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Photos by Eric Chang and Jay Harris.

We knew it would be hard straight from the beginning. 2,000 feet in elevation gain in only two miles is a lot, especially when you’re starting at 7,500 feet above sea level. 

After months of training, I knew uphill was hard for me. A part of my brain thought I should have trained more, and better, but the rest of my brain knew that it didn’t matter, because the past was over and I was there, now, on this trail. So up we went. 

I had about 30lbs of gear on my back. It might have been less, maybe a little more—it’s hard to know because I didn’t actually weigh it before setting off. I did the spreadsheets and made notes, but honestly, being “ultralight” when going on my first backpacking trip wasn't my top priority. It was more important for me to figure out what worked and what didn't. Everyone gave different advice before the trip, but I needed to learn what was best for me. Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

We can do hard things. 

Up we climbed until we made it to the top of the steep bit. And then we kept going. I was on a guided trip with a group of folks who were newer to backpacking and the backcountry, so we stopped regularly to learn lessons: how to read topographic maps, use a compass, and poop in the woods. 

Looking at the map, we spotted a couple of lakes. "Let’s go there! But... there’s no trail. How do we get there?"

It’s called going cross-country, or off-trail. We used the map and compass lessons we’d learned to guide ourselves to the lakes. Along the way, we made camp on incredible granite peaks, climbed mountains, crossed canyons, and bushwhacked our way back to the trail (all while practicing Leave No Trace principles, of course). My Ponderosa Pants were my silent companions throughout as I scooted across rocks and packed them with snacks. 

Having returned to the trail, we made our way - mostly downhill - back to the trailhead. I was dirty and tired, with a definitely lighter pack thanks to all the snacks I had along the way. In the end, we went something like 14 miles, with 2,600 feet of elevation gain, over the course of 48 hours. The uphills were hard, the downhills were ridiculous, and I had the absolute best time!

I have absolutely fallen in love with backpacking, and I cannot wait for my next adventure, which I’ve already started planning 💖