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Path to the peak Members of the MVHS community share their backpacking experiences

Backpacking: an outdoor activity that combines backcountry camping and hiking, requiring the participant to carry all their necessities on their backs. It can be venturing beyond the state of California into New Mexico with a Boy Scout troop. It can be trekking through the Alaskan wilderness with a summer camp. It can be hiking up to 17 miles a day in South America. Below are the experiences of three MVHS students and teachers who find themselves returning to backpacking.

Junior Andrew Yang

Over the summer of 2019, junior Andrew Yang embarked on a 12-day expedition as a crew leader with Troop 453, which consisted of eight other high school Boy Scouts and three adults. The troop traveled to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and journeyed over 70 miles.

On average, the group traveled roughly seven to eight miles each day. Throughout the trip, Yang’s biggest challenges came in the form of mental aspects of the trip rather than the physical intensity of the hikes. Because his crew included many athletes, ranging from varsity swimmers to baseball and tennis players, the troop was relatively fit going into the trip. However, the boys began to get worn out spending 12 days in the wilderness. Some boys asked Yang to allow them time to check their social media or play games throughout the trip as they began to lose self-control.

“But I think more tiring was the fact that we had 14 to 16 hour days,” Yang said. “And then we didn't get much sleep. And every day, we basically went to a new place, which meant that we had to set up camp again.”

Despite the challenges he faced in the trip, Yang found it very rewarding and was grateful to have had the experience. His most gratifying moment was when he reached the summit of Baldy Mountain.

“All the pain and suffering, eating crappy food out of plastic bags, hiking for long periods of time with heavy packs and having to deal with each other's opinions — all that led up to that moment,” Yang said. “And I think when we were able to see the view below us it really gave us an idea of how small we were [and] how big the world was. It's one of those feelings of just being able to perceive how lucky you are to be able to be standing at that point. So I think that was one of the highest moments for us during our trip, both literally and figuratively.”

Photo by Andrew Yang // Used with permission

Overall, the trip taught Yang to be more strict in his leadership style when the situation called for it. Yang explains that during an expedition, it is difficult to satisfy each member’s personal desires, especially when the group is limited by time. In addition, Yang learned greater empathy for his fellow scouts during the journey. One particular learning experience came when a fellow Boy Scout sprained his ankle.

“We were actually in a really bad mood during that day because it was raining,” Yang said. “We had to hike eight to nine miles. However, once we had that sprained ankle, everybody went back to help that person. And overall, I think that experience told me to be a little more thoughtful about getting things done, but also how to interact with people in a more effective way in difficult situations.”

Yang believes embarking on similar trips can be valuable. He encourages anyone interested in testing their physical and mental abilities as well as those looking to develop closer relationships with others to give backpacking a try.

“There's also being able to just see nature,” Yang said. “Being able to see those mountains really makes you feel good because once you're out there you feel a sense of achievement, and even before that you feel really excited to summit. So if you're an enthusiast, if you don't mind some suffering, it’s a good idea to join Boy Scouts, and even if you're not a Boy Scout you can still do backpacking.”

Photo by Sarah Finck // Used with Permission

French Teacher Sarah Finck

One of French teacher Sarah Finck’s most notable trips through nature occurred four years ago when she hiked the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mount Whitney. She spent the 16-day trip backpacking around 200 miles –– the longest trip she had ever gone on. More recently, Finck traveled to Patagonia last winter break, backpacking up to 17 miles each day. She explored glaciers, lakes and granite forms in this South American region. Finck was thankful for the experience, as it may have been the last chance she had to view the glaciers due to global warming. Through all her trips, Finck has been drawn to the sights she sees in nature.

“The views that I've had mostly in the Sierra Nevada are panoramas where you feel like you're on the top of the world on some rocks, with views of layers and layers of mountains as far as you can see, often with snow cap on, some of them in any season,” Finck said. “I really enjoy the mix of colors — the granite mixed with the white snow with the green trees, foliage, reflections and lakes, and then if you get a sunset in the mix, you can get some orange in the sky.”

Putting in work to reach a tough destination gives Finck a feeling of what she refers to as second degree fun, a gratifying experience that is “questionably fun in the moment” — even though her feet hurt and she is tired from climbing, she sees the slope and is motivated to keep going. The remote locations and beauty of her hikes add to the inspiration she feels when she is immersed in nature.

Photo by Sarah Finck // Used with permission

For those looking to try out hiking or backpacking, Finck recommends starting out small. She emphasizes the need to know your limits, but also the willingness to push beyond them a bit.

“The first thing is that you're not going to take a shower at night and so you've got to give it a shot and see what it's like to be dirty for a day or two,” Finck said. “The first time wearing a backpack, your shoulders are going to hurt or your hips are going to hurt, and sleeping on the ground, it could not be the most comfortable thing, [but] to try it a second time would be part of the [lesson].”

Finck loves seeing her own students go outdoors and take on hiking or backpacking –– through social media, Finck has gotten a glimpse of many former students who have embarked on similar journeys.

“It makes me happy to see that suburban students who I don't think were doing [these activities] with their family, necessarily, have found a way to enjoy nature,” Finck said. “You guys are still young, so there's time to test lots of things. I think it may not be for everyone, but the world is beautiful and there's a lot to see and a lot right near us in California.”

Photo by Laney Goldman // Used with permission

Junior Laney Goldman

Last summer, junior Laney Goldman traveled to Alaska to engage in three separate backpacking expeditions with a summer camp, each four to five days long. Her first trip was on Crow Pass Trail, the second in the Talkeetna Mountains and the third in Denali National Park.

Her backpacking group encountered some difficulty from the first trip due to a heatwave that flooded the rivers and forced them to turn back part way through. The most notable parts of her second trip were the oddities they saw on the trails as a result of a lack of regulation.

“There [were] no park rangers or anything,” Goldman said. “And we saw [a] bunch of weird stuff, like dead bears hanging in trees and bullet shells on the ground, because some people were hunting maybe.”

On her third trip, her group had experienced overcast weather throughout the trip, missing the opportunity to view Denali. But as the clouds parted for the first time in days, they were finally able to catch a glimpse of the mountain.

Photo by Laney Goldman // Used with permission

Looking ahead, Goldman hopes that she can continue to backpack. Being a part of a Venturing crew, a co-ed program similar to Boy Scouts, she believes she will eventually get the opportunity to do so.

“[The Venturing crew has] gone on a few backpacks, but I haven't been able to make it any of them,” Goldman said. “I think if that crew ends up going on one and I'm free, then I'll probably go with them.”

Despite enjoying backpacking, Goldman dislikes the physical aspect of it, describing herself as “quite unathletic.” But even with this difficulty, Goldman was able to admire the remoteness and beauty of the Alaskan landscape.

“For me, the actual backpacking kind of sucked,” Goldman said. “It was more like, when you get into camp, you see these views that are quite spectacular. It's cool because you can't reach those places with a car. There are places that you can only get to on foot, and they're usually untouched by humans so [the views are] really pretty.”

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Brian Xu
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