gravitated upward in response to the snowmelt water.

“Is it slippery?” She asked.

            I was about to say that it was not, when I stepped forward onto a slimy, smooth section of the great slopping rock and slid forward, teetering for balance until the water had reached my waist.

            I laughed, “Yes! Super slippery!”

            In the middle of the river, the rock gave way to a soft sand deposit. I stood there, wiggling my toes and feeling the sun on my back. I bent and washed my arms, layered with dirt, mosquito repellent, and sunscreen. Caroline joined me, and we dunked our heads into the ice river.

I walked up river, carefully navigating the slimy parts, and reached a bend where the current had worn grooves into the rock slab. The current was strong, but I laid myself on the rock facing downstream, so that just my face was above the surface. The water pounded down on my head and I braced myself with my feet to keep from sliding down the river. My fingers scrubbed vigorously at my scalp as I let the water take my sweat and grime, and leave me refreshed.

It must have been six thirty, or maybe seven, because when I left the water, the river was in shadow. Caroline and lay ourselves on the rock beside Matt and Daniel, and attempted to soak up the remaining sun before we dawned our fleece and huddled down for the cold night.

August 15, 2011: Day 6

Today was the hardest (so far). We gained about 1,500 feet in elevation, and our backpacks were at their heaviest. I am thankful however, because our original route could have been MUCH longer. When Matteo was going over the routes with the horse packers, they told him about an unmapped trail that they use. Now if the horses used it (they need a wider and better established trail), it should be great for us, so we redesigned our day.

Royden was the leader today, and we packed up camp quickly. Lately we have stopped setting up the group tarp, and we all just sleep under the stars, which makes it faster to pack. It is also easier for me, since I carry the tarp. That way I can pack my bag without waiting to take down the tarp, shaking all the water from the morning dew off, and roll it. I wish I wasn’t carrying it, not because it is extra weight, but because it doesn’t fit in my pack, so it sticks out on either side and It forces my pack brain up so high above my head that I can’t get my stuff out of the pocket.

We started the day off moving steadily upward, no actually, we spent the whole day moving upward. The pace was a little fast, and poor Susan fell behind repeatedly. When we took breaks, I could barely take my pack off without just dropping it, and I thought I was going to break the pack when I heaved it back on.

Explaining how long the day was is impossible, you have to have felt it. However, I will say that it was quite long, and I felt like I was climbing stairs while giving a fifty pound child a piggyback, all day.

When we arrived I was in disbelief that we had made it. The campsite was beautiful, at the top of a hill and looking down at Horse Head Lake (which really does resemble a horse head) and Rainbow Ridge. The lake looked so inviting, and Caroline actually ran, not jogged, and ran to the lake. We jumped off rocks and I think I slipped once, but we were so excited to swim that we didn’t care. When we got there, the water was perfect. A small waterfall ran along the side and into the water. Soon the five of us were happily soaked. Susan never swam with us, she missed out though, and I hope she has the opportunity to swim in an alpine lake some day.

Horse Head Lake was so cool! Basically there is about three feet of water, then soft mud. I didn’t find any rocks or plant along the bottom, just mud. I walked out in the water to find a deep spot where I could dunk my head, but I never reached it. It was the strangest thing. At one point I was a good fifty feet out in the lake, but I was still standing!

We ate something delicious for dinner, and when everyone climbed into their sleeping bags, I gabbed my journal and walked down the hill a ways. I sat and looked up at the sky. Felt like I could touch the stars, like the shooting stars might fall into my lap. I felt so overwhelmingly happy, and I remembered what Thad had told us that morning before we began our trek.

“A few hours of challenge, a lifetime to relish the accomplishment”

Re-supply pack horses. The one next to Caroline and I was really sweet..

A women pushes a wheelbarrow past a hotel and sighs. Why?
Riddles from the trail.
Day 5: When S4MN43-102 Gets Real

(Excerpt from the group journal)

We started off heading up to re-supply,

When we felt our new packs, we thought we might die.

But the group keeps on truck’in,

Ready for the next challenge as if we were big game hunt’in.

Although we still have many challenges left,

[These are the most determined people I’ve ever met]

I have faith that we are not close to our limits.

So keep on truck’in ‘til we reach those last summits.

-Matt

August 14, 2011: Day 5

Main

Today was re-supply. We emptied our bags of everything but necessities, like first aid and snacks, and then we trekked up, up and up (I think it was something like 900 ft?) to the re-supply site. We arrived early and relaxed. While waiting for the horses, Matteo pulled out the Training, Main, and Final cards.

Outward Bound trips have three phases: Training, Main, and Final. There is basically a stack of laminated cards with qualities and skills. The cards said anything from “using the camp stove” and “setting up tarps” to “Compassion.” When we were on Training, Thad and Matteo were still us how to live in the backcountry. When we moved to Main, it meant that we had enough knowledge within the group about those skills, but we still needed help from the leaders every now and then. When we hit final, we were basically on our own. The leaders didn’t even eat dinner with us; flyin’ solo and feelin’ good.

Eventually the horses meandered into camp with our bags of food and supplies. “The packers are on their own schedule…” Matteo explained when we realized that we were more than an hour behind schedule. The other two groups were there as well, but we did not mix with them very much. Apparently the older backpacking group had already lost someone, a 21-year-old girl (the one who “quit” smoking 5 minutes before the trip) who quit and hoped on a plane back home while she still had a chance.

At re-supply we were given fruits and vegetables that tasted fresh and spectacular in the backcountry. Because we would be doing a 24-hour solo in the backcountry, we left the girls group tarp, and we each took little blue personal tarps. After I spent some time petting the horses, and everything was packed, we waved goodbye and journeyed back to our camp.

We packed quickly because the campsite had terrible mosquitoes. Our once happily manageable backpacks were stuffed with everything we would need for the next week, and I had trouble lifting it onto my back. It was late afternoon when we began walking to the next site. We walked through a marsh and many of us put our mosquito nets over our heads, but we could not escape the high-pitched hum of the tiny bloodsuckers.