With small, slow steps I reach the top of the pass. With every step my view of the other side expands and then, suddenly, I can see snow-capped peaks. A few more steps and granite mountains rear up, pale and shimmering against a sky dark with clouds. In the foreground there is a ledge of red rock and beyond, a lush meadow. Pools of water reflect the gray sky. This may be the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen – a spectacular view made even more beautiful by the effort it took to get here.
A year ago I was so sick I couldn’t go hiking, or go to work, or even take care of myself. Today I climbed to the top of this 7,000-foot pass on my own two feet. My body is very tired, but this view was worth fighting for. I am so happy to be here – so, so happy! – and as I get my first good look at the jagged granite peaks I feel my eyes stinging with tears. Joy and gratitude overwhelm me, and I begin to cry.
It’s Memorial Day Weekend and I’m backpacking in the Trinity Alps Wilderness with my husband and my parents. Yesterday we hiked from the Swift Creek trailhead to Bear Basin, where we set up camp on the edge of a large meadow. The hike to Bear Basin was longer than I expected, despite my extensive pre-hike study of maps and trail descriptions, and I struggled to complete the last mile. By stopping frequently to sit down and rest I was able to reach our intended destination, but I was exhausted.
Today was supposed to be a day of rest, time to recover from yesterday’s effort before shouldering my pack and hiking back to the trailhead. But after breakfast and a nap this morning I felt good, so instead of spending the day in camp I joined my family on a day hike to the top of the drainage.
It was a steep climb, by far the steepest trail I’ve climbed since I became so ill last year. With such an exertion I’m taking a big risk: it’s very possible that three back-to-back days of hiking and 4,000 feet of elevation gain will trigger a symptom flare, but I want to be among mountains. I accept the risk.
Total distance hiked: approximately 20 miles
Total elevation gain: about 4,000 feet