Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Four seasons on the JMT

I  didn't start backpacking in the wilderness until I was an adult. My first trip was organized by friends of friends, and we were a group of six women with varying amounts of backcountry experience. I still wince thinking about the slip-on leather shoes that gave me blisters within a half an hour and the hip belt-less pack I carried, but I'll always remember scrambling to a natural rock pool and skinny-dipping in the 90-degree afternoon heat.

I started backpacking by myself a few years ago, mostly because I couldn't find anyone game for longer hikes. Before setting out the first time, I geeked out overpreparing myself. I borrowed library books on wilderness first aid, lurked around online backpacking forums for gear pointers and read up on the most effective bear hazing techniques. My bicycle suffered benign neglect as I walked everywhere for weeks, loading up my backpack to hike home with big grocery shops or ambling miles over San Francisco hills and back to meet friends. I also read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and thought: if those jokers can take a stab at the Appalachian Trail, I can plod along a well-marked footpath without requiring a search and rescue team.

So after four summers, I recently finished section-hiking the John Muir Trail. Hurrah! If not for the snow-packed Sierra Nevada passes last summer, it would have been three seasons, but no sense dwelling on that.

After logging all those miles on the trail, one sticky issue keeps swirling through my brain: where are all the girls? I hiked alongside a dozen Boy Scout troops and scores of father-son duos, but encountered only one group of girls (a Girl Scout group from SoCal) during that entire time. Besides the ubiquitous Boy Scouts, most of my fellow hikers were men going solo (beard mandatory), groups of male friends (duuude!) or men with their female partners. And so few women hike alone that almost everyone I met assumed I was there with someone else.

So why aren't more girls trekking the trails? It bugs me that it's such a boys-only (and mostly white) rite of passage. If no one takes them into the wilderness, how are girls going to learn the self-reliance and camaraderie found there, or a deeper respect for the natural world? I'm committed to change those statistics as best I can, and I hope that other folks will do the same. 

If you're wondering why it's worth slogging over mountains with a heavy pack and digging catholes every day, I'm posting a few photos from the southernmost section of the JMT (accessed via Onion Valley) below.

Kearsarge Lakes

Forester Pass facing east

Bighorn Plateau

Guitar Lake basin

Sunrise over ridges west of Whitney

View from Mt Whitney