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My first backpacking trip

It took less than five minutes for the sweat to soak through the back of my shirt. Less than a hundred yards before I ran out of breath. More than an hour to finish the first mile. And yet, somehow, I lugged thirty pounds of backpacking gear up and down a mountain. Those were probably the most excruciating twelve miles of my life.

Two weekends ago, my friends and I drove to Yosemite for some much needed time away from the city. We arrived late Friday evening and “stealthily” set up our tent on somebody else’s campgrounds. That’s when we realized that we were woefully ill prepared for the frigid night.

I woke up the next morning to numb toes. We drove to our trailhead, stopping by Tenaya lake to admire the beautiful backdrop of mountains rising above the water. By the time we started hiking, it was close to noon and the morning chill had dissipated, replaced by a steady heat that radiated from the surrounding soil and rock.

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We made our way north from Tioga Road towards Ten Lakes. During the first two miles, we couldn’t go more than a hundred yards without calling breaks. When we finally hit the switchbacks, it took everything I had just to put one foot in front of the other.

But there would be moments–and they would be so sweet, and oh so rewarding–when the beauty of the mountains would be too loud to ignore. When you become keenly aware of the smallness of your being, and your heart wants to be swallowed by the vastness of it all. And it is those moments when you forget about the thoughts in your head, the ache in your legs, and the path ahead or behind of you; because what you have beheld is too overwhelming for words, and too overpowering in its glory.

It could be the sight of mountains beyond mountains.
The way the sunlight illuminates the bark of the trees.
Or the towering cliffs of granite that speak of eons long gone.
The way the butterflies dance in the meadows.
And even that one lone tree, stripped bare, standing defiantly against the rocky slopes.

Surely, there was no other place that I’d rather be. Than here, in the midst of Your peace and beauty.

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As we were descending the other side of the mountain that we had just painfully climbed, we could see four of the lakes that make up Ten Lakes. I really wish that we had the time to explore all ten, but we stayed at the first one. I could not have been more glad to finally kick off my shoes and dip my feet into the water.

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I wasn’t really planning on swimming in the lake, but I guess I had to do it after all the sweat and tears I shed to get there. I definitely didn’t regret it.


First time in Yosemite, June 2012

These are photos from a trip last year that I had been meaning to post up. I forget where I took these pictures, but words and names don’t really matter. They speak for themselves.

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I asked this at the beginning of our Big Basin hike this past Saturday.  To which the usual response is: If nobody is around to hear it, then does it still make a sound?  Surrounded by towering redwood trees, we chuckled at the cuteness of this cliche philosophical question (or at least I did).  But little did we know that later in the afternoon, while walking through the peaceful sun-dappled forest, we would actually hear the sound of a tree falling.

At first, we mistook the popping and crackling for somebody firing a BB gun; but when we caught a glimpse of falling branches, we knew without a doubt that we had just been graced with one of nature’s little secrets. This alone would have been the highlight of the trip, but the hike turned out to be even more spectacular than I expected.

Not that the forest isn’t amazing as it already is.  There was so much to enjoy.  I smelled the earthy fragrance of damp dirt, touched the chips of deep mahogany redwood bark, peered into the dark interior of enormous, hollowed tree trunks, and studied the growing mushrooms emerging from the sides of fallen giants.  Most amusing of all were these brightly colored banana slugs, hanging out under the shade in between the moss and lichen.  It’s hard to miss their moist and glistening bodies.  And there were literally tens and tens of these mucous-y, detritus-munching fellows all along our hike.  I was almost afraid I’d step on one by accident; although, Juan and I did secretly wondered if smushed slugs were yellow inside as well.

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Ferns made up most of the undergrowth.  Their leaves curled up in the drier parts, unfurling only in the shade or by the banks of the creek.  I like looking underneath the leaves for the hundreds of tiny brown spores that were no doubt releasing copious amounts of pollen, flying through the air and into my nose to stimulate the release of copious amounts of snot.

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Juan found a large black centipede with bright yellow spots.  Insects are cool in a grotesque “ew, I can’t believe it’s alive” kind of way.

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I don’t like spiders, but I love admiring their beautifully spun, symmetrical webs.  How do they know exactly how to spin their webs in precise, geometric shapes?

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I don’t have pictures of this, but while we were passing by a creek, we saw salamanders mating with each other under the rocky crevices.  A yellow one.  And a black one.  We saw their limbs and bodies intertwined with each other while they tumbled with the current.  That was the second highlight.

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You can’t tell from this picture, but the rocks underneath the running water are stained rusty orange.  If you pick up a pebble from the pool, your fingers catch some of that color.  Clay deposits?

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And finally, the third highlight of the hike was when we came across a baby snake on our path.  I guess none of us thought it was poisonous given its cute size, but we also did not look very closely.  Vicky picked it up while I snapped pictures of it.  Only then did she notice its tail rattling against her hand.

We realized that she had just picked up a rattlesnake.

Whaaat?  Mind blown.  The next ten minutes basically saw Juan and I stupidly chanting,”Vicky, you’re our hero.” Of course, it was exciting only because she came out of this alive and bite-free.  I don’t know what Juan and I would have done if she had gotten bit, especially since we were still at least four miles from the park headquarters.  But overall, I’m really glad we spent the day away from the city.  It’s not everyday you get to 1) hear a tree fall, 2) watch salamanders get it on, 3) and watch your friend, unknowingly, pick up a deadly snake.

Yesterday, my classmates and I went trekking through the woods on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County.  After a tedious take home exam last weekend, it was refreshing to get out of the city.  There was clear skies, crisp air, and nature to be had.  After a few detours, we finally found the trail head near Alpine Lake and began our epic 7 mile hike.  I don’t know if we intended to do the entire 7 miles, maybe four, but somehow got roped into completing the entire loop by our youthful enthusiasm.  Only when my thighs started burning did I start to think that we were just a tad bit over ambitious, and by that time, it was too late to turn back.

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There were “waterfalls” on the first leg of the journey.  Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of them.  No tripod and not enough light under the trees.  Slightly underwhelming since I expected more rushing water, but that might have to do with our relatively dry winter this year.  Still, it was nice to see a babbling brook, moss covered rocks, and fallen trees.  We scrambled over lumpy tree roots and steep steps, and found a small clearing to enjoy our lunch.

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Once we reached the top, we were greeted with spectacular views and wonderful sunshine.  The hillside was covered with dry, pale yellow grass with patches of faded green that hinted of past lushness.  We looked out over the wide landscape of rolling hills studded with dark evergreen trees and felt the wind pushing and flattening the growth around our feet.

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The troopers.

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We continued on the High Marsh Trail which took us through more heavily wooded areas and gnarly bushes.  If we had started the trail two hours earlier, we probably could have enjoyed the scenery more.  But since we only had two hours before dusk, we were on a brisk pace with no time to spare for the camera.  Much of it was spent looking at the ground, trying not to slip and fall off the edge of the narrow path.  Occasionally, we were passed by trail joggers who made us feel bad for complaining about the steep inclines and tricky footing.

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Finally, after four hours of exhausting muscle work we finally made it back to our car.  Bed and shower has never felt this good.  Oh beautiful California wilderness, until next time.